Haslam applies for federal Pre-K grant on behalf of five districts

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam applied for about $70 million from the U.S. Department of Education for the expansion of prekindergarten in Nashville and Shelby County Wednesday, although he will continue to wait until a Vanderbilt study on the current state pre-K program is complete before expanding it.

The state submitted the application on the behalf of Shelby County Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Millington Schools, the Achievement School District, and Bartlett Schools. 

“Districts in these communities came up with the implementation plans and the local matching funds, and it does not expand current state pre-K programs,” said Kelli Gauthier, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. 

Earlier this year, when state officials seemed hesitant to apply for the grant, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools officials attempted to apply directly, and was denied. Metro Schools is already using local money for pre-K, with hopes of having universal pre-K by 2018.

At the time, Metro superintendent Jesse Register said, ” “I would love for Nashville to be a model where federal funding flowed in to offer pre-K on a wider scale.”

Gov. Haslam has adamantly said that will not increase spending on pre-kindergarten until a Vanderbilt study on the efficacy of the state’s program concludes next year. A comptroller’s report three years ago suggested that Tennessee’s current pre-kindergarten program wasn’t boosting achievement throughout elementary school. In 2013-14, 18,000 children were enrolled in Tennessee’s pre-K program at a cost of $85 million.

Other studies, including ones done by the same researchers at Vanderbilt, suggest pre-K can have positive impacts on student achievement through high school.

Read the state’s application here, and  more of our coverage on attempts to expand pre-K here.