Mississippi celebrates 10 years of state-funded preschool programs

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 10:00 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi is ten years into having state-funded preschool, and advocates say the proof is there that pushing it through the legislature was worth it.

But they’re not done yet.

Preschool isn’t required in Mississippi, but early learning collaboratives have given more children access to it.

The Rankin County School District, now in its second year of the collaborative, is seeing the impact.

“Now, we’re fortunate enough to have pre-K in every single school in Rankin County that has a kindergarten classroom,” explained Dr. Pam Reed-Simon, Rankin County School District Director of Pre-K. “This year, we have already seen a rise in our number in applications.”

And last year’s pre-k kids are already exceeding expectations in kindergarten this year because of the foundation that was build.

“Just seeing the level of cognitive skills, improvement in their socialization, pretty much across the board, we’ve seen huge gains,” noted Highland Bluff Elementary Principal Dr. Joshua Jones.

Twenty-six thousand butterflies were placed on the lawn across from the Capitol Tuesday.

“To give you an understanding of just how many people and lives this program has touched,” explained Rachel Canter, Executive Director of Mississippi First.

Funding for the collaboratives has doubled the last two years in a row. As of this year, 25% of four year olds in the state are being served by them. And Rep. Kent McCarty would like to see that even higher.

“I’m working on some legislation to give us some targets to increase that to 100% over the next three to five years,” said McCarty.

There are other bills filed to create “universal pre-K” but Mississippi First says the collaborative model is one that’s established and they hope to see grown.

“We need to keep our eye on the prize, which is a high quality seat for every child who wants them,” added Canter. “And we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the standards and the regulations in place to help that happen.”

While celebrating the decade milestone, they’re still looking ahead.

“We’re going to continue to be in early education and make the collaboratives the best in the country,” said Sen. Brice Wiggins at the celebration ceremony hosted by Mississippi First.

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