NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee remains ranked 35th in an annual child well-being study for a second-straight year.
The 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that more than 60 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee lack access to pre-Kindergarten.
"It’s really important for our kids to have an early childhood education," said Lisa Wiltshire, policy director for Tennesseans for Quality Early Education. "We know the children coming in more prepared for kindergarten are doing better by third grade, which is really the first benchmark we have testing for."
Wiltshire said there are not nearly enough pre-K programs to accommodate Tennessee children - a problem that's directly tied to funding.
"Our pre-K programs are still voluntary, they’re not a mandatory part of a K-12 system," Wiltshire said. "So there’s still the tension there of increased investments."
Wait lists for early education programs are particularly long in Davidson County. Wait times can range from several months to two years, depending on the school.
Experts said parents should consider their options early - even when their child is 2 years old - in order to get on a wait list. Even then, the numbers are not promising,
"There’s about 9,400 four year olds in Davidson County," Wiltshire said. "Between pre-K and private providers and childcare, there’s still a gap of almost 2000 children who don’t have options."
The 2018 KIDS COUNT report also says 12 percent of Tennessee's high school students don't graduate on time.
It says Tennessee ranked 27th in health, compared to 26th last year. Tennessee went from 35th to 33rd in economic well-being; 33rd to 35th in education; and 40th to 38th in family and community.
More than 9 percent of Tennessee babies were born less than 5 pounds, 1.1 percentage points higher than the national average. Babies born addicted to drugs are more likely to be born prematurely and at a low birth-weight.