DOE Commish calls on lawmakers to reject Pre-K cuts

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 12:27pm

Tennessee’s commissioner of education has asked lawmakers to reject what he considers Republican efforts in the state Senate to diminish funding for pre-kindergarten.

Speaking with a group of pre-kindergarten advocates, teachers and parents, Commissioner Tim Webb said at a press conference Tuesday that recent Senate Republican actions could lead to serious cuts to pre-K funding in coming years.

The backlash stems from a budget amendment that passed Friday in the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee. The amendment would cut $22 million in recurring funds from pre-K programs, and move the money to a non-recurring classification.

According to a statement from the state Department of Education, this “party-line vote” signals the “GOP-led Senate’s intent to do away with the money in the next budget cycle.”

Republicans, for their part, object to the characterization.

At the press conference Tuesday conducted by Webb, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the issue has been “grossly misrepresented.” There’s a history in Tennessee of funding pre-K programs with non-recurring dollars, Ramsey said, and the recent amendment does nothing to jeopardize programs already in place.

“Some of us take this personally, when you say we have the intent of dismantling the pre-K program. I can read from the email right here,” Ramsey said. “I can firmly tell you there is no intent …to dismantle the pre-K program in the state of Tennessee. I can assure you that’s the case.”

Webb said Tuesday that considering the funds “non-recurring” could make it easier in the next few years to cut program funds.

“There’s no way to know what next year’s budget cycle will hold,” Webb said. “We do believe that things will continue to be problematic for us, and so we don’t want to set the stage for making pre-K a place that those non-recurring monies can be found.”

Francie Hunt of Nashville’s Stand for Children said Ramsey’s words were “encouraging.” Stand for Children is an advocate for pre-K, and played a part in organizing the advocates, parents and teachers who spoke with Webb Tuesday.

“I think it was a critical statement that had to be made at this red-hot minute,” Hunt said, of the importance of Webb and advocates speaking up. “I was encouraged to hear from our Republican leadership that they have every intent to protect this program in the future.”

Tennessee’s $80 million pre-K program currently serves 17,000 4-year-olds statewide. Metro Nashville Public Schools has pre-K programs at 32 public schools funded with state and Title I dollars.


1 Comment on this post:

By: EddieA on 6/17/09 at 3:37

I am a full supporter of Pre-K. I have had two of my three children, the youngest is 10 months-old, go through the program at Fall Hamilton and Norman Binkley. My daughter came out of Pre-K knowing all of her numbers and the alphabet and some basic math. She started the 2nd grade reading at a fourth grade level. My daughter completed the second grade at Norman Binkley reading at the highest level Metro elementary schools can give - 44 mid-fifth grade.

My son just completed Pre-K at Norman Binkley and he knows his alphabet, can count past 30 and he can read some sight words. He spelled and wrote his first words - Zoo, Home, Mother, Father and about ten more.

What I have seen is the Pre-K program, as designed, really helps to prepare children. It is not a daycare. The teacher teaches, sometimes one-on-one, while the aide takes the children to lunch and the bathroom. The children are taught basic respect for one another and manners.

Both of my children love school and they have no problem getting ready in the morning. They have many friends in school and the teachers all greet them with huge, honest, smiles. I can't say enough good things about their Pre-K teachers and I even wrote a letter to the governor and the mayor expressing my satisfaction.

I credit former mayor Phil Bredesen with the initiative to start and fund these programs.