OUR OPINION: Tupelo’s ECEC proves worth of strong pre-K

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s Early Childhood Education Center – a public school for four-year-olds – proves that a community determined to offer pre-kindergarten education using its available non-state resources can find a way to achieve that goal, providing a useful, quantifiable jump-start on learning for its youngest students.
Funding in the long term, however, needs to come from the state as part of a larger sustained commitment to pre-K education statewide, possibly through varied partnerships and collaborations.
The ECEC, as the school on North Green Street is known, has 260 students – all it has room and money to support. The funding base is federal payments received by the Tupelo Public School District, the only realistic option in the absence of state funding, an issue in the legislative pipeline in the 2013 session.
The Tupelo district wants to grow the ECEC to 400 students, and the lead advocate is Superintendent Gearl Loden. An expansion would require more classrooms and additional teachers. Each additional class would cost about $100,000 more per year, inclusive of all expenses. An enrollment of 400 would be an approximate equivalent of 80 percent of kindergarten students who enroll in the system every year.
The power behind the planned growth is in the results:
• The rate of learning growth of at least a year has been achieved by at least 70 percent of the students 15 of the 16 years the program has been housed at the former Martin Luther King Jr. school. Every year has achieved at least 60 percent, and eight years the rate has exceeded 80 percent.
• Each teacher reads at least six books to students every day in every classroom. Some students who enter ECEC through its open enrollment process have never seen a book, much less heard one read.
• Minority students who have completed the ECEC scored much higher on standardized tests once enrolled in K-12 school. Approximately 55 percent of the ECEC minority students scored proficient on third grade state reading tests, 20 percentage points higher than students who did not attend ECEC.
Some of the pre-K education plans moving forward in the Legislature could be financially helpful to ECEC in collaboration with application for funding made with other pre-K providers.
Every community needs strong pre-K education – an early classroom, not just day care.