A dozen groups in region seek first pre-K funds

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Teacher Raven Wigginton, center, reads to pre-kindergarten students at the Amory Early Learning Academy in July. The Gilmore Foundation's Early Learning Initiative is among grant applicants for some of the first public funds to be spent on pre-K in Mississippi.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Teacher Raven Wigginton, center, reads to pre-kindergarten students at the Amory Early Learning Academy in July. The Gilmore Foundation’s Early Learning Initiative is among grant applicants for some of the first public funds to be spent on pre-K in Mississippi.

By Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

A dozen groups from Northeast Mississippi are among those who have expressed interest in applying for the state’s first public funds for pre-K.

Applications are due Nov. 5 for grants to be provided under the new Early Learning Collaborative Act, signed into law last spring. Seventy-two groups across the state met an Oct. 16 deadline to declare their intent, although not all of them will submit proposals.

The act will provide funds to community collaborative groups to establish or expand high-quality early-childhood education. It intends to compel existing programs to work together.

The state appropriated $3 million – plus an additional $3 million in tax breaks – during the initial year, and advocates hope to see that number increase in the future. Mississippi had been the only Southeastern state and one of a handful in the nation that didn’t spend any public money on pre-K.

“This is a dramatic change for Mississippi,” said Danny Spreitler, executive director of the Monroe County Gilmore Foundation, whose Early Learning Initiative intends to apply as part of a collaborative. “…We see throughout the country other states that have invested in their youngest children are far ahead of us in educational attainment.”

The Monroe County collaborative includes the Gilmore initiative, as well as pre-K programs offered by the Amory and Monroe County School Districts, private providers and Head Start facilities. If successful, it would allow more children to be served, Spreitler said.

“We know there are a number of children not receiving any high-quality programs before entering kindergarten,” he said.

The Tupelo School District partnered with the Lee County Excel By 5 organization on a proposal to expand the school district’s resource center that provides educational materials to young children. The grant also would offer training to pre-K teachers throughout Lee County and would add technology and art programs to the district’s pre-K program.

“Increasing the number of incoming kindergarten students with the necessary prerequisite skills will have long-term benefits for our entire community,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden.

Other collaboratives to submit intent letters include Baby Steps in Okolona, North Tippah School District Head Start, New Albany School District Head Start, Lafayette-Oxford University, the Aberdeen School District, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi State University, the Oktibbeha County-Starkville Early Learning Collaborative, the Pontotoc County School District and the Corinth-Alcorn Collaborative.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com