EDITORIAL: Pre-k answers

Mississippi’s education community, in addition to analyzing the first results of more rigorous statewide testing, is waiting for information from an early childhood initiative, Mississippi Building Blocks, which started in August.
The mostly privately funded initiative, $2 million per year, involves dozens of private, licensed child care providers across the state, with funds supporting on-site mentors, classroom materials, business consulting for owners and managers, and parent consulting.
The program, a three-year project, will include about 3,500 children younger than kindergarten age. Five child care centers in Lee County are listed as participants.
Measurements include an initial survey of the participating centers’ strengths and weaknesses. Then, the children’s developmental and intellectual progress will be measured toward the goal of having them fully prepared to enter public school kindergarten.
The state, while it does not have a fully funded statewide pre-k program, has programs in place to encourage effective child care.
Centers that participate in the Mississippi Child Care Assistance Program, a subsidy program for low-income working parents, can receive larger tuition subsidy bonuses for earning quality ratings.
Few would argue that a state-run and state-funded universal pre-k program wouldn’t be a heavy financial burden lifted off thousands of families. But implementation and passage are politically and financially problematic, especially in a recession. The average cost of a month’s child care is about $300.
The economic impact of early education has been significant to our state and local economies. About three-quarters of all Mississippi families with children work outside the home. About 80 percent of the 200,000 Mississippi children aged birth to 4 attend 1,800 licensed facilities in Mississippi employing 17,460 people.
Finding out what works and how it can be affordable is important because the positive results have been shown beneficial in other states.
Students with solid pre-k grounding have been shown to be less at risk of dropping out and less likely to become single, teenage mothers and fathers. Reducing those education pathologies would make personal success, and good lifetime earning, more reachable.
Mississippi has about 250,000 “discouraged workers,” meaning people who more than likely are undereducated.
Research funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts “clearly demonstrates that what a child learns before the age of 5 has significant implications for the future ….”
We hope Mississippi Building Blocks helps find a way for Mississippi to invest effectively in the future for 200,000 pre-k students.

NEMS Daily Journal