The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi in its latest report on pre-K quality as one of only six states whose state-funded pre-K program meets all 10 quality standards for early childhood education. The latest ranking is published in the NIEER report, The State of Preschool 2020. The annual survey provides an in-depth look at state-funded education for 3- and 4- year-olds nationally and in each state with a focus on enrollment, spending and 10 policies that support quality education. NIEER evaluated Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) programs, which are partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers and non-profit organizations. There are currently 18 collaboratives serving more than 3,000 children. Because of the quality of the Early Learning Collaboratives, Mississippi has consistently been one of only several states meeting all original NIEER standards. “Mississippi sets an example of policies to support high quality preschool, but funding is too low to allow programs to implement those policies well,” said Steven Barnett, Ph.D., NIEER’s founder and senior co-director, who is pushing for more federal funding for high quality pre-K. “Increased funding is needed to ensure quality and expand access to more children who can benefit from the program.” The Mississippi Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which provided $3 million to establish a limited number of ELCs in underserved areas throughout the state. Funding increased in subsequent years based on the program’s immediate success. During the 2021 legislative session, funding doubled to $16 million, which will serve approximately 6,000 pre-K children. “Research consistently shows how high-quality early childhood education has a profound impact on children throughout their lives,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “High-quality pre-K leads to increased school readiness, reading proficiency by third grade, higher graduation rates and even less crime.” The Mississippi State Board of Education has made increasing access to high-quality early childhood education one if its top priorities. The Mississippi Department of Education has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to build the state’s early childhood education infrastructure through coaching and professional development and by providing guidance and support to school districts. Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative program served 8% of 4-year-olds in 2019-20, up from 5% in 2018-19. When combined with Head Start (22%) and special education pre-K programs (5%), approximately 35% of Mississippi 4-year-olds attended public early childhood education programs in 2019-20. Mississippi ranks 39th in the nation for pre-K access for 4-year-olds and 42nd in state spending per child. Read the State of Preschool Report 2020 at NIEER.org.
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