OUR OPINION: Mississippi lacks will for pre-K education

By NEMS Daily Journal

Leading advocates and nationally known early-childhood educators from Northeast Mississippi offered compelling evidence last week for pre-K education’s necessity.
At an Early Childhood Summit in Tupelo, co-sponsored by CREATE Foundation and the Early Childhood Institute at Mississippi State University, six advocates and professionals presented persuasive facts in support of pre-K’s effectiveness – and the consequences of not having it.
Mississippi is the only southern state that doesn’t have some form of state-funded, statewide pre-K education – by consensus a critical element in stimulating and achieving intellectual and emotional development in children from birth to age 5 and in reaping economic benefits in the long term.
The summit was not a venue for people with no strong connections telling Mississippians what’s best for our youngest children.
Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta and whose family is from Tishomingo County, offered compelling statistical measures over the long term that pre-K education makes dramatic differences in children’s success. He noted that Mississippi, which has the greatest pre-K need by measure, has no state-funded program.
In his published summation, “Pre-Kindergarten: Time to Begin,” Suitts notes the impressive strides made in Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, plus Alabama, which has a successful but smaller pre-K program ranked number one in quality. All are Mississippi’s direct economic development competitors.
Suitts also offered measures of individual financial success by education level since the 1950s, with the gap steadily widening across that span between college graduates and every other lesser education attainment level. North Carolina’s long-term Abecedarian Program shows that 36 percent of students who attended pre-K attended a four-year college, compared to only 13 percent for students who did not. In economic terms, that is the equivalent of income multiples from highest to lowest educational attainment.
Suitts said elected officials sometimes hesitate about funding pre-K because the full impact is measured long term. Many politically sensitive state funding issues hinge on quick returns.
Cathy Grace, a Tupelo resident who has served at the local, state and national levels in roles supporting pre-K development, is director of early childhood education for Gilmore Foundation’s remarkable pre-K program in Monroe County. In passionate, informed remarks, Grace told the summit, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Mississippi tragically lacks the leadership will to find the way for pre-K statewide learning.