By NEMS Daily Journal
Legislation establishing a collaborative program to increase the number of early childhood classes statewide while maintaining flexibility to fit the needs of individual communities creates an unprecedented opportunity for progress against the absence of state-funded support for pre-kindergarten education.
Mississippi is the only state in the South without it.
Endorsed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn in a Wednesday news conference, the $8 million program would partner and collaborate with existing pre-kindergarten programs in public schools where they are funded from other sources, private day-cares, parochial day-cares and Head Start facilities to improve the quality of early childhood education.
The plan is supported by the Mississippi Economic Council, the statewide business leadership organization, and many early childhood education advocates like Cathy Grace of Tupelo, a nationally recognized expert in pre-kindergarten learning now working for the Gilmore Foundation in Monroe County.
The plan is on a legislative track in both the Senate and House.
The program sensibly and logically would be implemented and have oversight by the Mississippi Department of Education, whose reach extends to every public school in the state, and whose connective assets are in place.
In addition to Gunn and Reeves, the program is endorsed by Gov. Phil Bryant.
The program would not usurp or displace other efforts working for pre-kindergarten education. The Mississippi Building Blocks program, for example, seeks $5 million from the state in the 2014 budget to carry on its goal “to improve the school readiness of young children. To achieve that goal, MBB works within existing licensed child care centers to enhance the quality of care they provide. The Mississippi Building Blocks approach, working with day care centers in the private sector, is designed to serve as a model for how Mississippi can work within the existing infrastructure of licensed child care centers to improve the school readiness of young children.”
Many Mississippians have worked for years to develop and ultimately fund a state-supported early childhood education program. The program endorsed by the legislative leadership and Building Blocks both push toward that goal.
Good opportunities sometimes develop quickly, and when the best minds agree about those opportunities it is time to act.