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Sen. Oliver, Rep. Behn announce bill to make preschool free for every 4-year-old
March 1, 2024, 8:45 p.m.

Universal pre-K bill supports student achievement, reduces
costs for working families, lawmakers say

NASHVILLE — Legislation by Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, and Rep. Aftyn Behn, D-Nashville, would make pre-kindergarten free and accessible for all 4-year-olds statewide. The lawmakers say access to high-quality early education should be a right for every Tennessee family — not just a privilege for the rich.

“Every child deserves access to high-quality early education,” said Sen. Oliver, a working mother of three children. “Universal pre-K is a smart investment in kids that results in better education, health and financial outcomes well into adulthood. It’s also a strategic decision to empower working parents, who can work more hours if they choose and keep a peace of mind that their child is getting a great start in life.”

Rep. Aftyn Behn says access to quality preschool is a critical priority for working and middle class families in Tennessee.

“It can’t be overstated how big of deal it would be for all working families to have access to free, high-quality early education in their community. Our universal pre-K legislation recognizes the challenge facing our families and takes a huge step toward ensuring that every child in Tennessee, regardless of income, has the opportunity to get a head start in school. That’s how we set the stage for Tennessee’s future success.”

The Volunteer State recently ranked 44th in the nation for preschool participation. The state’s low participation rates are due partly to the limited nature of Tennessee’s existing pre-kindergarten program, which only provides funding for at-risk four-year-olds.

Local school districts have the option to participate, and most do, but offerings vary from district to district.

Oliver and Behn say the limited capacity of the program has left many families without access to these crucial services.

House Bill 2234 and Senate Bill 2065 are designed to address the pressing needs of working parents who are struggling to find affordable, high-quality early education programs.

Under the bill, every school district would be required to establish a pre-kindergarten program, 100% state funded, that is available to all four-year-olds in the community. Enrollment would remain optional for parents.

This landmark legislation represents a significant commitment to prioritize the education and well-being of Tennessee’s children — all without raising taxes on working and middle class families.

Fully funded
One ground-breaking aspect of this legislation lies in its funding mechanism. The bill pays for free, universal pre-K by introducing a new privilege tax on social media and big tech companies that profit from the personal data of Tennesseans.

Under the bill, a 9.5% privilege tax — equivalent to the average state and local sales tax rate — would be applied on big tech companies that report more than $50 million of annual income from digital advertising targeted to people in Tennessee.

The revenue generated from this tax would then be dedicated to fully funding the universal pre-K program.

If passed into law by the Tennessee General Assembly, House Bill 2234 and Senate Bill 2065 would mark the first-ever enactment of universal pre-kindergarten in the state, reinforcing Tennessee’s commitment to providing a robust educational foundation for its youngest residents.

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