Phil Bredesen hopes to expand pre-K funding
By BETH RUCKER
Associated Press Writer
OAK RIDGE (AP) — School principal Pat Bradley sees the difference in children who enter elementary school having gone through pre-kindergarten programs.
They’re better prepared for critical thinking than children who haven’t attended pre-K classes, who are often already behind on the first day of school.
“The one thing I think you could do to help,” Bradley, principal at Oak Ridge’s Woodland Elementary, told Gov. Phil Bredesen, “is give us more preschool dollars.”
Bredesen, who spoke Monday with pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and parents at a pre-K roundtable in Oak Ridge, said that’s just what he’s trying to do, despite strengthening opposition among Senate Republicans and a state budget shortfall that may reach $500 million.
“Your experience with your children, that’s what it’s going to take to convince some people,” he said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and other Republicans are among those who don’t support an increase in funding when so many cuts will have to be made in other parts of the budget.
“I won’t be OK with that because I just can’t believe that we’re going to be cutting half a billion dollars out of the budget and still funding new programs,” Ramsey said to reporters in Nashville last week. “If we were doing the same thing, he’d be calling us irresponsible for doing that.”
Ramsey stopped short of calling Bredesen’s pre-K expansion initiative irresponsible, but said he imagines that if he were to go to the governor and ask for just $5 million for a new program that he would be denied.
Bredesen wants to add as much as $25 million to expand classes to children who don’t come from poor families, but he says he realizes he probably won’t get that much extra funding.
When the governor presented his original spending plan to the Legislature in January, he expected to have to deal with a shortfall of $165 million. By late month that gap had risen to $276 million.
State budget officials are scheduled to meet Thursday to set new projections for the budget year that begins July 1, and Bredesen’s administration will present its funding plan soon after.
“In this kind of environment, I’d like to keep (pre-K expansion) moving forward in some fashion,” he said. “There are certainly people who would like to see this program stop where it is. That’s what politics and government is all about.”
Published in The Messenger 4.29.08