Building Blocks of Pre-K Funding: Part II

While Mississippi only provides enough funding to place about 1,800 students into pre-k classrooms, privately funded programs on the Coast ensure more children are being reached. Two programs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are responsible for placing over an additional 200 students into pre-k classrooms for free.

News 25 takes a look at how they’re funded and why directors believe their programs should be a model for why Mississippi should put more funding into early childhood education. The Pre-K 4 program, new to Biloxi public schools this year, is focusing on helping children learn the basics of reading. Dr. Janice Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Biloxi public schools, says, "That’s what it’s about, making sure we’re giving them that strong foundation so that they are going to be ready to become proficient readers."

The Biloxi Pre-K 4 program is not funded by the state, but rather a national organization. The Biloxi School District was awarded a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, enough to enroll 80 students in a public pre-k for the next three years.

Four year olds in Biloxi were tested on basic skills is November and again just a few weeks ago. Dr. Johnson tells News 25 the results showed significant improvement, further proving why keeping this pre-k program alive after the grant money runs out is so important. Dr. Johnson says, "One of the things we want to show here is not only is it just enrollment, it’s the instruction and the growth that we’re seeing will hopefully push the legislation to fully fund a pre-k program for schools."

Unlike Biloxi, PreK4ward is not part of a single school district. It’s open to any Coast child. PreK4ward reaches 130 students and has seven classrooms in Harrison and Hancock Counties.

The program has been around since 2010 and is funded by different businesses along the Coast. Cynthia Minton-Walker, Executive Director of PreK4ward, says, "The difference in our programs and other possibly is that we have a certified teacher and an assistant in that class of 20. We follow the early learning standards that have been designed in the State of Mississippi and they are research-based, so they are very powerful in the learning process."

Students of PreK4ward who took the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment scored, on average, 14 points higher than the benchmark set by Mississippi. Minton-Walker closes, "We had students who were in the highest ranks. It’s not because of anything in particular we do, it’s the research played out in the classroom. If you teach children the way they learn, those results will happen."

Both Biloxi Pre-K 4 and PreK4ward directors believe their programs are great examples for what children can accomplish if you invest money into early childhood education, lining more Coast children up to the path of success. Educators believe if we enroll our children in pre-k, where they’re learning reading basics, we won’t have to remediate them in the 3rd grade.

Categories: Local News, News

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