EDITORIAL: Early learning

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippians are painfully reminded in the new report of the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation that our state trails every other state in the Deep South in pre-kindergarten education. Pre-K is increasingly viewed as the first, essential step to academic success through school and beyond, in the workplace.
The foundation, whose progressive voice for decades has advocated constructive change, points out what Mississippians know: Lack of a statewide pre-kindergarten commitment places the youngest Mississippians at risk of missing out on the most fertile years of brain development.
Even as the Legislature and Gov. Barbour wrestle with revenue shortfalls and necessary budget cuts – especially so in education at all levels – the education community and state leadership can’t ignore the necessity of a pre-K program.
Private and government sources have funded a statewide pilot program (facilitated through the Mississippi Economic Council) called Building Blocks. It will provide valuable information about the effectiveness of teaching and learning in private-sector child-care programs, and its finding could serve as part of a publicly funded statewide model.

This is the meat of the SEF report:
– Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina are nationally ranked in Pre-K implementation, and Alabama has a highly regarded, state-funded, statewide pre-K pilot. Mississippi sits in the middle of the best but is not among them.
– In Mississippi, one of every 14 kindergarten students repeats that grade and one in every 15 first graders repeats, a symptom of inadequate pre-K learning.
– The extended consequence of inadequate educational attainment is poverty: 32.2 percent of Mississippians without a high school diploma were impoverished in 2008, compared to 4.6 percent for people with a college degree.
– In the current economy, the unemployment rate for people with some college is 8.5 percent and 5 percent for graduates, compared to 13.2 percent statewide.
The SEF report cites studies showing a long-term benefit-cost ratios that would make pre-K self-financing. One example, increased earnings and taxes paid would make the benefit-cost ratio as high as $12.30-$1.
The specific recommendations play to Mississippi’s strengths:
– Bring the full congressional delegation into bipartisan alliance to secure a federal Early Learning Challenge Fund, an idea not unlike other special programs devised and led to passage by the delegation.
– Implement an official bipartisan statewide commission on early childhood education to become advocates for a specific action plan.
In sum, we must take care of the future, or fail.