Here’s a surprising piece of good news from the Mississippi Department of Education: The state continues to invest more money in preschool education, and its program has been recognized as one of only five states that meets all 10 of a survey’s quality standards.
The information came from a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research, which produces an annual survey of public education for three and four year olds. The institute’s founder said, “Mississippi is moving in the right direction, doubling the state investment in preschool to enable more children to attend the program in the coming years.”
Mississippi has used Early Learning Collaboratives since 2013 to educate pre-schoolers. It is a partnership between public schools, Head Start agencies, child-care centers and non-profit organizations. The McComb School District was one of the first participants in the program.
The research institute ranked Mississippi 38th nationally in access to public preschool, up from 39th in 2021; and 39th in state spending per child, up from 42nd last year.
These are not top-of-the-charts rankings. In fact, both measurements still put Mississippi in the bottom quartile of the states. But those are far better standings than the typical 49th or 50th place that the state so often gets on education ratings.
Comparatively, when it comes to preschool, Mississippi is doing something right. And here it is: The state has continued to allocate significantly more money to early-childhood education, which is allowing more 3- and 4-year-olds to participate.
A state Department of Education press release last week noted that the Early Learning Collaborative started with $3 million in 2013 “to establish a limited number of collaboratives in underserved areas throughout the state. Funding increased in subsequent years based on the program’s immediate success, reaching $8 million by 2020-21, and doubled to $16 million in 2021-22.”
The program had 11 locations serving 1,700 children in 2014. But for the 2022-23 school year, it will have 30 locations and 6,000 children. This includes seven new facilities set to open in August.
All this good news, however, only serves to note that the state has a long way to go before it is offering public preschool widely. The 6,000 youngsters expected for the coming year compares to 64,000 kids in either the first or second grades during the current year. The state is getting good reviews for early education — but is reaching less than 10% of its likely market.
Hopefully the good news with early childhood education continues. But keep in mind Mississippi’s trend of declining academic performance as students get older.
A valuable public service would be to track the kids who attended an Early Learning Collaborative and see how they compare with other students as they move through school. That may provide valuable information on what grades one through 12 can do differently.