Beth Harwell: Statewide pre-K unlikely

House Republicans won't be looking to expand access to pre-kindergarten across the state in the upcoming legislative session, Speaker Beth Harwell said Wednesday.

But Harwell said she does expect to see a compromise that would allow grocery stores to sell wine while also protecting liquor store owners' interests.

Tennessee became eligible in June for $64.3 million in federal funds to provide pre-K to an additional 7,861 children. But the Preschool for All program, launched by President Barack Obama, would require a $6.4 million state funding match.

Sitting alongside her top lieutenants as they spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes, Harwell said she expects the General Assembly to "continue to fund the pre-K we already have in place, but no additional expansion."

"I don't believe that will be a priority here," the Nashville Republican said. "It's always been our priority to provide pre-K for the neediest of children, those that perhaps do not receive in their homes the necessary instruction to enter school (on) Day 1 and learn.

"So we want to go into our lowest-performing areas and help those children. That's what we've targeted. I don't see a level of comfort to expand it beyond that."

Metro Schools officials have talked about expanding pre-K access in Nashville with local funding. Harwell said Director of Schools Jesse Register has spoken to her about that plan.

Gerald McCormick, the House Republican leader, said a school voucher program, which would let some students use public funds to attend private schools, could move forward next year. Gov. Bill Haslam withdrew a voucher plan last spring because GOP lawmakers wanted to broaden it.

McCormick said a compromise plan is a possibility.

"Maybe we'll go a little bit further this year than we did last year," he said. "But I don't think the governor's decided yet. I actually talked with him yesterday on the subject, and I think it's under active discussion. We have had a year to let things settle down a little, so I think he'll make a decision on that pretty quick."


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