New application more rigorous, ensures high-quality opportunities provided for students with greatest need


NASHVILLE—Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that 18,340 students in 917 classrooms across the state will benefit from the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program in the 2017-18 school year. Nearly 95 percent of districts in Tennessee will receive VPK funding designed to serve 4-year-olds who are at-risk. A list of preliminary funding amounts by district and the number of classrooms that funding supports is located on the department’s website.


The application process was strengthened this year to ensure the program provides children with a high-quality opportunity to develop school readiness skills and a strong foundation for learning. Pursuant to the requirements outlined in the Pre-K Quality Act of 2016, this year VPK funding was awarded on a competitive basis in order provide consistently high-quality VPK programs that prioritize serving students from low-income families.


“High-quality early learning opportunities are one of the best investments we can make in our kids,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We want to ensure we are supporting strong early learning opportunities for our students with the greatest need, and that is reflected in the updated application process and in these grantees.”


To ensure VPK funds are used to maximize and increase student outcomes, the funding for districts for 2017-18 VPK programs changed from a formula-based allocation to a competitive grant process based on program quality standards, including:

  • full enrollment in programs serving the highest-need students;
  • use of a quality curriculum aligned to the Tennessee Early Learning Developmental Standards for 4-year-olds;
  • daily schedule that maximizes instructional time, minimizes transitions, and contributes to children’s healthy growth and development;
  • use of student outcome data to improve instruction;
  • frequent classroom observations with job-embedded support for pre-K teachers; and
  • family outreach to maximize enrollment and support at-home learning.


Moving to a competitive application process is the first of many targeted updates the department is undertaking to ensure VPK funding is utilized to support high-quality pre-K programs across the state. As the department continues to make pre-K program quality improvements, we will continue to partner with districts across the state to measure program quality and to provide strategic professional development and support.


To find out more about VPK in Tennessee, visit the department’s website or contact Candace Cook, director of voluntary pre-K programs, at  For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or