Mississippi Senate passes bills for pre-K and reading

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON,— Mississippi senators on Thursday passed two bills aimed at improving students’ academic performance. They also passed one bill designed to let children pray or show other religious expressions at school.

Senate Bill 2395 would, for the first time, put some state money into a limited and voluntary program for pre-kindergarten.

Another measure, Senate Bill 2347, would put more emphasis on teaching reading in the early grades. Children who aren’t proficient at reading by third grade would receive intensive instruction to try to boost their skills.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2633 says schools couldn’t punish students who express religious views in their assignments or by the clothing or jewelry they wear.

The bills move to the House for more debate.

The National Institute for Early Education Research says Mississippi is one of 11 states in the nation, and the only one in the South, with no state-funded pre-K programs. Some Mississippi school districts use federal money to provide classes for 4-year-olds.

The bill that passed Thursday would allow local groups to set up cooperative efforts involving public schools, Head Start programs, private child care centers or nonprofit groups. The groups would apply for state grants, putting in an equal amount of local money.

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said children’s brains develop rapidly before age 5.

“This is an investment for our future,” Wiggins said.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, agreed: “I’ve seen pre-K work.”

The reading bill is designed to ensure students won’t be promoted to fourth grade if they can’t read proficiently at the end of third grade. Gov. Phil Bryant has said nearly half of Mississippi’s third graders fall short by this standard. The bill says students could not be promoted to the next grade solely because of their age, but there would be “good cause exemptions” for those who can’t learn to read at grade level.

“Hopefully we’re going to catch these students before they reach middle school and their school career is ruined if they reach middle school and they can’t read,” said Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune.

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