OUR OPINION: Building Blocks makes a case for state funds

By NEMS Daily Journal

Strong efforts by creative and determined Mississippians to meet the urgent need for statewide pre-K education show measures of progress in the work of the Mississippi Building Blocks initiative, which has worked for four years in 350 private day care classroom settings to prove that there is an affordable, effective way to the goal.
Invested with the enormous civic energy of entrepreneur Jim Barksdale and his brother, Barksdale Reading Institute CEO Claiborne Barksdale, Building Blocks scientifically has compiled data showing that its methods, used in private day care settings, can stir knowledge and brain development in even the most challenged of Mississippi’s pre-kindergarten children.
Facts and experience in hand, Building Blocks’ leaders and supporters plan to seek $5 million in state funding during the 2013 legislative session to extend and continue the program, which sprang from the private sector.
Legislators in both parties should give full attention to the Building Blocks proposal and especially to Jim Barksdale’s advocacy. Barksdale, as is widely known, was an Internet pioneer, founder of Netscape and a business developer of worldwide stature.
And he is passionate about our state and its success.
“The research is in. It is without question these kids (who participated in the Building Blocks Program) are better prepared for kindergarten,” said Barksdale, at last week’s news conference.
The $5 million, Barksdale said, would allow the Building Blocks program to reach 2,500 primarily 3- and 4-year-olds.
Research by the University of Missouri concludes that children who participated in Building Blocks outperformed those from a control group, who were not part of the program, in school readiness assessments and also displayed improved growth in social/emotional development.
The children from families in poverty made the biggest gains, which is crucial on a personal and state level.
MBB’s backers include the Mississippi Economic Council and a group of retired military officers concerned that low educational attainment poses a risk to the reliability of America’s armed forces moving forward.
Legislators should note that Barksdale said it would cost $250 million to add another, pre-K grade to the public schools, but the Building Blocks program could be enacted statewide for at least $100 million less.