EDITORIAL: Pre-kindergarten deficit

Mississippi's struggle for higher student achievement – and a stronger competitive position among the states – never ends.

The Southern Regional Education Board's just-released report on the readiness of children entering kindergarten and the first grade provides incentive to examine again what more can be done statewide to help all our children prepare for life.

The SREB is an authoritative, non-partisan research institution for information about schools and education in 16 member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Its report, “Building a Foundation for Success by Getting Every Child Ready for School,” is about pre-kindergarten preparation.

Mississippi isn't discussed extensively because our state alone among the 16 members states has no statewide pre-kindergarten program. We have provisions in law for it but no state funding.

One summary paragraph provides perspective on Mississippi's chief problem and the enormity of what's faced:

“Families have always played the key role in guiding children before they reach first grade, and they still do. But some parents do not have the resources or knowledge to prepare their children fully for school, and thousands of children in (our) state are not being raised by a parent. Children from low-income families, those who have health problems, who have only one parent in their home, or who have no parent who graduated from high school are more likely to be unprepared for school than others.”

Free and reduced-price lunches specifically are linked to lower student achievement because that indicates the kind of background children have.

Mississippi's free-and-reduced-price lunch proportion is the region's highest: 63 percent, a 7 percent increase since 1990.

CREATE Foundation Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield's May 26 report on education and economic liabilities in Northeast Mississippi at the State of the Region meeting sheds more light on the pre-school problem. Our high school graduation rates are lower than the state and national averages, which means more children will come from homes without a high school graduate.

Mississippi's position is further weakened by the positive actions in other states.

This year, 15 states increased funding for pre-kindergarten learning. Seven of those – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia – are SREB states and Mississippi's economic development competitors.

Some legislators, Gov. Barbour and others are patting themselves on the back for struggling to finally under-fund education mandates at a lower level than originally planned.

That's not good enough, and the compelling evidence to do something about it rises from undisputed facts from outside our state.

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