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Dunn: Vouchers Not Dead, Just Delayed

School-voucher legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 9-2 vote Tuesday morning, but was “taken off notice” in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee later in the day.

But that shouldn’t be taken as an indication that he’s getting cold feet, the House measure’s sponsor, Knoxville Republican Bill Dunn, told TNReport.

“Don’t read anything into that,” Dunn said.

Several education committee members were absent from Legislative Plaza who want to weigh in on the issue, and Dunn said he desires that the legislation get a robust hearing and full committee vote.

Dunn said he took the bill off notice instead of “rolling it” because House rules tend to discourage simply delaying the vote on a bill multiple times if it is otherwise “on notice” for a committee hearing. Taking a measure off notice and later calling it up again translates to a smoother parliamentary maneuver, said Dunn, who also chairs the committee that schedules bills for votes on the full House floor.

Dunn said he intends to press ahead with his voucher or “opportunity scholarships” bill in the education committee next week.

The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, however, issued a press release Tuesday indicating they see the voucher bill’s “failure…to advance” as a hopeful sign that it’s floundering, or maybe even dead in the water.

Similar legislation authorizing vouchers passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House.

The legislation, HB1049/SB0999, would grant opportunity scholarships to low income students in schools districts with a school in the bottom 5 percent of statewide education institutions.

Those voting for the Senate’s measure — sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga — in the Finance Committee were Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, Mark Norris, R-Collierville, John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

Sens. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville and Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, voted the voucher bill.

Alex Harris can be contacted at alex@tnreport.com.

School-Voucher Bill Moving Forward in Legislature

The debate on school choice is underway in Tennessee Legislature and one measure, supported by Gov. Bill Haslam, is working its way forward.

Last week the Senate Education Committee approved the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, sponsored by Chattanooga Republican Todd Gardenhire, on a vote of 8-0.

Senate Bill 999 would provide scholarships for private-school tuition to low-income students in the state’s worst-performing public schools.

The total number of vouchers the state would award would gradually increase from 5,000 available scholarships in the 2015-16 school year to a peak of 20,000 from the 2018-19 school year forward. The fiscal note on the legislation indicates a cost of $125,000 for the Department of Education to implement the policy.

The House companion legislation — HB1049 — sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, also easily cleared the House Education Planning & Administration subcommittee last week on a vote of 7-1, though not without debate.

Rep. Kevin Dunlap, a Rock Island Democrat who is also a teacher, said the “gains and strides” made in education the last few years would be endangered by potentially removing $70 million from local school district. Dunlap said he’s “very, very concerned about the future of public education” as a result.

Rep. Dunn said critics of school vouchers, like Dunlap, appear more interested in protecting the status quo and putting “the emphasis on the system” rather than focusing on academic achievement outcomes.

“I’d like to put emphasis on the student,” said Dunn.

The Tennessee Education Association, many local school officials across the state and most Democrats in the Legislature have steadfastly opposed enabling parents to spend public monies on private education for their children.

“You’re taking away funding from an already underfunded school and putting it in vouchers. I don’t think it’s productive for public schools or private schools,”said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the Memphis Daily News in February.

A February 2013 MTSU Poll found that while 46 percent of Tennesseans oppose vouchers, 40 percent favor the idea and 12 percent were undecided at the time.

Dunn’s legislation is scheduled to be heard in full Committee next Tuesday. Gardenhire’s Senate bill is assigned to the Finance Committee, but has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.

Another school choice proposal, sponsored by Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not received as warm a welcome.

Both Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have said that Kelsey’s legislation is unlikely to be funded, even if it passes the Legislature.

Haslam told reporters during a press conference last week that Gardenhire’s proposal was in line with what he’s indicated the administration would be willing to fund, and as such, he intends to fund that legislation rather than Kelsey’s more expansive plan.

While both Kelsey and Haslam are supporters of vouchers, they have clashed over the scope of such legislation in the past. In 2013, Ramsey pointed the finger at Kelsey as to why the voucher bill failed in the Senate. Kelsey had indicated earlier that year that he wanted to amend Haslam’s proposal to extend it to more Tennessee students.

