Tennessee now meets 8 out of 10 quality standards benchmarks that evaluate the effectiveness of preschool education programs, according to The State of Preschool 2019 report issued by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). This ranking comes as a result of successful policy changes that enabled Tennessee to meet the Continuous Quality Improvement System (CQIS) benchmark for the first time. Meeting the CQIS benchmark reflects Tennessee’s recent commitment to continuous program improvement at the local and state levels. We thank the Tennessee Department of Education, Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, PhD, for remaining committed to implementing the improvements contained in the PreK Quality Act of 2016 and the sponsors, Representative Mark White and Senator Steve Dickerson. We also appreciate the work of Representative Kirk Haston, and Senator Joey Hensley for their legislative action to expand this quality program in rural distressed and at-risk communities.
We must keep this momentum going. Tennessee remains in the bottom half of state rankings for both access (ranking 29th in access for 4-year-olds and 31st for 3-year-olds) and spending (ranking 23rd in state spending and 27th in reported spending). The NIEER report shows that Tennessee’s preschools enrolled 17,879 children in the 2018-19 school year, reflecting a decrease of 475 children from the year prior.
As Tennessee begins to stabilize in a post-COVID-19 world, it’s even more vital that the state legislature focus on increasing access to Pre-K programs that support quality early learning. To reduce the achievement gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, it is essential that our legislators expand access to Pre-K and childcare programs that will support early learning development and prepare our children to succeed in the primary grades.