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Hank Hayes • Apr 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday that a proposed additional $25 million investment in pre-kindergarten programs will be scaled back because of the state’s negative budget situation for the coming fiscal year.

As he has in the past, Bredesen used sailing imagery to explain decisions about the state budget.

“I’m going to have to trim my sails a little bit,” Bredesen, a Democrat, said of the proposed pre-K investment in a conference call with reporters. “I am probably going to have to trim my sails in a lot of places ... (but) I’m going to figure out how to grow this (pre-K) program.”

The conference call was hosted by Pre-K Now, a national pre-K advocacy group, to laud Bredesen for leading Tennes- see’s march toward voluntary pre-K.

In its annual “Leadership Matters” report released Wednesday, the advocacy group singled out Bredesen as one of 16 governors across the country working to expand pre-K in the face of budget and political pressures.

Collectively, the nation’s governors have proposed $261 million in new investments for pre-K, bringing the total planned investment to more than $5 billion, according to Pre-K Now.

“I’m gratified that Tennessee is being recognized for taking a wise, long-range view of pre-K,” Bredesen said. “Education experts understand that, dollar for dollar, pre-K is the single best investment we can make in our kids’ future. I’m committed to making it an option for all parents and families who want their children to attend, regardless of class or economic status.”

Pre-K Now cited Bredesen’s commitment to pre-K as key to the steady expansion of Tennessee’s program since the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Bredesen said initial objections to pre-K came from child care organizations and Head Start.

“We took the attitude that everyone (child care providers and schools) can play. ... One problem was the perception that it should only be for at-risk kids,” Bredesen explained. “We looked at the gateway from third to fourth grade where kids go from learning to read to reading to learn. ... We’re going to try to keep the motion going.”

Tennessee’s pre-K program meets nine out of 10 quality standards developed by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). In March, NIEER ranked Tennessee’s pre-K program among the top states in the nation for the third consecutive year for the quality of its design. Tennessee’s pre-K program now operates in 94 counties and serves 17,000 4-year-olds in more than 930 classrooms.

Southern governors, said Pre-K Now Executive Director Libby Doggett, have taken the lead in establishing pre-K programs.

“A 4-year-old will be a 4-year-old only once. You don’t get a second chance with these kids,” Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said during the conference call.

To read Pre-K Now’s “Leadership Matters” report visit www.preknow.org. Or to find out more about pre-K in Tennessee visit www.tn.gov/education.

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