Senate Education Cmte. Approves Kelsey’s Voucher Bill

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 11, 2015:

NASHVILLE – The Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) calling for Opportunity Scholarships for students eligible for free and reduced lunch within districts containing a school in the bottom five percent of academic achievement.   The “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act” mirrors legislation proposed by Governor Bill Haslam last year that was passed by the Senate but stalled in the House.

“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey.  “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood.”

Under Senate Bill 122, approximately $6,500 of the scholarships would be offered to low-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice. The scholarship program would be capped at 5,000 students in year one, 7,500 in year two, 10,000 in year three, and 20,000 in year four and thereafter.   If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5 percent of schools is located.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” added Kelsey, who first introduced the idea in the Tennessee legislature ten years ago.  “The parents of these children deserve more choices, and their children deserve more options to receive a quality education.”

The bill is sponsored by House Education Administration and Planning Committee Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) in the House of Representatives.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He serves as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rhee Urges Lawmakers to ‘Come Together’ on School Choice Legislation

Statement from Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO of Students First; April 3, 2013:

“StudentsFirst and our 37,000 members across the state are extremely supportive of providing low-income kids trapped in failing schools access to the quality education they deserve. Unfortunately today, adults could not agree on how to move forward to serve Tennessee’s most vulnerable communities,” stated Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst. “I encourage our legislators to come together, and put the interests of students first.”

About StudentsFirst:

StudentsFirst is a bipartisan grassroots movement of more than 2 million members nationwide, working to focus our education system on what’s best for students. Today, too many of America’s children are not getting the quality education they need and deserve. StudentsFirst is helping to change that with common sense reforms that help make sure all students have great schools and great teachers. We are working to ensure educators are valued for the critical role they play in kids’ lives, families have high-quality school choices and a real say in their child’s education, and our tax dollars are spent wisely on what works for kids. Launched by former Washington D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in December 2010, StudentsFirst has successfully helped pass more than 110 student-centered policies in 18 states, and our movement continues to grow. For more information visit www.studentsfirst.org.

MTSU Poll: Tennesseans Split on School Vouchers

Press release from the MTSU Survey Group; February 26, 2013:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans remain divided statewide on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to spend state money on private schooling for poor children in failing public schools, but views differ sharply by race and region, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

Conducted Feb. 11-19, the telephone poll of 650 randomly selected Tennessee adults found 46 percent opposed to the plan but 40 percent in support of it, a statistical “dead heat,” given the poll’s four-percentage-point error margin. Another 12 percent of Tennesseans said they did not know, and the remaining 2 percent declined to answer.

“Statewide, it’s too close to call,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “Opponents of the plan outnumbered supporters in our sample, but it’s unclear whether the same is true among all Tennesseans. They appear evenly, or nearly evenly, divided.”

However, opinions on the governor’s proposal divide sharply by race, with 63 percent of minorities in favor compared to only 37 percent of whites. Twenty-eight percent of minorities oppose the measure, while the rest give no answer. By contrast, 48 percent of whites oppose the plan, while the rest give no answer.

An analysis of attitudes just among whites found whites in Middle Tennessee significantly more opposed (53 percent) than in favor (33 percent) with 12 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. A similar pattern emerged among whites in West Tennessee, with 53 percent opposed, 28 percent in favor, 17 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer. Whites in East Tennessee were evenly divided, with 44 percent opposed, 43 percent in favor, 11 percent undecided and the rest giving no answer.

“Thus, a more nuanced analysis finds support for school vouchers strongest among the state’s minorities and opposition strongest among whites, especially those in the state’s Middle and Western regions,” Blake said.

Attitudes toward the plan are statistically uniform across party affiliation, with 38 percent of the governor’s fellow Republicans supporting the measure compared to 41 percent of independents and 45 percent of Democrats. The question asked respondents, “Suppose a child in Tennessee is poor and is attending a public school that is among the bottom 5 percent in overall achievement. Would you favor or oppose using state money to send such a child to a private school?”

