No more excuses for pre-K funds, Grace says

NEW ALBANY – One of Mississippi’s leading experts in early childhood education says excuses are keeping the state from having a better pre-kindergarten program.
Cathy Grace said it is time to no longer accept that Mississippi is the only Southern state with no state-funded pre-kindergarten.
“There are no more excuses,” said Grace, a Tupelo native and the director of Early Childhood Development Policy at the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. “If we speak loudly enough and refuse to accept excuses, it can happen in the next legislative session. Stranger things have happened.”
Grace made her remarks Tuesday night at an Early Childhood Education Summit at the Magnolia Civic Center.
Grace spoke at length about Mississippi’s addition of a public kindergarten program during the 1980s, noting that it also came during a time of economic struggles. She said that if there is enough public will, legislators will respond.
“People will say, ‘In the hardest of times, this state manned up and said we are going to do this for our children,’” she said.
Tuesday’s summit also featured Mississippi Building Blocks Executive Director Laurie Smith, EXCEL by 5 Director AnnJo Lemons, Mississippi Head Start Director Nita Thompson and Mississippi Deputy Superintendent Lynn House.
“I’m excited now because I think there is a momentum in Mississippi in recognizing the importance of educating young children,” Thompson said.
Smith spoke on Tuesday about brain research that revealed significant differences in early development for children who were raised in nurturing households.
“The young brain develops rapidly, with potential for remarkable growth, but also vulnerability to harm and stress,” she said.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal