As we recover from a historic, national political campaign, we are entering into a state-level political exercise that promises to be almost as rambunctious. This time, the debate will not be about which candidates are best suited for elected offices, but which group of Mississippians will come out as winners and losers as the results of budget decisions legislators will make.
If history is an indicator, young children will be lucky to hold on to the dollars currently appropriated for pre-K programs. One neighboring state has discovered the wisdom of investing in quality early childhood education, according to a report recently released by The First Five Year Fund (FFYF). According to FFYF, Louisiana has made a significant investment in early childhood education programs through school readiness tax credits. These tax credits have helped to both grow the number and expand the reach of a network of early childhood education providers throughout the state. In 2015, the Committee for Economic Development conducted a study which found that for every dollar spent on ECE, the return is $1.78 into the local economy. Statewide, the ECE sector generates more than $800 million in direct and indirect economic activity.
Our state funded pre-k collaborative bill passed during the 2013 legislative session, encourages business and individual contributions to collaborative programs in the form of tax credits. Section 6 of the collaborative bill states “There shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by Section 27-7-5 the amount of the qualified prekindergarten program support contributions paid to approved providers, lead partners or collaboratives, not to exceed One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), by any individual, corporation or other entity having taxable income under the laws of this state during calendar year 2013 or during any calendar year thereafter. In order to qualify for a tax credit, such contributions may support the local match requirement of approved providers, lead partners or collaboratives as is necessary to match state-appropriated funds, and any such providers, lead partners or collaboratives shall be approved by the State Department of Education.”
While this is a different approach than Louisiana has taken, it can still generate much needed support to the 10 existing and four new pre-k collaboratives in the state, if people know about it and use it when filing their state taxes. Any taxpayer in the state can pay their state taxes to a collaborative regardless of where they reside in Mississippi. Information on how to make a contribution and get a state tax credit can be found on the Mississippi First web site.
Unfortunately, the timeline for funding set in the pre-K collaborative bill is not being met and state appropriations are behind. The legislation gives Mississippi’s taxpayers an opportunity to pay state taxes they owe to a pre-K collaborative in one of the 14 communities by Dec. 31 rather than to the state. This is one way citizens can make a difference. Another way is the ask their legislator if they did the same.
Dr. Cathy Grace