Mississippi applies for early childhood education funds

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi education leaders applied on Wednesday for a federal grant that could dramatically improve early childhood education in the state.
If Mississippi is successful in receiving the $50 million funding, early childhood facilities would be measured by a ratings system, low-income parents would have help in saving for their children’s college education and pediatricians and family doctors would receive training in discovering children’s developmental delays, among other initiatives.
The Race To The Top – Early Learning Challenge funding would be doled out over four years. Winners likely will be announced by the U.S. Department of Education by the end of the year.
“If we happen to get this money, it would be life-changing for millions of children in the state,” said Cathy Grace, the chair of the 20-member State Early Childhood Advisory Council that put together the application. “It would have a longer impact than just four years. It is an institutional culture change that would occur.”
Although Mississippi is the only state in the South that does not have a state-funded prekindergarten, it was not able to use this grant to provide universal pre-K. Applicants could only enhance and increase support for existing programs, Grace said. They could not use the money to add new programs.
Every licensed child care provider in Mississippi would be required to participate in the Mississippi Child Care Quality Ratings system, if the state’s application is successful. That detailed system measures those centers and the quality of education they provide. Participation is currently optional.
The grant would fund support to providers to help them improve their ranking, which is based upon whether they meet multiple standards. Providers are rated on a scale from 1 to 5.
Funding would also provide stipends and bonuses to child care workers who attend community college and university programs to improve their credentials.
Another initiative would allow parents of children in centers with a high-quality rating to participate in a college savings program. That program would tie into the state’s existing MPACT college savings plan and could provide matching funds for some low-income participants.
Mississippi’s application also calls for cross-training of medical professionals to help them read children’s developmental progression and to speak with parents about things they should be doing to help promote development.
It emphasizes collaboration between early childhood providers and the K-12 education system to better align the things students learn during their first years with what they are expected to know when they enter school.
“It is all coordinated,” Grace said. “It is not programs that will just be hanging out there.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com