U.S. Sec. of Education pushes for Haslam to apply for pre-K money

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Tuesday that Gov. Bill Haslam should apply for federal money available for prekindergarten expansion, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

But a spokesperson for Gov. Haslam’s office told Chalkbeat earlier this month that the governor will not apply for the grant.

The comments came during a cross country bus tour Duncan is taking. He stopped in Memphis and Nashville Wednesday.

Gov. Haslam has said that he will not work to expand pre-K until at least next year, when a Vanderbilt University study on the effectiveness of the state’s current model is released. That means that the money the federal government is offering this year is a non-starter. 

Duncan said that if Tennessee officials did apply for the money, the state could receive up to $70 million for pre-K in the next four years.

“To me, this is just a triumph of common sense,” he said. “Too many children start kindergarten a year to 18 months behind.”

A comptroller’s report three years ago suggested that Tennessee’s current pre-kindergarten program wasn’t boosting achievement throughout elementary school, causing a group of  legislators, led by Bill Dunn, a Republican representative from Knoxville, to assert pre-K was a bad investment for the state.

Early results from the five-year Vanderbilt study Haslam is waiting on suggest that students might not sustain academic gains in elementary school, but might develop other skills, like time management, that could serve them in middle and high school.

Education officials in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis have expressed interest in the federal funds, which they say will help raise achievement in their districts, but cannot apply for the Pre-K grant directly.

Applications are due Oct. 14.