TDOE Awards Funding for High-Quality Early Learning Opportunities in More Than 900 Classrooms

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that 18,320 students in 916 classrooms across the state will benefit from the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program in the 2018-19 school year. Nearly 95 percent of districts in Tennessee will receive VPK funding designed to serve 4-year-olds who are at-risk and those in high-priority communities.

In an effort to ensure the program provides children with a high-quality opportunity to develop school readiness skills and a strong foundation for learning, the application process was revised in 2017 to align with the department’s definition of excellence in Pre-K. 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.

“It is important that we set our students up for academic success from day one with high-quality early learning opportunities, especially for those students with the greatest need,” Commissioner McQueen said. “By supporting 95 percent of our districts with excellent Voluntary Pre-K classrooms, we will allow more students in Tennessee the opportunity to build a strong foundation from which they can jump-start their academic journeys.”

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.

The department believes it is important to give districts the support and training necessary to improve the quality of VPK programs. In the coming weeks, all districts that applied for VPK funding will receive district-specific, narrative feedback on each section of their application, as well as targeted supports based on areas of growth noted on the application.

The competitive application process is one of many targeted updates the department is undertaking to ensure VPK funding is utilized to support high-quality pre-K programs across the state. As the department continues to make pre-K program quality improvements, we will continue to partner with districts across the state to measure program quality and to provide strategic professional development and support.

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 Candace Cook, director of voluntary pre-K programs, at Candace.Cook@tn.gov.  For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.

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