JACKSON — Just two weeks after Halloween, hundreds of 4-year-olds in high-need areas around the state will receive a new treat: pre-kindergarten.
The Mississippi Board of Education increased the number of early learning collaboratives, or ELCs, from 10 to 14 on Nov. 8. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, Agape Community Development Center of Canton Public Schools, the Greenwood School District, Grenada School District and the Starkville-Oktibbeha School District will receive $247,250 annually the next three years. The funds will bankroll seats in full-time pre-kindergarten classrooms for 460 students.
Mississippi’s 2013 Early Learning Collaborative Act authorized the state to implement statewide prekindergarten on a phased-in basis. Districts, city councils, and other organizations and agencies could apply to become ELCs. In order to offer pre-kindergarten to children, the ELCs must be comprised of school districts, licensed child-care centers, or public, private or parochial schools. The state’s ELCs serve nearly 1,700 students statewide.
“Research has shown the powerful link to high-quality early-childhood programs and future academic success, and I believe these communities will reap the benefits of collaborating to ensure every student receives a strong start in school,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, in a Nov. 10 Mississippi Department of Education press release.
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Pre-kindergarten has short-term and long-term benefits for children. The Center for Public Education reports that kids in pre-K do better in school than kids who received only parental care, and outperform academically children who attend other preschool or daycare programs. Pre-K also helps narrow achievement and vocabulary gaps between white, black and Hispanic students, and students who receive free or reduced lunch.
The quality of the initiative has shone beyond Mississippi. “The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi’s ELCs in its 2015 State of Preschool yearbook for meeting all 10 quality standards for early childhood education, putting Mississippi among the top states in the nation that meet all 10 benchmarks,” an MDE press release said.
Assessments show just how valuable the initiative is inside the classroom, too. “A statewide assessment of kindergarten readiness among students in the state’s ELCs in spring 2016 showed that all ELCs achieved the target score on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment that indicates students are prepared for kindergarten. At the student level, 71.4 percent met the target readiness score, which is an increase from 59 percent in 2015,” a Nov. 10 MDE press release reads.
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow with the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.