Meanwhile, Tennesseans give the quality of the state’s public schools about a “C” on average but give the quality of their local schools a significantly higher “C-plus” on average. Specifically, 8 percent give school quality statewide an “A,” while 28 percent give it a “B,” 36 percent give it a “C,” 8 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 14 percent don’t know or decline to answer. By contrast, 18 percent give the quality of their local schools an “A,” 36 percent give it a “B,” 22 percent give it a “C,” 7 percent give it a “D,” 6 percent give it an “F,” and 11 percent don’t know or decline to answer.

As was the case in the Fall 2011 MTSU Poll, Tennesseans in the “doughnut” of counties circling Metro Nashville are significantly happier with the quality of their local public schools than are residents of Metro Nashville and Tennesseans living in West Tennessee. “Doughnut” dwellers give their local school quality a “B” on average, while West Tennesseans give their local school quality a “C-plus,” and Metro Nashville residents give their local school quality closer to a “C.”

Poll data were collected by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.

Haslam Expects Voucher Dialog in ’13 Regardless If He’s On Board

Expect lots of discussion about whether taxpayers should send students to private schools on Capitol Hill next year, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday.

The governor said the state needs to have a serious discussion about a school vouchers program, but said he’s still undecided whether he’ll throw his full support behind a proposal due to him later this fall. A Haslam-appointed task force stopped short of firming up details of a proposed plan Wednesday.

“A lot of it depends on what it looks like. Let’s get the very best form, see what it looks like for Tennessee, then we as an administration will decide where we’ll be on that,” Haslam told reporters after a Nashville economic development announcement.

The state task force is still torn on key aspects of a proposal to use taxpayer money to pay for students to attend the private, parochial, charter or non-zoned public school of their choice. Major sticking points range from when the system would kick in to which students could cash in.

“You can get the policy right but still screw things up on the ground,” said Chris Barbic, a task force member and superintendent of the state’s Achievement School District, an arm of the state Department of Education charged with turning around failing schools.

Barbic, who founded a successful charter school in Texas before joining the Haslam administration in 2011, said he knows the state is juggling a handful of education reforms right now but said there’s no use in waiting to come up with a voucher plan.

“Parents get to figure out where they buy bread and toothpaste, and we’re going to limit their options on where they send their kids to school?” he said. “I have a hard time with that.”

The Republican-led General Assembly is anxious for the recommendations of the task force after the governor put off the issue of offering “opportunity scholarships” this year in favor of more study about what a voucher program would look like in Tennessee. Speakers of both chambers say they, too, expect vouchers to be a key issue in the 2013 legislative session.

Adopting a voucher concept would further the school choice movement in Tennessee, piggy-backing on a handful of charter school reforms over the last few years that lifted the cap on the number of allowed charter schools and opened enrollment beyond low-income and academically struggling students.

Choices are good, said Indya Kincannon, vice-chair of the Knox County Board of Education, who also sits on the task force. But the goal needs to be improving educational outcomes rather than simply offering choice, she said.

A teachers’ union representative said the state may be biting off more than it can chew, given this month’s fallout between the Department of Education and the second largest school district in the state over the high-profile denial of a charter school. On Capitol Hill there has been more talk of the state bypassing local school districts and taking over the entire approval process for new charters.

“The education reform plate right now is quite full,” said Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. “To be moving in the direction of trying to take more money from public schools, subsidize wealthy people for private school tuition, it’s definitely moving in the wrong direction.”

Among issues up for debate within the task force are:

  • Should students be eligible for vouchers based on their family’s income, their academic record or the performance of their school or district?
  • Which private schools could students attend? How long would such schools have to be operation to be eligible to accept vouchers? And how would they test students and report their progress to the state?
  • Should the state limit the number of vouchers issued? How many should the state permit?
  • Is there enough time to implement the plan for the fall 2013 school year? And should the program go statewide or launch as a pilot program?

