Miss. Loses Out on Federal Pre-K Grant—Again – Education Week

Published Online: December 18, 2014

Jennifer Calvert, director of the ABC Pre-School & Nursery Inc. in Aberdeen, Miss., helps a student build a pattern during a morning activity earlier this year. Educators say early education is critical to fix Mississippi’s education deficiencies.

Jennifer Calvert, director of the ABC Pre-School & Nursery Inc. in Aberdeen, Miss., helps a student build a pattern during a morning activity earlier this year. Educators say early education is critical to fix Mississippi’s education deficiencies.

—Jackie Mader/Hechinger Report

By Jackie Mader, The Hechinger Report

Mississippi’s flawed application and underdeveloped plans to provide preschool for all children is partly to blame for why the state’s youngest learners were bypassed once again for federal funds that could have provided a boost to early education, a review found.

Last week, Mississippi was passed over for a preschool grant that would have tripled the number of children enrolled in early education classes in four years, increased the number of highly qualified preschool teachers and boosted salaries, according to the state’s application.

This year marks the third time that Mississippi’s application, which asked for $60 million in federal preschool funding over the course of four years, has been rejected. The state scored seventh out of nine applicants for a specific preschool development grant, and is one of the only states in the South to lose out.

Eighteen states received a federal preschool grant ranging from about $2 million to nearly $25 million to establish or expand existing programs as part of a nationwide push to expand access for early childhood education. Just 6 percent of 4-year-olds in Mississippi attend a state-funded program, which has received $3 million each year for two years.

A growing body of research has found that high-quality pre-K programs can teach children important classroom skills like how to raise their hands and pay attention, as well as boost reading and math skills. Data released earlier this year found that two-thirds of Mississippi’s students start kindergarten unprepared and are less likely to be proficient readers by third grade. For years, Mississippi’s students of all ages have scored at or near the bottom on national standardized reading and math tests.

Many educators say that, to improve later outcomes, Mississippi must first improve early education. Nationwide, about 28 percent of 4-year-olds attend state-funded preschool programs according to the National Institute for Early Education Research, although access and quality vary greatly. As of 2013, 10 states did not offer preschool, while states like Oklahoma and Florida provided pre-K to more than 74 percent of their 4-year-olds. Some states have high-quality programs as evidenced by such traits as ensuring teachers hold bachelor’s degrees and enforcing small class sizes. Other states meet few of these high-quality guidelines.

Officials who reviewed Mississippi’s application noted many deficiencies, including vague statements and an overall lack of evidence and details. The reviewers frequently mentioned that the state did not provide plans to ensure that all students, including English-language learners and those with disabilities, would receive a high-quality preschool experience.

The state was also criticized for its lack of commitment to children in poverty. One reviewer noted that only 2 percent of children in poverty were served by the state-funded preschool program in 2014, and only 5 percent will be served in 2015. Unlike in states such as Tennessee, low-income children are not prioritized in Mississippi’s program, although some funding from the grant would have targeted low-income children.

On Thursday, Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, responded to the critiques in a statement. “We are very disappointed that Mississippi was not awarded the federal Preschool Development Grant but will use the feedback from our proposal to help strengthen our early childhood education system,” Wright said. “Mississippi is still in the early stages of offering publicly funded, high-quality early childhood education programming. We remain fully committed to expanding access to these programs for all children.”

Governor Phil Bryant also issued a statement last week in which he called the loss of funds “unfortunate” and lauded the work of current preschool groups in Mississippi, which he said “are already showing positive student outcomes in the state.”

The reviewers noted that if Mississippi wants federal funds for preschool, it must first develop the “necessary infrastructure and capacity for scaling up a sustainable preK program.” Reviewers also detailed deficiencies in Mississippi’s training and preparation for preschool teachers. Although the state proposed a plan to increase education requirements for preschool teachers, reviewers noted that the plan “appeared to emphasize the quickness of acquiring credentialed individuals” rather than “the quality of the individuals’ preparation for their jobs.”

The officials argued that while the state’s small preschool program, which launched in 2013, is promising, “there has been no additional legislation passed in Mississippi in recent years to better support access and /or improve the quality of preschool programs for young children.” One reviewer emphasized that Mississippi’s lack of mandatory kindergarten “could be a hindrance” to sustaining “the educational and developmental gains of Eligible Children.”

