By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – As Mississippi lawmakers struggle to find funding for early childhood education, Monroe County has developed a program on its own.
The county’s Gilmore Early Learning Initiative works to make high-quality learning available to all children in the county under age 5. It works with existing childcare centers, tutors pre-K and kindergarten children and provides resources. This year, it partnered with local school districts to teach pre-K classes on their campuses.
And although the initiative is backed by the Gilmore Foundation, the foundation’s executive director Danny Spreitler said it could be copied in any community where there is a will. Costs are not prohibitive, he said.
This fall, the program is educating 100 students who live in the Amory and Monroe County School Districts. The school districts provide the buildings and pay for utilities, while the Gilmore Foundation funds the teachers, supplies and other costs.
The cost to the foundation is $311.12 per child per month, said Cathy Grace, director of early childhood education at the Gilmore Foundation. Students pay $120 per month in tuition, but scholarships are available.
Grace noted that school districts without foundation backing can use federal Title 1 and special education funds for similar programs. The Tupelo School District uses its federal dollars for its Early Childhood Education Center, a program for 4-year-old students that Spreitler cited as another model of what public school districts can accomplish.
“It is replicable,” Grace said of GELI. “It should be in every school district in the state.”
As the state searches for early childhood funding, children are falling through the cracks, Grace said. In the meantime, the push may need to come from communities, she said.
“Communities need to step up and make things happen,” she said.