The panel expects to meet again in late October to firm up recommendations to hand to the governor in November. Haslam has said the results of the proposal must show more than an “incremental difference” in education outcomes in the state to win his approval. The governor told reporters Thursday he’s not sure how to measure that, yet.

Governor Ruminating on Education Reform, Round 3

Tennessee students are heading back to class this month, and education reform is likely to be increasingly back in the news heading into the November elections and beyond.

So far, few solid policy directions and details have emerged, but the governor said this week he and his advisers are wrestling with issues ranging from school choice to expanding taxpayer-funded pre-K to better preparing post-secondary students for the workforce.

Here’s where things stand at present:

Vouchers Not a ‘Done Deal’

A contingent of legislative Republicans — among them the Senate’s most powerful member,  Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — have for some time asserted a commitment to expanding publicly funded choices available to parents who worry their children aren’t getting the highest-quality, individualized education they deserve through traditional government-run schools.

Their plan is to establish a system of “opportunity scholarships,” or vouchers, that will allow parents to put taxpayer resources toward the public, charter, private or parochial school of their choice. The Senate OK’d that plan in 2011 but it failed to gain similar momentum in the House.

But Haslam is still hesitant. He said that for the plan to come to legislative fruition a lot of complicated policy obstacles and political pitfalls will have to be negotiated. Last year the governor himself put the brakes on a school-voucher proposal, opting instead to appoint a task force to study the issue and report back in November.

The Tennessee-based free-market Beacon Center and a national group called the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice this spring released a poll they co-conducted suggesting that support for vouchers is solid in the Volunteer State. However, the governor told reporters this week he’ll need to be convinced a voucher system will result in more than just an “incremental difference” in the state’s education outcomes for him to put the weight of his administration behind it.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal,” he said of the voucher push. “That’s a political observation, not a personal observation.”

“In other words, whatever money is transferred with that child is enough to really provide the education but doesn’t wreck the existing school system. So getting that balance right I think will be the biggest challenge,” Haslam added.

The governor’s task force met Thursday and is expected to meet again Sept. 26.

Expanding Pre-K On Long To-Do List

Despite significant opposition from members of his own party, the governor has hinted he’d like to look into expanding the state’s pre-K program for low-income children.

But he’s not sure if that issue will make it into his legislative agenda come next year, he said.

“I’ve listed that as a possibility along with a whole gamut of other things that we should look at,” Haslam said.

“I still think its applicability is probably more in our low income high need areas. I don’t see a scenario where we’re going to have universal pre-K in Tennessee. Will we expand it or not? It’s in the list to be debated out among a lot of other worthy potentials,” he said.

Studies of Tennessee’s pre-K program show mixed results. A state-commissioned study released last year indicates the effects of Tennessee’s Pre-K program diminish by third grade. Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute is currently attempting to “study of the effectiveness” of Pre-K in Tennessee, and says students showed an average gain of 82 percent in early literacy and math skills.

Higher Education Front & Center

Haslam says he’s committed to finding ways to improve education systems in hopes of raising the quality of graduates it churns.

Whether that means through policy-tweaking efforts within the administration or new legislation, the governor said he’s as this stage unsure.

“I think the first thing it impacts is how we budget,” Haslam said. “Whether there will be other legislative proposals, I don’t know I have an answer to that yet.”

“At the end of the day the most important thing we do, I think, in government, is we allocate capital. We allocate where money goes. And we have to get that right if we want to be a great state,” he said.

He’s taken to the road on this issue, holding a series of seven roundtable discussions across the state and a summit in Nashville earlier this year to dive into the pitfalls of the state’s current system and what the needs are of local employers.

What appears to be coming out of the hearings is that the state needs to do a better job of linking state funding with programs in high-demand fields like welding, nursing and engineering, he said.

