Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

The University of Mississippi School of Education


Will little children win or lose in the 2017 legislative session?

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. (more…)

Investing in Pre-K is a Major Weapon to Combat the Achievement Gap

Recently, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) announced a significant achievement gap between subgroups of students in schools across the state. The gaps followed racial and income lines. Statewide, African-American students are running 29 percentage points behind white students in academic proficiency and poor students lagging richer ones by 27 points.

These figures confirm the need for more funding for early childhood education. Research findings have been published for years that clearly show poverty negatively impacts student achievement and even the formation of the brain, with children in generational poverty having less gray matter than those not living in low income settings.  A report from the Southern Educational Foundation quotes data released from the National Center for Education Statistics on children in public schools in 2013 revealing that Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate of ­71 percent. Almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi were low-income, whereas the national average was 51 percent.

Given the percentage of low-income children in our schools, a point could be made that our public schools have done amazing work. The real gap is in state funding for high-quality early childhood education programs for low-income children. With only a $4 million dollar appropriation for state funded pre-K, the investment is negligible considering that it supports only 79 classrooms.


According to MDE there are 225 classrooms in public schools funded through other sources such as Title I, tuition, federal funds for children with special needs, private donations, Head Start blended programs or a combination of some of the funding steams listed. As of 2016, these 300 total classrooms and any additional ones housed in a public school or participating in a state funded collaborative, will be held to a standard of accountability which meets national standards in how funds are spent and the quality of the instruction provided.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 61 percent of Mississippi’s young children in 2014 were living in poverty. With an average of 38,000 4-year-olds in the state during any given year, 300 pre-kindergarten classrooms housed in public schools serving a maximum of 20 children per classroom does not provide the obvious need for high-quality program options for low income families.

According to The Head Start Bureau, in 2014 Head Start in Mississippi served 26,276 3- and 4-year old children. Head Start does require programs meet standards addressing quality programming for continued funding, but the numbers eligible for enrollment and the funds available for the federal approbation leave a gap in opportunity for many children.

When 61 percent of 38,000 4-year-old children is computed, the figure is 23,180 children, who, on average, need to receive at least one year of a high-quality early childhood education to reduce their lack of kindergarten readiness skills as measured by a state kindergarten readiness assessment.

Our state has avoided the fact that for our achievement gap to close, we must address the obvious and significantly increase funding for high-quality early childhood programs. If research is to be believed, within three years, the gaps in achievement will decrease significantly among those who participate in the high quality programs. How can you ignore that?

By Dr. Cathy Grace

National Child Care Report: Child Care is Fragmented in America

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-3-39-12-pmA new report issued by New America (and accompanying child care index) provides a detailed look at the condition of child care nationally and state by state. Information specific to the cost of child care in the United States confirms the struggle that families face in securing quality care for their children prior to school entry.

The typical annual cost of full-time child care in centers for children ages 0-4 ($9,589) is more than the average annual cost of in-state college tuition ($9,410). A family earning the national median household income would need to spend one-fifth (18 percent) of its income to cover this cost. For an individual earning minimum wage, the cost is even more daunting—up to 64 percent of his or her total income. When stated another way, it is 85 percent of the monthly, median cost of rent nationwide.

According to the Census ACS 1-year survey, the median household income for Mississippi was $40,593 in 2015, which is the latest data available. The data shows that Mississippi’s median household income is $15,182 lower than national average. If the calculation of 64 percent of income was applied, these families would spend $25,979 a year on child care, leaving a family $14,614 for all other expenses. (more…)

Just Imagine….

just imagineWorking in public Pre-K classrooms in Mississippi provides teachers with a multitude of opportunities to be part of life-changing moments—both in the development of children and in educators’ own personal and professional development. With constant news reports in newspapers and on social media about how our public schools are failing, it is amazing that teachers are back in the trenches and ready to start school and move forward. But they are…

So to the parents of young children: just imagine 20 children like yours in a room with the  district administration and the general public expecting that, you, as their teacher will ensure that each one of those children succeed as measured by child outcome scores set by the state. And, if they do not meet the mark, you would be considered a poor teacher. Imagine that you, as a teacher, hope to be able to nurture, challenge and comfort children when they are sad or scared and make children laugh at something funny you have done in the name of learning. (more…)

Quality Pre-Kindergarten Can Diminish the Impacts of Poverty

preschoolIf you look at student outcomes on nationally reliable math and literacy assessments, children living in poverty who attend high quality Pre-K classes show the greatest gains when compared to their more affluent peers. This finding is especially pertinent to Mississippi, since the National Center for Children in Poverty reported in 2013 that 62 percent of Mississippi children under age 6 were classified as residing in low-income environments.

This research provides Mississippians with a solution to diminish the poisonous effects of generational poverty, if we just choose to take it.

The Mississippi Department of Education, or MDE, is attempting to design and implement a high quality Pre-K program as defined in the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013. According to the law, teaching Pre-K in Mississippi’s public schools may require additional training for teachers and assistant teachers. The Fall 2018 Pre-K Teacher Credentialing document on MDE’s website states that more emphasis will be placed on training teachers on how preschoolers develop and acquire specific skills. Beginning in the 2018 school year, public schools in Mississippi must employ individuals who have a Pre-K license endorsement to teach in this area. Additional requirements for assistant teachers in the classrooms will also be required. As the MDE document illustrates, there are several ways an individual can obtain the endorsement. (more…)

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