MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Despite these tough economic times, Gov. Phil Bredesen feels pre-kindergarten education could use state dollars.
Rutherford County officials said they could use an additional 100 pre-K classes.
Law enforcement and education leaders said spending the money could mean saving money and futures later.
A pre-K class is often a toddler's first look at school.
State educators know that public education needs to improve.
"Seven out of 10 children graduate from high school in Tennessee," said one leader. "That's not acceptable."
"They're expecting kindergartners to read by December, sight words, basic sight words," said one educator.
In a roundtable discussion, Bredesen heard that pre-K is the way to start.
"The way to prevent high school dropouts, as the research proves," said Linda Richard. "You can't prevent it when they are in high school. You have to prevent it when they are four or five."
"If they develop that love of learning early on, they will be intrinsically motivated to excel and accede in school throughout the years," said Charlotte Park Elementary School Principal Angela Vaughn in a separate interview.
Pre-K has support from law enforcement.
"We should invest in our kids to avoid things down the road that may lead them into a life of crime," said Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall.
Hall said 70 percent of his inmates never graduated from high school.
"We know that 75 percent of people in prison do not have their high school education. We need to be doing something about it," he said.
If that inmate is a parent, "what are the odds of that child making," Hall said.
Almost 75 percent of their children end up behind bars.
"That was once some mother's child who was once four years old," Bredesen said.
"It's a pay-me-now or pay-me-later thing," Hall said.
Hall believes the biggest lesson in pre-K isn't learning how to count.
"You go to a pre-K classroom, you just can't haul off and hit someone when you don't agree with them," he said.
It's learning how to get alone.
"To avoid investing in kids is ultimately going to lead to prisons and jails - way too late to fix it," he said.
Hall said it costs approximately $2.5 million to house one prisoner for life.