It’s well documented that Tennessee families are struggling to find quality child care and preschool, and most can’t afford it when they find it. As a result, many parents are reducing work hours or opting out of work altogether. In turn, businesses across the state are struggling to fill jobs and economic growth is significantly dampened as a result.
Moreover, the lack of quality, affordable early care and education options for children birth to five represents a missed opportunity to boost sagging third grade reading and math proficiency. Research has repeatedly proven that high-quality early care and education birth through third grade is the critical foundation for future academic and workforce success with strong returns on investment. Yet with 68 percent of Tennessee third graders not proficient in reading or in math, it’s clear that Tennessee’s foundation is faltering.
But all that could change in 2022. It’s widely expected that by year end, federal legislation will be enacted that would make historic investments in early care and education such that:
- Voluntary, quality Pre-k is available free of charge for any 3- and 4-year-old whose parents want them to attend
- Quality, affordable child care is available throughout the state for working families
We’re watching all of this closely, and here’s what you need to know now.
- The details of the legislation are still being negotiated, but once it’s finalized things will move fast. The legislation will be enacted and within a few months thereafter Governor Bill Lee will need to opt into the funding on behalf of Tennessee families. This will set the wheels in motion to develop our own unique Tennessee plan for implementation.
- A modest state government investment will eventually be required, although the majority of the costs will be covered by the federal government. And of course the significant return on investment for high quality early care and education is well documented.
- Tennessee voters from across the political spectrum want this. In our recent voter survey, Tennesseans across partisan lines overwhelmingly expressed support for making quality preschool and child care available to more families.
- 89% believe our state’s voluntary Pre-k program should be available to all Tennessee 4-year-olds, and 87% support increasing state funding to make that possible.
- 87% percent favor expanded child care assistance for low and middle-income families so that parents can afford to work.
- 91% agree that early education, from birth through third grade, provides the building blocks of all future learning
Finally, because of the provision that governors must opt-in, we’ll need to ensure our own Governor Lee and the members of the Tennessee General Assembly hear from Tennessee families, providers, local government leaders, employers and YOU. We’ll keep you posted through email and social media, and once the federal legislation is enacted, we’ll provide lots of opportunities for you to weigh in with state policymakers.