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The Alliance’s lead ally in Tennessee, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE), works to advance high-quality early care and education through policy development and advocacy. They do this by leading a statewide coalition and promoting a robust policy agenda that reflects the importance of the birth through third grade continuum in preparing children for future academic success.

2023 State Early Childhood Policy Environment and Progress

State early childhood policy progress is dependent both on the state’s policy environment and the numerous efforts — by those listed on this page and many others — who worked both independently and collaboratively to achieve wins for young children.

Early Childhood Landscape:

Research shows that family economic security is foundational to children’s overall wellbeing. Research also shows that widespread disparities in opportunity (especially by race) drive wide disparities in outcomes. States with policies that offer strong support to young children and their families are more likely to see 1) declining numbers of children in low-income households and 2) low racial disparity among those children. 

Young Children in Low-Income Households: Declining

Approximately 43% (309,000) of the state’s children 0-8 live in households below 200% FPL (2021). This number represents a decrease from 50% (361,000) in 2016.1

Racial Disparity Among Young Children Living in Low-Income Households: High

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and/or Native children aged 0-8 are significantly more likely to be living in households below 200% FPL than are Asian and non-Hispanic White children.2

Advocacy Landscape:

State General Fund Appropriations: Growing 

On May 16, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the state’s fiscal 2024 budget that appropriates $56.2 billion in total funds, an increase of 2.8 percent over fiscal 2023 (as cited in the 2022- 2023 Fact Book). The budget dedicates $250 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing the total to a historic $2.05 billion.3

Key Revenue Sources:

    • State Sales Tax (7.0%)

Political Alignment: Aligned Republican

During the 2023 session, the state’s Senate and House were both Republican controlled. The state’s Governor was also a Republican.4

Types of Common Ballot Measures Available:5  One

    • Legislature-Initiated Constitutional Amendments – A constitutional amendment that appears on a state’s ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in that state voted to put it before the voters.

Early Childhood Policy Advocacy Organizations Include:

Early Childhood Policy Advocacy Multi-State Initiatives Include:6

2023 Policy Progress:

With both strong momentum and incremental policy wins, Tennessee advocates are changing the landscape for the state’s young children and their families.

Highlights from the state’s early childhood policy advocacy community include:7

Promising Futures Early Learning Scholarship Program – HB785/SB750: TQEE’s signature bill this legislative session was to establish an early learning scholarship program that would make child care and preschool more affordable for working families. The bill was in part a response to the TN Child Care Taskforce which concluded in December 2022, having identified challenges of affordability, quality, and access as key barriers to families securing early care and education that meets their needs. Gaining quick traction and lots of momentum, the bill successfully passed through two key committees, Senate Education and House K-12 Subcommittee – two tremendous victories for a new first-of-its-kind investment in early learning in Tennessee. Promising Futures is on deck and awaiting its next vote in House Education Administration committee early in 2024, when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes for the second part of the 113th General Assembly.

Third Grade Retention / Early Grades Reading and Learning Supports: While the 2021 Third Grade Retention law will be in effect this year, modifications were made through HB437/ SB300 and HB68/SB249 that will go into effect for 2023-24 school year. The modifications provide substantially more interventions and supports for early grade students including:

    • Making summer learning camps and after-school learning mini-camps available annually for students entering grades K-3, instead of only in 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
    • Ensuring that any student retained in grades K-3 is assigned a tutor through TN ALL Corps for the upcoming school year. It also authorizes Tennessee Department of Education to procure online tutoring supports.

The legislation allows additional pathways to promotion to fourth grade, including offering a state-provided benchmark test as an alternative to the TCAP test when a student scores in the 50th percentile, and by allowing LEAs to assist parents in the appeal process.

Pre-School Commission: A Pre-School Commission was created through HB1150/SB355. TQEE Founder and CEO, Blair Taylor, was among those named to serve. The work group is charged with conducting a needs analysis to determine gaps between demand for preschool and the availability of high-quality preschool opportunities, and further, to develop a strategic plan for preschool education.

Child Care Improvement Fund: The Child Care Improvement Fund, aimed at enhancing quality care in Tennessee and making child care more accessible for families, was established through HB634/SB543. The Department of Human Services will oversee $15M in grants that will be distributed to non-profit organizations that are creating new child care slots or improving existing child care facilities.

Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA): Lawmakers approved an additional investment of $350 million into TISA, including $125 million teacher salary increases.

Paid Parental Leave for Educators and State Employees: Teachers, principals and other school personnel will now have 6 weeks of paid parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child thanks to HB983/SB1458; as will all state employees, minus legislative staff, thanks to Governor Bill Lee’s support of HB0234 / SB0276.

Educator Pathways: Tennessee Future Teachers’ Scholarship Act was funded at $4.5M, creating a pilot scholarship program for students who enroll in an education preparation program and agree to teach in Tennessee for at least four years in areas where there are geographical or subject area teacher shortages. Investments were also made to support alternative pathways to teacher licensure, including funds for Grow Your Own programs.

TennCare Investments: TennCare got approval to spend $330M in shared savings from the Medicaid Wavier on Governor Lee’s Strong and Health Families initiatives. Among other initiatives, Tennessee will become the first state in the nation to cover the cost of diapers for TennCare enrollees for the first two years of life. TennCare will provide 12 months continuous coverage for children for the first year of life, which will help ensure fewer lapses in coverage. Additionally, the one-year, post-partum coverage expansion will be made permanent. Significant investments of $40M were also made in caring for foster children and families.

School safety and mental health: Largely as a result of the horrific and tragic Covenant School shooting, increased investments were made in school safety and mental health in Tennessee. $140M will ensure that every public school has an armed school resource officer. Additional funds will hire 1 Security agents to serve schools statewide. $50M in grants will be made available to public and private schools wishing to upgrade parameter security. $8M will expand School-Base Behavioral Health Liaisons.

Ongoing Grantee Areas of Advocacy:

The Alliance’s lead grantee in Tennessee, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, is working to advance early childhood policies in several areas that align with the Alliance’s birth-through-eight policy framework

Early Care and Education

Child Care

Child Care Workforce

Preschool and Pre-K

K-3rd Grade

Child and
Maternal Health

Maternal Health

Infant & Child Health

Early Intervention (Age 0-3)


Home Visiting

Early Childhood Infrastructure

Early Childhood Governance


Click here for more information on advocates’ policy agenda.

tennessee early childhood policy

Tennessee Pre-K Quality Improves Again — Thanks to Policy Changes

Tennessee now meets eight out of 10 quality standards benchmarks that evaluate the effectiveness of preschool education programs, according to The State of Preschool 2019 report issued by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). This ranking comes as a result of successful policy changes that enabled Tennessee to meet the Continuous Quality Improvement System (CQIS) benchmark for the first time.

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1 Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, November, 2022 

2 National Center for Children in Poverty, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, March 2023, NCCP analysis of ACS 1-Year Estimates – Public Use Microdata Sample 2021

3 National Association of State Budget Officers, Summaries of Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted Budgets, October 11, 2023.

4 National Conference of State Legislatures, 2023 State & Legislative Partisan Composition, February 28, 2023.

5 Ballotpedia, Ballot Measures by State, Kids Count Data Center, retrieved May, 2023.

6 Alliance for Early Success, Multi-State Initiatives for Early Childhood Policy Advocacy, April, 2022.

7 Alliance for Early Success, State-Wide Advocacy Highlights Survey, April-August, 2023.  

More State Policy Data:


More State Demographic Data: