OUR OPINION: Senate’s pre-K bill so far has the stronger funding

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi House and Senate both have crafted bills that would provide a long-overdue state-funded start for pre-kindergarten schooling. It’s done through an innovative approach anchored in the resources of public schools and the state Board of Education, but also involving collaborations and partnerships with non-public day care centers.
Both chambers also call for phasing in the initial funding. Mississippi is the only state in the South without state-funded pre-K, which means opportunity is lost for many children to experience the kind of mind growth and social development provided by effective programs for 4-year-olds.
The bills so far are not identical, and of the two, the Senate bill offers a more substantial and realistic funding foundation. However, the House version could change because it has not been voted by the full chamber, and that deadline is Thursday.
The Senate version provides for three phases with enough money to expect progress:
• The Senate’s first phase would be $8 million to serve approximately 3,500 children, to be implemented with the 2013-2014 school year.
• The second phase would be $16 million and serve approximately 7,000 children through 10 to 15 early learning collaboratives and pre-kindergarten providers;
• The third phase would be $33.950 million and serve approximately 15,000 children.
• The House’s pre-K committee substitute so far is $2 million, with future phases not specified beyond “based on interest.”
The House could substitute the Senate’s version when it votes by the end of business on Thursday, and that would send the legislation to Gov. Phil Bryant. That is not certain.
A separate bill would require grade level reading proficiency by the end of the third grade, a mandate that needs a provision for trained, qualified reading instructors to augment teachers’ efforts.
Positive education efforts also have led to passage in the Senate of an appointed superintendent system statewide, with a phase-in by 2016. In the House, a vote of 111-4 approved HB 890, Gov. Bryant’s bill to establish a reading initiative, raise admission standards for teacher education, and implement a pilot program for performance-based compensation, plus a successful amendment Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, to increase teachers’ salaries by $5,000.
The education debate, as predicted, has been robust, positive in some ideas and is far from finished.