EDITORIAL: Don't lose the kids

By NEMS Daily Journal

Early childhood education supporters this week reached into Tupelo’s community-action heritage in starting a $200,000 campaign to retain two classes serving 40 students at the public schools’ Early Childhood Education Center.
The Committee of 200 – working with the Tupelo Public Schools and CREATE Foundation – seeks to prevent losing the classes and in the long term expand early childhood programs in the Tupelo schools.
The two classes at ECEC have been funded with money from the federal economic recovery program, but that source is drying up. The $200,000 must be raised to continue the two classes, which are free for eligible children.
They are part of an 11-class program at the center, formerly King Elementary School, serving 220 4-year-olds. Forty students will be without classes if the money is not raised from the private sector.
The committee, co-chaired by Dr. Harry Rayburn, a dentist, and Journal Inc. CEO Billy Crews, seeks $1,000 contributions from individuals and $5,000 contributions from businesses to provide scholarships for the 40 students. The cost per-student per-year is $5,250.
Though the committee is targeting 200 donors, all Tupelo citizens are encouraged to invest in the initiative at whatever level they are able.
The 16-year-old ECEC is a strong component in the Tupelo Public Schools’ effort to fully prepare students for kindergarten and the early elementary grades.
The scholarships are designed as a one-year effort that will jump-start a long-term plan to match a $5 million federal grant sought to expand the early childhood program during the next five years.
Crews noted at the Committee of 200 press conference that 650 students enter kindergarten each year in the system, but only 220 slots exist for students at the ECEC. The obvious need is to expand early childhood learning for every four-year-old rising toward public school kindergarten.
Studies of student outcomes across the nation have shown that effective pre-K learning increases chances that students will learn to read on grade level by grade three, stay in school through high school graduation, and steer clear of criminal behavior.
Mississippi has no statewide, public pre-K program, in sharp contrast with Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, peer states in the Southeast, all with nationally ranked, high-quality, high-enrollment programs. Tupelo currently invests no local funds in pre-K, and it’s time for that to change.
Tupelo seldom has waited for government action to push its public schools forward, and the Committee of 200′s goal follows that spirit.
All donations, tax deductible, should be made to CREATE Foundation, which is administering Tupelo’s Early Childhood Education Fund.