The Voluntary Pre-K initiative provides Tennessee's three- and four-year-old children—with an emphasis on four year olds who are at-risk—an opportunity to develop school readiness skills (pre-academic and social skills).
Voluntary Pre-K classes promote a high-quality academic environment, which fosters the love and joy of learning and promotes success in kindergarten and throughout the child's life.
The legislation for the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) for Tennessee Act of 2005 was passed by both the House and the Senate in May of 2005. This law provided for the use of $25 million in excess lottery dollars in the 2005-06 school year to establish quality pre-kindergarten classrooms through a competitive grant process. In subsequent years (2006-07 and 2007-08), Governor Bredesen's approved budget included additional state funding to expand Tennessee's VPK program classes to reach an ever growing number of at-risk pre-K children. Currently, over $85,0000,00 from the state education budget was allocated to school districts to operate 935 classrooms, which is serving 18,000 four year olds across the state.
In 2016, the state legislature passed S.B. 1899 (H.B. 1485.) This bill, referred to as the Pre-K Quality Act, requires the following:
- Competitive grant based on quality
- Pre-K and kindergarten student growth portfolios
- Legislative intent added that VPK prepare students for kindergarten
- Alignment between pre-K and K-12 instruction
- Office of Early Learning will develop definition of quality with which programs will comply
Parents, communities, and school districts can decide locally whether they want and need high-quality pre-K classrooms.
Working for Access For All
Pre-K in Tennessee is accessible to all four year olds, with an emphasis on at-risk students and high-priority communities.
Maintain Existing High Standards
Keep the high-quality standards already in place regarding small class size, curriculum requirements, and certified teachers.
Applying to Match State Dollars
The local school district serves as the applicant for matching state funds. Local school districts are accountable for matching state dollars based on their BEP formula state/local match requirement. Local school districts have the ability to use some federal funds, private dollars or in-kind resources as part of their local match.
Flexible Local Partnerships
Communities, through their local school districts, have the ability to contract and partner with non-school providers, i.e., non–profit, for–profit, and local Head Start programs.
Community Coordination and Planning
Each school district creates and facilitates a community “Pre-K Advisory Council” which provides formal input into the application and plan to expand pre-K classrooms. Representation must include but is not be limited to parents, teachers, non-school providers, Head Start, the business community, and local government leaders.
Office of Early Learning
A strong, centralized office monitors the programs for accountability, oversees the application process, consults with local districts and schools as needed.
The Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act of 2005 was passed with strong bipartisan support from the Tennessee General Assembly, increasing the state’s investment in Early Childhood Education and access for students.
- FY ’17 Funding: $86,552,900 million
- Number of Classes: 934 State-Funded Pre-K Classes
- Enrollment: 18,000+ Children Enrolled
- Location: 95 TN Counties
- School Districts Served: 135 TN School Districts
- The chart below outlines the growth of Voluntary Pre-K from 2004 to 2017:
|School Year||# Pre-K Classrooms||# Students Served|
|2004-05 (Pilot pre-K)||148||3,000|
- The Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K (TN VPK) program is recognized as a national leader in pre-K quality. The program has been chosen as one of four to partner with the Ounce of Prevention, the University of Washington, and the Gates Foundation through a grant that requires us to focus on quality improvements.
- In 2008, Tennessee was one of five states in the nation to receive a grant to partner with the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL) to build the capacity of the state to increase the social and personal competence of young children. In 2015, the national Pyramid Model Consortium formed to continue the work of CSEFEL in 29 states. Tennessee became Pyramid Model Consortium Partner State in 2015. In 2017, the Pyramid Model framework continues to be used across the state in early childhood programs to support social and personal competencies in children birth to eight years old.
- Tennessee is one of five states in the nation to receive a grant in 2008 to partner with the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL) to build the capacity of the state to increase the social and behavioral competence of young children. This work continues today in 2017.
- Collaborative classroom partnerships are an integral component of the TN VPK program. Currently there are over 200 collaborative classroom partnerships between 40 local school systems and non-profit and for profit providers such as: Head Start , For-Profit and Not-For-Profit Child Care Providers, Faith Based Agencies, Community Based Agencies, and Higher Education Institutions.
- United Way of Tennessee provides local matching funds of nearly $1 million for 46 pre-K classrooms throughout the state.
- Tennessee recognizes the importance of a highly trained staff by requiring a licensed teacher with pre-K certification and recommending a teacher assistant with early childhood experience and either a Certified Development Associate (CDA) or working toward a CDA certification. Fifty-six percent of teacher assistants have a CDA or higher credential in 2016-17 the school year.
- The TN VPK has a full-day programs across the country requiring a minimum instructional day of 5½ hours per day, 5 days per week.
- The Tennessee Alliance for Early Education (TAEE) continues to provide strong leadership for the advocacy and advancement of early childhood education in Tennessee.
- The revised TN Early Learning Developmental Standards (TN ELDS) for four year-olds were approved by the state board of education in August 2012.