Haslam added that fiscal disciple is still a primary concern to his administration across the board in state government, including public education. Anytime there arises a possibility of making additional taxpayer-funding available to higher education, such discussions must be coupled with efforts to improve financial efficiencies, said the governor.

Ramsey: Education Choice ‘Valid, Valuable, Growing in Popularity’

Op-Ed from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; August 6, 2012: 

Our Republican majority in the state legislature have reached many of our goals these past two years. I’m very proud of our accomplishments. But there is still much left to do. One example is education reform.

Some might find this surprising. After all, Tennessee won the federal government’s Race to the Top Grant because of our willingness to reform. And reform we have. Tennessee has made truly great strides in education in recent years. Not only have we reformed tenure, we removed the monopoly held by Tennessee’s government employee union over our school boards.

Most recently we have implemented a teacher evaluation system where teachers are reviewed, and thus rewarded, based on their excellence.

We have clearly stayed true to my goal of striving to put a great teacher in every classroom. But there is much more to do.

Earlier this month, I saw a public opinion poll which revealed nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters support opportunity scholarships (or vouchers as they are sometimes called). These scholarships would allow children who were not blessed to be born wealthy to use the money allocated for their education at a school of their choice.

Governor Bill Haslam currently has a task force hard at work on this issue. They continue to deliberate on how opportunity scholarships can be best implemented in Tennessee. I am eager to review their findings and get to work passing a bill that benefits all of Tennessee.

I was proud when, under the leadership of Sen. Brian Kelsey, the Tennessee Senate passed an opportunity scholarship bill in 2011. Unfortunately, the measure failed in the state House. But whether the bill that ultimately passes both houses ends up looking exactly like the one we passed last year, the important thing to realize is that concept of choice is valid, valuable and growing in popularity.

Many of this state’s schools are failing. By the objective criteria we have at our disposal, we now know there are children in certain counties of our state who are not only not getting the education they deserve — they are getting little, if any, quality education at all.

This is a disturbing realization but it is not one we can easily ignore. As I said, one of my primary goals in public service is to make sure every Tennessee student has a great Tennessee teacher. We can spend all the money we want on grand new school buildings, new computers and the latest in educational software but, at the end of the day, it’s good teachers who make good students.

If children in our failing schools do not believe they have good teachers, who are we to stand in the way of their seeking instruction elsewhere? We cannot continue to make students prisoners of geography. We must apply to education those principles we know work in the economic sphere.

As Republicans, we believe in the free market. We know that competition drives excellence. I believe it is time to infuse those principles, if only in a limited way, into our education system.

Studies have shown opportunity scholarships are successful in boosting graduation rates without draining resources from the public schools. Giving parents a choice and improving public schools can be done simultaneously.

According to a study led by Dr. Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the District of Columbia’s opportunity scholarship program increased the graduation rate of students who were merely offered vouchers by double-digits. The graduation rate of students that actually used vouchers grew 21%. These are impressive statistics. Coupled with the moral and economic rightness of allowing choice — this is a no brainer.

Tennessee has proved over the past few years that we are a state willing to think boldly when it comes to education reform.

And frankly, we don’t have much choice. Tennessee consistently ranks at the top of the nation’s states in numerous categories. Whatever the measure — be it our low tax rate, our high quality of life or our reputation as the best state in the nation to own and operate a business — Tennessee shines. Our rank among states in education stands in strong contrast. It must be remedied.

Opportunity scholarships would provide hope to the children of this state who most need it. We cannot continue to hover near the bottom of the pack in education. We have taken the first steps in reform — but there is still much left to do.

Dem Leader Forecasts Partisan Fireworks Over Education Again in 2013

Even though Republicans are lately focused primarily on the federal health care ruling, a top House Democrat expects education will again emerge as the most contentious political issue in next year’s Tennessee Legislature.

Debate about college tuition, charter-school expansion and school choice will be among the hottest of hot-button issues come dead of winter 2013, minority-party caucus chairman Mike Turner predicted this week during a conversation with reporters in Nashville.

