The second year of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly ended last week, and we’re proud of what we achieved together on behalf of Tennessee’s littlest learners. THANK YOU for creating a powerful movement to make early care and education a priority for Tennessee policymakers. We are inspired by the momentum we’ve gained. Here are some shared victories worth celebrating:
The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act
In the biggest win for Tennessee children this session, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (SB2396/HB2143) passed, updating the K – 12 public education funding model for the first time in 30 years. Alongside an additional $1 billion in funding for public education, TISA’s student-centered approach recognizes and supports the unique needs of each child. The inclusion of crucial investments in early education, Kindergarten through third grade, are especially noteworthy as we fight to improve Tennessee’s early education foundation and get more students reading at grade level by third grade. Additionally, TISA adds new funding for school nurses and counselors in the base for all students, and includes funding weights for students who are economically disadvantaged and/or have unique learning needs.
Momentum for Pre-K expansion
More than 2,050 advocates emailed nearly 14,000 letters to state policymakers and/or signed a petition in support of Pre-K expansion through SB2179/HB2201. Chambers of commerce from all corners of the state sent joint letters of support, while community leaders and parents also made their voices heard. Despite SB2179/HB2201 making it out of three education committees, ultimately it did not pass. But we are proud of the strong momentum we created together and are more committed than ever to continuing the fight to make Pre-K an option for more children and families.
Other wins for Pre-K
Pre-K is now included in the state’s definition of elementary schools, thanks to the passage of SB2563/HB1890. The state definition now clarifies that “For purposes of federal funding, elementary schools are schools serving any combination of pre-kindergarten through grade six.” This change makes Pre-K spending eligible through some federal programs, leaving ultimate decisions to local educational agencies.
Through SB2595/HB2709 previously conflicting statutes regarding the eligibility of students who may attend Pre-K were clarified. The original conflicting statutes both required the Voluntary Pre-K program to first serve economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds, but they differed greatly on which kids may fill empty seats. One statute enabled an empty seat to be filled by any other 4-year-old while the other statute required districts to fill seats with students with at-risk factors or economically disadvantaged 3-year-olds. Thanks to the passage of this legislation, local education agencies now have the flexibility to determine which of these groups of students may fill the empty seats.
Important work from first year of 112th session continues
The overhaul of the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – a result of the Tennessee Opportunity Act TQEE championed during the 2021 legislative session – has reached another important milestone. Just this week, the Tennessee Department of Human Services announced TANF grants totaling $175 million have been awarded to seven collaborative groups across the state. Each group will work to implement innovative, community-driven three-year pilot programs with a goal of fostering family self-sufficiency and interrupting the cycle of poverty and government dependence.
The Tennessee Child Care Task Force, which was created as a result of a bill TQEE actively supported last year alongside sponsors Senator Becky Massey and Representative Patsy Hazlewood, is hard at work developing a strategic plan that will better ensure Tennessee’s working families can access quality, affordable child care. The task force, of which TQEE President and CEO Blair Taylor is a member, is scheduled to present recommendations by the end of the year.
Stay tuned for more ways to take action
Even though session has ended, our work to ensure all children receive the quality early education they need is far from over. Together in the coming months, our coalition will mount an even more powerful campaign to support investments in the early care and education of our littlest learners. Stay tuned for new opportunities to take action. We can’t do this important work without you.