OUR OPINION: Northeast region supplies optimistic pre-K applicants

Northeast Mississippi’s strong response to the opportunity to qualify for pre-K school funds from the state measures the depth of interest in providing early childhood education across the region.

Twelve groups from the region, aligned in innovative collaborations, expressed interest by an Oct. 16 deadline in stating their intent to apply for a portion of the state’s funds, the first in Mississippi’s history for pre-K education.

The $3 million appropriation plus $3 million in tax breaks is of course not adequate for every applicant to receive what they seek, and perhaps not enough to adequately fund even the worthiest applicants, but it is an important first step in moving toward a statewide pre-K system sustained in the main by state funding.

In 2014, advocates are asking for funding to increase to $6 million, and more in the years following.

Some of the applicants from Northeast Mississippi are among the strongest contenders for funding based on their achievements, planning and resources operating independently with private, federal or local funding.

However, long-suffering programs in other parts of Mississippi also have made an impressive record operating without state support, which makes the awarding of limited state money a difficult, even problematic task.

Collaboratives submitting intent letters are Baby Steps in Okolona, North Tippah School District Head Start, New Albany School District Head Start, Lafayette-Oxford University, the Aberdeen School District, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi State University, the Oktibbeha County-Starkville Early Learning Collaborative, the Pontotoc County School District and the Corinth-Alcorn Collaborative, Monroe County’s early Learning Initiative and Tupelo School District/Excel by 5 collaboration.

Proponents of pre-K education across Mississippi can celebrate briefly today because the process has started for a measure of state pre-K funding. The goal, however, is far from reached.

The program approved this year by the Legislature was hard fought because pre-K education, backed by indisputable evidence of effectiveness long term, remains a controversial issue among some in Mississippi. In part the issue is financial because the state is stretched for funds for almost everything. Other opposition rises from a distrust of anything perceived as a government program, and four-year-olds in school falls into that category.

If the methods used are reliable pre-K will vindicate itself with results, and Mississippi children will be better off.