And Turner doesn’t seem particularly optimistic his party will fare any better getting its way and protecting its interests than has proven the case in the last two years. During the 2011-2012 Tennessee General Assembly, Democrats failed to successfully defend one of their dearest and most loyal constituencies, unionized teachers, from landmark legislative defeats at the hands of a politically aggressive GOP bent on removing the Tennessee Education Association as an obstacle to majority-party education reforms.

“I don’t think next year is going to get any easier,” Turner said. “They may be better at what they’re doing. Governing is new to them, being in the majority is new to them. God help us all if they get their feet underneath them before we get it back.”

He added, “I think education next year will be a big fight again.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has said his next big issue is indeed higher education. Haslam has said he wants the state to re-evaluate the system’s costs, boost the number of graduates and better weave degrees with Tennessee employers’ needs.

On that particular education issue, and likely few others, Turner hinted that Democrats and Republicans might be able to find some common ground trying to determine how to diminish bloated, upper-level bureaucratic dead weight in the state’s university system.

“Higher ed has got to learn that we are in difficult times. When they cut, they just tend to cut the bottom,” said Turner, a firefighter from Old Hickory who isn’t facing a re-election opponent this year. “They’ve still got their 19 vice presidents and their department heads and above them they’ve got chancellors, and I don’t think they live in the real world up there. If the United States can have one vice president, I’m not sure UT needs 19.”

Such concerns are in fact presently on the minds of some of those attending government-funded colleges. Recently, students at the University of Tennessee launched an online petition drive in Knoxville to protest a $22,000 raise for its chancellor at a time when student tuition is expected to jump an average of $289 per semester.

Nevertheless, Turner characterized the pending evaluation of the costs of higher education as something of “a crisis coming” for college-bound students of low-to-moderate means.

Turner expects the Republican-led Legislature to take another shot at raising the bar on awarding the state-funded Hope Scholarship. Students now need either a score of 21 on the ACT or a 3.0 grade point average.

Haslam last year slid school choice issues to the back burner, asking a panel to study the implications of allowing parents to send their children to private, charter or other public schools outside their local area using a voucher program. The panel is expected to report its findings to the governor this fall.

“I think vouchers will be in play, big time this time,” said Turner. “I think they’re going to push them hard.”

Turner also anticipates a GOP-led push to expand charter schools, which he predicts “will ultimately lead to private re-segregation of the schools.”

Haslam began his first few months in office working to lift the cap on the number of charter schools that can open statewide.

Senate Dems Praise Haslam for Not Coupling Pre-K Programs, School Vouchers

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; June 7, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic leaders thanked Governor Bill Haslam Thursday for refusing to tie his proposal for increased Pre-Kindergarten funding to the introduction of government giveaways to private academies through school vouchers.

“I applaud the Governor’s refusal to play politics with the Pre-K program,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “Many parents I talk with are asking for more Pre-K classrooms, especially in rural areas. Whether or not the administration and the legislature ultimately expand the program is a very worthy debate, and one that should not be tangled up in a dispute over the effectiveness of a school voucher program.”

When addressing separate proposals regarding Pre-K funding and vouchers, Haslam told the Associated Press, “I don’t think they’re coupled at all.”

“In both cases it’s one of those where both of them are controversial, but at the end of the day our mission is to figure out what’s effective and what works,” Haslam told the AP.

The state’s Pre-K program began under Republican Governor Don Sundquist and expanded to serve more than 18,000 children under Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, according to the report. Haslam has discussed further expansions of Pre-K, which helped Tennessee secure $501 million in Race to the Top funds and has increasingly improved student achievement, especially for children from low-income households.

“I support the Governor’s consideration of expanding Pre-K, and I look forward to seeing the specifics of his proposal,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, who sponsored Bredesen’s current expansion of Pre-K and its funding.

“Pre-K gives thousands of Tennessee children a head start on a quality education and prepares them for a lifetime of learning. All other progress we make in Tennessee schools begins with the foundation we lay in the Pre-K program.”