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Nashville's Chief Aims for Pre-K for All 4-Year-Olds

Every 4-year-old in Nashville would have an opportunity to attend preschool over the next few years under a plan pitched to the school board Jan. 14 that would nearly double the district's current pre-K system, while restructuring schools to accommodate new students.

The effort would ultimately expand the program from 2,516 students to upwards of 4,500 students, said Jesse Register, the director of the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, in an e-mail interview.

It would also require shuffling current pre-K students and seating new ones in two centrally-located, elementary schools that need to be updated physically. Current students would be moved to other locations.

The price tag: $2.9 million for the first year, Register said. He did not provide a cost estimate for the following years.

"We are putting this at the top of our budget list because it is so important," Register said. "We cannot wait on the state legislature or anyone else to help us pay for it. If we are going to make real progress in closing the achievement gap, we need to act on this now."

He aims to begin the project this spring, provided the nine-member school board passes the district's pre-K hub proposal Feb. 11.

The board won't vote specifically on the initiative, but will approve or deny the school district's total request for funding, Register said. It would, however, approve the change of the use of the two elementary schools.

Register said the need is clear: Some 1,000 students are now on waiting lists to enter district programs, and the demand for pre-K will rise as the population of 4-year-olds in the city jumps from 8,680 in 2014 to 9,218 by 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections.

The initiative would create two preschool "hubs" in currently unused, but centrally-located, elementary school buildings, according to district documents given to Education WeekChildren now attending district-run pre-K programs housed in other elementary schools would be transferred to these pre-K centers. New children would also be added.

Some 1,500 children are currently enrolled in federally-funded Head Start programs, while 200 more attend state-funded pre-K, Register said. These children are expected to stay in their current programs. In addition, 4,479 children attend private programs or do not attend any type of program.

While many questions remain about Register's vision, it is certain that Nashville is on the cusp of a national trend: Cities and their school boards are moving forward to provide their communities with preschool programs without help from states, which are debating the merits of funding early-childhood education versus K-12 programming.

Mayor Bill deBlasio of New York City recently proposed a similar program, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro already has a city-run program in place, both of which are garnering national attention. To read my colleague Christina Samuels' work on the subject, click here.

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