In Mississippi, where schools are not required to offer full-day kindergarten programs and attendance is voluntary, a Hechinger Report analysis of data found that kindergarteners have the lowest average daily attendance rate of any K-8 grade.

Danny Spreitler, a member of the state’s Board of Education and executive director of a foundation focused on early childhood, said that before the state applies for more grants, it needs to improve collaboration between state agencies and preschool programs. “I honestly don’t think this is the time for us to be out here trying to figure out money, until we get our ducks in a row,” he said.

Spreitler added that he was troubled by the harsh comments from reviewers, which didn’t seem to acknowledge that Mississippi is at a different stage in its program than other states. “We need to take this next year, 2015, and rather than look at massive expansion, we’ve got to get more reliable data on the programs that are working and sit down … look at what’s working,” and then “figure out how to take it statewide.”

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Haslam names Candice McQueen new ed commissioner – Education Week

Published Online: December 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has named a top education official at Lipscomb University to be the next Education Department commissioner.

The Republican governor announced Wednesday that he's chosen Candice McQueen. She will replace Kevin Huffman, who announced last month that he's leaving for the private sector.

Haslam had said he was considering someone in Tennessee who would have a built-in advantage by already being familiar with the state's education picture.

McQueen was appointed senior vice president of Lipscomb's College of Education in January after being credited with overseeing the rise of one of the nation's top education programs. McQueen also serves as dean.

She is seen as having a strong grasp of Common Core academic standards, which have been phased into Tennessee's classrooms over the past four years.


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Tennessee gets grant to expand preschool – Education Week

Published Online: December 10, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Federal officials have awarded a $17.5 million grant to Tennessee to expand preschool services.

A statement from the U.S. Education Department on Wednesday says Tennessee is one of 13 states receiving funding from the Preschool Development Grants program to expand services. Five other states received grants for preschool development.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said expanding access to quality preschool "is critically important" to ensuring the future success of children.

Duncan says that states receiving the grants will serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.


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Tennessee gets grant to expand preschool – Education Week

Published Online: December 10, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Federal officials have awarded a $17.5 million grant to Tennessee to expand preschool services.

A statement from the U.S. Education Department on Wednesday says Tennessee is one of 13 states receiving funding from the Preschool Development Grants program to expand services. Five other states received grants for preschool development.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said expanding access to quality preschool "is critically important" to ensuring the future success of children.

Duncan says that states receiving the grants will serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.


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Report: More investment in early childhood ed – Education Week

Published Online: December 5, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A recent report from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth says the state needs to invest more in early childhood education.

The study released this week recommends expanding the state's voluntary pre-K program to all at-risk Tennessee children.

The program has not been expanded since 2008. Established in 1999, the program has 935 classrooms serving about 18,500 children.

The commission says research shows pre-K programs help children develop the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn.

The report also urges Gov. Bill Haslam to expand Medicaid in Tennessee so that children can receive health care. According to the commission, about 80,000 children are eligible for TennCare — the state's Medicaid program — but aren't covered.

Child care advocates believe they would receive coverage if the expansion occurs.


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Report: More investment in early childhood ed – Education Week

Published Online: December 5, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A recent report from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth says the state needs to invest more in early childhood education.

The study released this week recommends expanding the state's voluntary pre-K program to all at-risk Tennessee children.

The program has not been expanded since 2008. Established in 1999, the program has 935 classrooms serving about 18,500 children.

The commission says research shows pre-K programs help children develop the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn.

The report also urges Gov. Bill Haslam to expand Medicaid in Tennessee so that children can receive health care. According to the commission, about 80,000 children are eligible for TennCare — the state's Medicaid program — but aren't covered.

Child care advocates believe they would receive coverage if the expansion occurs.


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Teachers’ union seeks 6 percent pay increase – Education Week

Published Online: December 3, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state's largest teachers' union is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to increase teachers' pay by 6 percent this year.

The Tennessee Education Association issued a news release on Tuesday, three days before the governor is to hear a budget presentation from the state Education Department.

Haslam is holding budget hearings with state agencies this week.

The TEA said it would ultimately like to see a salary increase of 11.3 percent for teachers; 6 percent this year and the rest phased in over two to three years.

The group said the increase could be built into the state's school funding formula, or BEP.

In 2013, Haslam vowed to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay. He told reporters on Tuesday that he's still committed to that, even though he didn't say how and or when he'd do it.


