OUR OPINION: Toyota’s long foresight defines pre-K’s worth

The demand for additional early childhood classrooms and a waiting list of pre-K students in Tupelo demonstrate the emphasis most parents place on providing the best possible education in the important brain-development years before kindergarten and first grade.

Officials from Tupelo’s school district, CREATE Foundation amd Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi on Wednesday officially opened a new classroom at the Early Childhood Education Center funded by a $200,000 grant from Toyota’s education endowment. The endowment, a $50 million commitment, is for enhancement of the eight school districts in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties, the PUL Alliance that supported bringing Toyota to Northeast Mississippi.

Toyota, whose phenomenal growth vaulted it to the top of the automotive industry, earned its status by working smart.

When it announced it was building a state-of-art advanced manufacturing plant in Union County, it also announced the $50 million gift, an endowment, to help ensure that its Mississippi workforce would grow up and attend schools capable of teaching what’s needed to work in plants like Toyota’s.

Tupelo’s ECEC has been methodically developed by the district to push young children quickly into the kind of intellectual development that will help them stay ahead in life. The program is so successful it regularly outgrows its capacity and the funding available. Toyota’s grant made equipping a classroom possible, bringing the total to 15, serving 270 students from across the school district. Twenty students were able to leave the waiting list and enroll when the classroom opened.

The new classroom, Toyota’s generosity and CREATE’s stewardship of the endowment are all to the good.

What’s troubling is that pre-K students in Tupelo and most other Mississippi towns don’t have fully funded pre-K programs adequate for every child whose parents want them enrolled.

The first state funds for pre-K education have been provided, but it’s not nearly enough to meet all the needs.

The demand for pre-K should be proof enough that Mississippi cannot afford not to fully fund some type of statewide early childhood education program.

Young children absorb knowledge like a sponge, and forward-looking companies like Toyota know that an investment in a future workforce beginning at age 4 will repay itself many times when young adults are ready for jobs.

Thank goodness for Toyota’s generosity, progressive school leadership, philanthropy with integrity and a community focused on excellent public schools. The missing asset is the state’s full participation.