By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – A voluntary, state-sponsored pre-kindergarten program would be created through legislation that has passed the Mississippi Senate.
The legislation, which passed the 52-member chamber with five dissenting votes Thursday, would allow communities to develop collaboratives involving the local school districts, nonprofit organizations and private and parochial day cares to improve the quality of early learning in Mississippi.
The state Department of Education would oversee the program.
The bill now moves on to the House for more debate.
“Mississippi is one of only four states in the nation to not have preschool supported by the state,” said Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, the author of the legislation.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the bill is part of an overall effort to improve the state’s educational system. He said another bill passed by the Senate on Thursday with no dissenting votes – requiring students except in certain situations to be able to read at the basic level for a third-grader before advancing – also is a key component.
Tollison said studies show that both programs are effective.
“It is money well spent,” he said. “…This incentives quality child care.”
Under the bill, $8 million would be set aside to begin a phase-in of the pre-K program starting with the upcoming school year. The goal is to reach 3,500 children in five to eight communities. The state would provide $2,150 per child that would have to be matched dollar for dollar on the local level.
By phase three, the goal is to reach 15,000 students at a cost of $34 million.
Corporations could receive a tax credit for contributing to the program.
The state Department of Education would be in charge of the task of developing the curriculum and developing the standards for the pre-K instructors.
“The Senate is looking at several ways to raise the bar on education to help students be more successful in the classroom and in life,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. “These bills will make a real difference in the quality of education in Mississippi and grow a stronger workforce for the future.”
The third grade reading bill also is part of Gov. Phil Bryant’s education agenda. Bryant calls for $15 million to develop programs and reading coaches to work as early as kindergarten with students who are struggling to read on grade level.