The Budget: Expanding prekindergarten pays off big dividends

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Adding 340 New Prekindergarten Seats
  • Investment: $3.4 million for hiring teachers, buying equipment, developing curriculum and more

Less than half of students coming into kindergarten in Metro Schools have access to affordable, high-quality preschool programs. Right now in our own prekindergarten classes, we can only serve about 2,500 kids. Head Start serves another 1,400 children, and private providers serve more, but many families who want and need pre-K are not served.

There are more than 1,100 children on our pre-k wait list. We need to change that.

One of our top budget priorities this year is to start expanding pre-k now so we can serve all eligible families in Davidson County by 2018. The first step is adding 340 new high-quality pre-k seats next year in strategically located Pre-k Model Learning Centers.

We’ve already talked about the whys and the research extensively, so let’s get into the particulars that give this plan the potential for success for a relatively small investment.

The Board of Education has approved turning Ross and Bordeaux Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers, as well as opening new classrooms in the Casa Azafran community center on Nolensville road. These centers will provide:

  • Exemplary teachers and assistant teachers in every classroom with knowledge of early childhood development
  • Instructional leaders focused on creating centers of excellence in staff development
  • Intensive focus on language development, early math skills and multicultural programming
  • Priority placed on children’s social-emotional development and executive function
  • Full-day programming (8:00 am to 3:00 pm), with before and after-care options
  • Strong parent engagement, including parent education, to support student learning at home
  • Partnerships to ensure comprehensive health and social services for students and families

The Model Learning Centers won’t just serve students, but teachers, too. Pre-k teachers from across Nashville will come to the Centers to learn best practices and get professional development.

To focus on that instructional quality in addition to classroom quantity, we’re partnering with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University to help us develop the program and the best practices to be modeled in these centers. We are also working with Head Start, the United Way, Conexion Americas and other experts in community service to better serve the whole child and provide wrap-around services for families. If families and children have access to what they need outside school, they have a better chance for success in school.

The need for more pre-k seats is particularly urgent now, as changes to Tennessee kindergarten age requirements mean as many as 800-1,000 Nashville children will be left without an affordable, high-quality early learning option. If we want to see real progress in educational outcomes in Nashville, we have to start early. That means getting more students into pre-k, where they can be adequately prepared for a rich and rewarding K-12 learning experience.

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

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