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Shared Victories Worth Celebrating

It’s important to say that we don’t accomplish anything alone. Together, we are a coalition — comprised of organizations and people from across Tennessee who lend their time, talent and voices in support of quality early education.  So for all you do for our children, thank you.  Together, we’re making a difference!

Here are some of our shared wins worth celebrating.

Together, we updated the K-12 public education funding model for the first time in 30 years

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.

Together, we overhauled Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program

HB137/SB144 “Tennessee Opportunity Act” was merged into HB into HB142/SB751 ultimately receiving unanimous support in the House (92-0) and in the Senate (32-0). It was signed into law on May 25, 2021 and became Public Chapter 515. Senator Bo Watson and Representative David Hawk filed legislation proposing the Tennessee Opportunity Act for a strategic reset of how Tennessee uses its federal TANF block grant, $730+ million of which was unused as of 2020.  The key provisions of the bill which we championed will 1) establish a reserve not to exceed the state’s annual TANF block grant ($191 million), 2) ensure future funds other than the reserve are fully allocated and that funds are deployed in counties throughout the state proportionally to their share of children in poverty, and 3) invest $182 million of surplus funds in the planning, implementation and rigorous evaluation of seven evidence-based pilot initiatives across the state –all with the goal of strengthening family self-sufficiency and interrupting the cycle of poverty and government dependence.

Other provisions of the merged bill which were championed by DHS and the Governor’s office included increased penalties for fraudulently receiving TANF assistance, an optional alternative set of incentives and supports for individuals pursuing education advancement, and an increase to the monthly cash assistance grant.  Negotiations resulted in adoption of the provisions of the Tennessee Opportunity Act into the Governor’s legislation in what was arguably a model for collaboration among the legislative, executive branches of government and the nonprofit community.

Together, we’ve started a movement to repair Tennessee’s broken child care system

It started with a first of its kind report: Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis,  produced by the TQEE team and sponsored by Chambers of Commerce and other business organizations across the state. It accelerated as we raised awareness with state policymakers that Tennessee has left $100s of millions in federal funds for child care on the table. And it continues with the work of the Tennessee Child Care Task Force, which was created as a result of a bill TQEE actively supported in 2021 alongside sponsors Senator Becky Massey and Representative Patsy Hazlewood. The task force, of which TQEE President and CEO Blair Taylor is a member, is developing a strategic plan that will better ensure Tennessee’s working families can access quality, affordable child care.

Together, we’re strengthening literacy supports in the early grades

TQEE supported the passage Governor Lee’s package of literacy bills during the special legislative session on education in 2021.  The bills established a new phonics-based reading program to help boost literacy rates and allocated resources for high-dosage tutoring, and summer and afterschool programs to accelerate learning and address learning loss due to the pandemic. Additionally, it ensured standardized tests are administered to ensure visibility into student progress while “holding harmless” educators, schools and students for test outcomes.

Together, we more than doubled the state’s budget for Evidence Based Home Visiting (EBHV) programs

Together, we’ve secured nearly $60 million in additional funding for EBHV.  We believe strongly in these crucial programs where a professional social worker or nurse is sent to help struggling parents cope. Studies have repeatedly shown that these investments help strengthen parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve child and parent health, and get children ready for school. They’re also cost effective, with a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 spent due to reduced costs of child protection, K-12 special education and grade retention, and criminal justice expenses. In 2018 we persuaded the legislature to increase the EBHV budget for the first time in a decade (by $1 million), and then secured another $1 million increase in 2019.  Finally in 2020, the Governor Bill Lee administration effectively doubled the state’s evidence based home visiting budget – authorizing the Tennessee Department of Health to tap $14,052,600 annually (over 4 years – so $56 million total and hopefully recurring after 4 years) from the state’s unused appropriation of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

Together, we protected Tennessee’s voluntary Pre-K program

Because the results of a 2015 Vanderbilt study were broadly misinterpreted, many state policymakers mistakenly thought state’s Voluntary PreK (TN-VPK) program doesn’t work. Vanderbilt researchers originally confirmed that Tennessee children who participated in VPK are better prepared for Kindergarten, but confusion remained about whether the gains were sustained.  In 2019, in a new report, the same researchers clarified that the VPK children also maintain academic advantage over their non-VPK peers through 3rd grade as long as their K-3 teachers and schools are effective. For four years TQEE has had to fight hard to defeat legislation to siphon funds away from TN-VPK.  Now, armed with the clarifying study, we’re ready to go on offense again to expand the program, and improve K-3rd instruction too!

We’re together, Tennessee! Republicans and Democrats are united in support of early education.

Our annual voter poll has made clear that early education has strong bi-partisan support in Tennessee.  Here’s a sampling of the numbers:

  • 91% agree that early education, from birth to third grade, provides the building blocks of all learning.
  • 89% want Pre-K expanded to all 4-year-olds
  • 91% want more investment in early literacy programs
  • 92% want more investment for math proficiency by 3rd grade
  • 91% support greater investment in social-emotional skills (“early workforce skills”) like taking turns, sharing, cooperating, problem solving and maintaining focus on a task.
  •  87% say child care has a major impact on a child’s readiness to be a good learner when they enter kindergarten, and 86% think it has a major impact on children’s long-term well-being and future job success.
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