Building Blocks of Pre-K Funding: Part I

Education funding is a big topic in the legislature this year, and while most funding is going towards k – 12, more people are advocating for early childhood education funding. Mississppi did not provide public pre-k until the Early Learning Collaborative Act was established in 2013. This only provides enough funding for a small portion of students to attend a publicly funded pre-school.

News 25 spoke with educators about why our state needs to pump more money into early childhood education. Of 44,000 kindergarteners tested this year, every two out of three students were entering the classroom without the needed learning skills. Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, says, "I think our kindergarten readiness information was a wakeup call, or should have been."

Many are attributing that statistic to a lack of state funding for early childhood education. Right now, the state invests $6 million into pre-k efforts, $3 million more than last year, to be divided throughout the entire state. Experts say this is nowhere near enough. Dr. Barbara Coatney, a retired professor & pre-k director, says, “We need politicians to roll up their sleeves, get in the room, and work this problem out, and take it serious. Don’t just give a Band-Aid approach. Three million dollars will not touch the surface of what needs to happen in Mississippi.”

Last year’s $3 million allocation only placed about 900 students statewide into quality pre-k programs. This year’s $6 million will fund enough for roughly 2,000. Dr. Wright also says, “States around the nation are really investing in pre-k and Mississippi has got to do it.”

Mississippi missed out on a national grant this year, which puts the state far behind others. Neighboring state, Alabama, was awarded the grant, putting their pre-k investment to $120 million, compared to Mississippi’s $6 million.

Pre-k directors in Mississippi say it’s no mistake the Magnolia State is being overlooked. Cynthia Minton Walker, Executive Director of PreK4ward, says, “The Department of Education in Washington has said to our folks, we know the need is overwhelming in Mississippi, but until we get the commitment that your state is investing itself, they don’t want to shoot into the night and see a one-time wonder type approach.”

Early childhood experts say the benefits of pre-k extend beyond just getting children to move through the school system more efficiently. Research shows attending a 4 year old preschool reduces the likelihood of children being involved in a criminal event by 70%.

In a state with incarceration rates of 75% above the national average, experts say we cannot ignore what pre-k can prevent. Dr. Coatney closes, “I think that if you put the funding in education, you won’t have to put the funding into prisons. This state should be one of the top states in pre-k education. We should not be preparing children for the prison system, we should be preparing them for the university so that we can upgrade Mississippi.”

In part two of our series, Building Block of Pre-K Funding, News 25 will take a deeper look into two privately funded pre-k programs on the Coast and how they see themselves as a model of why the state should invest more funding into early childhood education.

Categories: Local News, News

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