Questions surrounding funding for public education in Mississippi have been widely discussed and reported. Community based financial support for state-funded, pre-k programs is worth a second look. According to SB 2395, The Early Learning Collaborative Act allows for a state tax credit to be provided to any person or business who makes a monetary donation to a collaborative.
The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) recently reported individuals or corporations donated about $1.6 million to the 10 early learning collaboratives in 2016, providing state-funded early childhood education programs with additional support for student learning. Given the donations in 2014 and 2015 that totaled almost 1.1 million, the combined donations total 2.7 million since the program’s beginning. This is a strong indicator that citizens understand the importance of quality early childhood education and are willing to financially invest in it.
A report issued by MDE indicates it is a worthwhile investment since the 2016 kindergarten entrance scores of children attending state funded pre-k programs averaged 529.5 with the target score of 530 indicating the child is a late emergent reader.
With all the discussion about K-12 funding, the talk of increasing pre-k funding has been absent. Pre-k should be one of the first in line for an increase when the focus of legislators seems to be on cutting programs that are not effective.
The passing literacy test score to enter fourth grade will increase in 2018 and because of this, the success of pre-k programs in reading skills must not be ignored. As school districts are forced to make decisions on budgets, additional state funds should be made available for additional classrooms to ensure more children are given access to a high quality pre-k program and a greater chance to be kindergarten ready.
Early childhood educators are advocating for additional, high-quality programs because they yield positive student outcomes. Parents are advocating for more opportunities for their children to attend a state-funded pre-k program and donors across the state are expecting state funding to be expanded since they have taken steps to increase workforce productivity by donating their own funds. Now, all eyes are on those elected to show forward thinking and increase current state funding.
The program works, communities and schools are eager to participate and the legislature, Lt. Governor and Governor have a role in making it happen. Time is ticking, will those elected to represent the people follow their lead?
By Dr. Cathy Grace