The anticipated awarding of grants this week to communities working in cooperation and collaboration with other entities to operate early childhood programs creates the perfect background for discussions of additional state funds for early childhood/pre-K education made available statewide this year for the first time.
The usual pre-session legislative budgets from Gov. Phil Bryant’s executive department and the Legislative Budget Committee don’t have additional funds for expanding the program started in the 2013 session.
However, legislators can change the proposed budgets in the course of the 2014 session, and it’s certain that the strong response to the competition for the first state funds for pre-kindergarten will raise demand.
Under the program set in motion with this year’s funding, the state Department of Education has set standards for pre-kindergarten consortiums that could include local school districts, Head Start centers and private child-care providers.
State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright, meeting last week with the Daily Journal’s editorial board, expressed her preference for a prekindergarten program housed within schools, which she said would make teacher certification a more ensurable process.
The broadest issue is to move deliberately toward the widest implementation, which means a steadily increasing state funding as the efficacy of pre-K education proves itself.
For the 2014 legislative session pre-K backers said $34 million would be required for a statewide program covering 15,000 children.
Pre-K is new in Mississippi as a state-funded venture, but it is not new in other southern states and nationwide. Mississippi does not need to reinvent the wheel, but being last among state peers in moving toward a statewide program allows the kind of hindsight that can avoid mistakes made elsewhere and the ability to choose the methods producing best results and bring them to our state’s own pilot programs.
The universally respected Pew Trust programs evaluation for pre-kindergarten reached a broad statement of support with great clarity:
“High quality pre-k can no longer be considered a luxury for upper income families or a special program for the disadvantaged. Based on what we now know about children’s brain development during these crucial years, pre-k has become just as necessary as kindergarten or first grade … While targeted programs in some states have served at-risk children for more than a decade, experts believe that all children need the benefits of a high-quality pre-k education in order to succeed.”
Reputable voices of experience with no partisan or special interests should be heeded because they seek what’s best for young children.