With millions of dollars in surplus lottery money projected this year, Tennessee lawmakers are debating how much should be used for pre-kindergarten programs, even though Gov. Phil Bredesen has said that he wants most of the money to go toward college scholarships.
''The governor has said from the beginning we need to have a track record from the lottery,'' spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said. ''He has not yet put a number on what is going to go into pre-K.''
Bredesen said he wants to establish a voluntary universal preschool program for 4-year-olds, first as an optional program for school districts, which would be expected to pick up part of the expense. Eventually, the governor would like to see it be included as part of the basic school funding supplement given to local school districts.
State Rep. Chris Newton, R-Benton and co-sponsor of the lottery legislation, said if the governor's preschool plan is established, lawmakers would have to decide if any lottery money would go to it.
''We'll have to work out the dynamics of that and what road map will be taken.''
This year, preschool programs will receive $8 million in lottery money in addition to $10 million that about 150 limited pre-kindergarten programs already get from the state.
Last month, officials predicted a $60 million-$70 million surplus in the lottery account.
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said a program like the one the governor is proposing is critical to the success of the state.
''In the long run, it will reduce the cost of education,'' said Brown, vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee. ''The children will come into the system better prepared. We will produce a better educated person in Tennessee.''