Expert Says Tennessee's Pre-K Program is Model for Other States

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE (AP) - The director of a national pre-kindergarten advocacy group says Tennessee is a model for other states because of the way it has expanded its pre-K program and shown bipartisan support for it.

Stephanie Rubin traveled from Washington on Wednesday to talk to members of the state Senate Education Committee.

She says other states are looking at Tennessee's incremental expansion of its program and how lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see the value of pre-K.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has budgeted $25 million to create up to 250 new pre-K classes, which means about 4,000 more 4-year-olds will have access to the program.

Bredesen has also said he wants to grant universal access to pre-K programs before he leaves office in 2010.

While there is bipartisan support for most of the governor's pre-K initiative, Republicans have expressed concern about making it universal. Senate Education Chairwoman Jamie Woodson said the hesitancy has to do with the budget.

"We have to look critically at any program expansion," said the Knoxville Republican. "I think our challenge has been, whether its pre-kindergarten or any other increase in the budget, to be very thoughtful about that. We have limited funds and we need to make sure that we're investing them wisely."

Rubin said she's aware of only one study that's examined pre-K participants from all income levels, including middle-income students. Some lawmakers have been concerned that there isn't firm scientific evidence of the benefits offered by pre-K.

She said that study conducted by Georgetown University on the Tulsa, Okla., school district showed that students in the program improved academically.

"The study shows that middle-income students do benefit from pre-K," said Rubin, adding that similar studies in other states are ongoing. "That's important because in order to improve our schools we need to be investing in pre-K, not only for at-risk children, but for middle-income children as well."

Last week, education committee members received an early assessment from an Ohio-based group conducting a three-year study of Tennessee's pre-K program. Overall, the study showed the program is beneficial, but does have some problem areas.

For instance, in the case of reading and language arts, minority females did better than minority males. And in the area of math, white males in pre-K didn't do well when compared to a group of white males not in the program.

But despite those findings, Rubin said pre-K is beneficial long-term.

"Pre-K is one of the best investments the state can make in education reform," she said.

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