TDOE Awards Funding for High-Quality Early Learning

Nearly All Districts Awarded Funding to Support Excellent Voluntary Pre-K Programs
Wednesday, May 08, 2019 | 12:13pm

NASHVILLE—Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn announced that 18,560 students in 928 classrooms across Tennessee will benefit from the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program in the 2019-20 school year. 138 districts applied for and received VPK funding through the competitive grant designed to serve 4-year-old students who are at-risk and students in high-priority communities. Sixty-eight of these 138 districts are rural.

Since the Pre-K Quality Act was passed in 2016, the department has implemented a number of quality improvement efforts designed to support districts and schools to provide high-quality early learning opportunities. Revisions to the Tennessee Early Learning Developmental Standards (TN ELDS) aligned instructional expectations with Tennessee’s K-12 Academic Standards to ensure kindergarten readiness. This was further supported through the provision of new curriculum and instructional materials in all VPK classrooms last year and ongoing professional development for district teams and pre-K teachers. The department also continues to improve enrollment processes to expand access and effectively serve eligible children.

“It is critical that our youngest students get a strong start in school, especially children who have the greatest needs. Providing these students with exceptional early learning opportunities can help set them on the path to success for years to come,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “By providing funding and programming support for pre-K classrooms across Tennessee, we are giving more children the chance to build a strong foundation for success throughout their school careers.”

To ensure VPK funds are used to maximize and increase student outcomes, the funding is based on program quality standards, including:

  • full enrollment in programs serving the highest-need students;
  • use of a quality curriculum aligned to the Tennessee Early Learning Developmental Standards for 4-year-olds;
  • consistent, positive and responsive student-teacher interactions;
  • instruction that reflects an integration of standards and builds deep content knowledge;
  • use of student outcome data to improve instruction;
  • frequent classroom observations with job-embedded support for pre-K teachers; and
  • family outreach to maximize enrollment and support at-home learning.

Pursuant to the requirements outlined in the Pre-K Quality Act of 2016, VPK funding was awarded on a competitive basis in order to provide consistently high-quality VPK programs that prioritize serving students from low-income families. The competitive application helps to ensure VPK funding is utilized to support high-quality pre-K programs across the state.

A list of preliminary funding amounts by district and the number of classrooms that funding supports is located on the department’s website. To find out more about VPK in Tennessee, visit the department’s website or contact Darlene Estes-Del Re, executive director of early learning, at  For media inquiries, contact Jay Klein at or (615) 406-1046.