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Teachers’ union seeks 6 percent pay increase – Education Week

Published Online: December 3, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state's largest teachers' union is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to increase teachers' pay by 6 percent this year.

The Tennessee Education Association issued a news release on Tuesday, three days before the governor is to hear a budget presentation from the state Education Department.

Haslam is holding budget hearings with state agencies this week.

The TEA said it would ultimately like to see a salary increase of 11.3 percent for teachers; 6 percent this year and the rest phased in over two to three years.

The group said the increase could be built into the state's school funding formula, or BEP.

In 2013, Haslam vowed to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay. He told reporters on Tuesday that he's still committed to that, even though he didn't say how and or when he'd do it.


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Head of NEA supports higher Tennessee teacher pay – Education Week

Published Online: December 3, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of the National Education Association said Wednesday that she supports increased pay for Tennessee teachers because it's necessary to take care of their families, as well as pay off college loans they used to get into the profession.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia was in Nashville to talk with educators and spoke to The Associated Press after touring a local elementary school.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to increase teachers' pay as much as 11.3 percent. They're asking for 6 percent for next year, and the rest to be phased in over two to three years.

While teacher salaries vary nationally, Garcia acknowledged Tennessee teachers aren't being paid enough.

She said the low salaries could deter those interested in becoming teachers.

"They're going to be making some financial decisions and I'm afraid that because of the low pay, a lot of them are going to decide I can't teach in the Tennessee schools," Garcia said. "I want to ... but I can't feed my family."

Tennessee teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011 — Haslam's first year in office — when compared with the Consumer Price Index, according to the TEA.

The Republican governor had planned to increase teacher salaries last year, as well as pay for state employees, but decided not to citing poor state revenues.

He later vowed to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay.

Haslam told reporters later Wednesday that he's still committed to that, but his action will still depend on state revenues, which he says he hopes to have a better picture of in the next couple of months.

"Nobody wants to prioritize that as much as I do," Haslam said of higher teacher pay. "But we have ... to fit within the revenue that we have."

The TEA said the increase could be built into the state's school funding formula, or BEP. The group wants to ultimately increase the state's BEP funding for teacher salaries from $40,000 to $45,000.

"We're not asking for this to happen all at once, but we are asking for the governor to get serious about investing in our teachers," said TEA executive director Carolyn Crowder. "The povertization of the teaching profession in Tennessee must stop."

Haslam is holding budget hearings with state agencies this week and scheduled to hear from the Education Department on Friday.


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Head of NEA supports higher Tennessee teacher pay – Education Week

Published Online: December 3, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of the National Education Association said Wednesday that she supports increased pay for Tennessee teachers because it's necessary to take care of their families, as well as pay off college loans they used to get into the profession.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia was in Nashville to talk with educators and spoke to The Associated Press after touring a local elementary school.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to increase teachers' pay as much as 11.3 percent. They're asking for 6 percent for next year, and the rest to be phased in over two to three years.

While teacher salaries vary nationally, Garcia acknowledged Tennessee teachers aren't being paid enough.

She said the low salaries could deter those interested in becoming teachers.

"They're going to be making some financial decisions and I'm afraid that because of the low pay, a lot of them are going to decide I can't teach in the Tennessee schools," Garcia said. "I want to ... but I can't feed my family."

Tennessee teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011 — Haslam's first year in office — when compared with the Consumer Price Index, according to the TEA.

The Republican governor had planned to increase teacher salaries last year, as well as pay for state employees, but decided not to citing poor state revenues.

He later vowed to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay.

Haslam told reporters later Wednesday that he's still committed to that, but his action will still depend on state revenues, which he says he hopes to have a better picture of in the next couple of months.

"Nobody wants to prioritize that as much as I do," Haslam said of higher teacher pay. "But we have ... to fit within the revenue that we have."

The TEA said the increase could be built into the state's school funding formula, or BEP. The group wants to ultimately increase the state's BEP funding for teacher salaries from $40,000 to $45,000.

"We're not asking for this to happen all at once, but we are asking for the governor to get serious about investing in our teachers," said TEA executive director Carolyn Crowder. "The povertization of the teaching profession in Tennessee must stop."

Haslam is holding budget hearings with state agencies this week and scheduled to hear from the Education Department on Friday.


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