Overview of Pre-K Program-Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten for Tennessee (VPK)

  • Enrollment is voluntary and open to all four-year-old children with an emphasis on serving at-risk children.  Priority enrollment is granted to children who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, then to children who meet a number of state-determined risk factors.  If there are still slots, children who qualify based on locally determined risk factors may enroll.
  • Funded through a combination of local, state and federal funds.  A large allocation is provided through state lottery funds. 
  • Funds are distributed to districts through a competitive grant process.  Districts may sub-contract to for-profit, non-profit and Head Start providers.
  • Program is overseen by the State Department of Education, Office of Early Learning.  However, every school district also has a Pre-K Advisory Council which provides formal input about the program in their community.

Brief History of Tennessee’s Pre-K Program

  • 1998 Tennessee Pre-K pilot program is launched in an effort to provide state-funded pre-k to at-risk children.
  • 2004 Early Childhood Education becomes one of the recipients of lottery funds.
  • 2005 Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act is passed and doubles the amount of pre-k classrooms that are funded by the state.  The goal of VPK is “to prepare children for school by providing an opportunity for them to develop school readiness skills in an environment that fosters the love and joy of learning.”
  • 2009 Program serves 18,364 children.

Evaluations of Tennessee’s Pre-K Program

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program Grant Proposal.  A team at Vanderbilt University began a study during the 2009-2010 school year.  Results of year one of this longitudinal study are not yet available.

Program Website

Tennessee Department of Education Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Website

Resource List

NIEER 2009 Yearbook Tennessee Profile
Pre-K Now Tennessee Profile
Tennessee Department of Education Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Website
Tennessee Education Justice Profile


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