Metro Schools will get $33 million from the federal government over the next four years to expand pre-kindergarten – an amount that comes close to how much the district got from the much-heralded Race to the Top program.
The White House announced grants in 18 states Wednesday ahead of a summit on early childhood education. Memphis also got money. Nashville officials say the grant puts the city further down the path toward a goal of pre-k for all children.
“This is a giant step,” superintendent Jesse Register said at a press conference Wednesday. “We are not there yet.”
The district can only estimate how many four-year-olds are in the city. Currently, 4,000 are enrolled, which is thought to be just shy of two-thirds of Nashville’s eligible children, even after expanding the program this year.
Metro Schools dropped restrictions that required students to be disadvantaged or an English language learner, though both still get preference. There’s now a waiting list of a thousand students.
The federal grant will provide training for all pre-k teachers in the city and add 400 spots, with a new site in the old Hickory Hollow library. The money also pays for Vanderbilt researchers to study whether pre-k sticks with the children.
“We’ll be able to track these students and assess how well they’re doing in kindergarten and first grade, as well as tracking where it is they came from,” says Lisa Wiltshire, MNPS director of early learning. “So we’ll really have some good comparative data on what’s working.”
Nationally, pre-k is generally accepted as a good investment, but many Republican leaders in Tennessee will point to a state Comptroller’s report that found that by third grade, it was hard to tell if a student had been to pre-k.