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New Report Documents Tennessee Pre-K Expansion

In September, Appalachia's Regional Education Laboratory released a report documenting the growth in Tennessee's prekindergarten program from its kickoff in the 2005-06 school year through 2008-09. The program's enrollment grew substantially over the period, and rates of participation were accelerated among children in special education and racial/ethnic minorities. About one-fifth of the children enrolled attended pre-K through their Head Start programs or child care centers, extending the reach of state pre-K funds.

Over the period, annual state funding increased to $83 million from $38 million, though the largest increases were seen in the second and third years of the program. Participation among the state's eligible 4-year-olds (those eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch) increased from 18 percent in the 2006 school year to 42 percent by 2009.

Participation rates increased faster for racial/ethnic minority children than for white children, but the report does not further disaggregate the data. Children in special education also increased their participation quickly, rising to 32 percent from 8 percent over the period.

The majority of public pre-K program sites were based in the state's four main urban areas: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. "Collaborative partner sites" (partners operating largely outside the public schools, such as Head Start and child care centers) accounted for about one-fifth of the program, and their enrollment nearly doubled over the period. According to the study, collaborative sites, which were only partially state-funded, "enabled the state to serve one additional child for every four participants in the pre-K program."

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