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State awards grants for 227 new pre-K classrooms

Shelby County receives over $2,000,000 in pre-K grant funding... Shelby County receives over $2,000,000 in pre-K grant funding.

Nashville — Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Department of Education recently announced $20 million in new pre-K grants to open 227 new classrooms under the governor’s Voluntary Pre-K for All program.

Ninety-six school systems across the state received funds to open new classrooms for the 2006-2007 school year, providing access to pre-K for 5,000 additional four-year-olds.

In Shelby County, Shelby County Schools will receive $150,579 for two new pre-K classrooms and Memphis City Schools will receive $1,822,242 to fund 25 new pre-K classrooms.

Bredesen requested that the General Assembly appropriate an additional $20 million in this year’s budget for pre-K in Tennessee, increasing total funding for the program to $55 million. With the grant awards, Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program now extends to 88 of the state’s 95 counties.

“I’m extremely pleased that every school system that has applied for pre-K funds has received enough to fund at least one classroom, and I want to thank the leaders of these school systems and their communities for embracing the opportunity to partner in an extraordinary program,” Bredesen said. “I especially want to recognize the teachers, who are responsible for maintaining the high quality of Tennessee’s pre-K experience.”

“Pre-K education brings our citizens together in support of a brighter future for Tennessee,” said state Sen. Jim Kyle. “This program will truly make a difference in the education of the children here in our community.”

Tennessee has been recognized nationally as having among the highest standards for its pre-K program.  In a ceremony in Washington D.C. recently, the Tennessee Alliance for Early Education was awarded the 2006 Pre-K Champion Award by the national advocacy group Pre-K Now. Tennessee was one of four states to receive such recognition.

“The quality of pre-K in Tennessee ranks us as one of the best states in the nation,” said state Rep. Lois DeBerry. “As a community, high quality education is a priority that we all share.”

Shelby County is also represented by sennators Kathryn Bowers, Steve Cohen, Mike Norris, and Curtis Person; state representatives Henri Brooks, Barbara Cooper, John DeBerry, Tre Hargett, Ulysses Jones, Brian Kelsey, Rep. Mike Kernell,  Beverly Marrero, Larry Miller, W.C. Pleasant, Gary Rowe, Curry Todd, Joe Towns, and Larry Turner.

In June, Education Commissioner Lana Seivers and Office of Early Learning Executive Director Bobbi Lussier addressed state leaders at a national conference where Tennessee’s pre-K program was highlighted as a model for other states.

“Not too long ago, pre-K was not on the public radar in this state,” Seivers said. “Today, we are celebrating the breakneck expansion of pre-K classrooms and Tennesseans are aware of the benefits of pre-K because Gov. Bredesen made early childhood education and the future of Tennessee’s children a priority.”

State funding for pre-K has been increased to more than five times the funding level in 2003. When school resumes, funding from excess lottery prize money and increases in state funding will have allowed 527 new pre-K classrooms to open statewide in the past two years.

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