Collaborative Pre-K Recommended for Mississippi

Not all kids get a quality early education in Mississippi, but policy experts are hoping to change that. Photo by Ryan Pickens.

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s early learning system is fragmented, but some preschool providers say it’s time to collaborate.

At PreK4Ward in Gulfport, organizers collaborate with the local school district and business leaders to bring public preschool to kids in the area. PreK4Ward Director Cynthia Walker says the community knew preschool was important so everyone pitched in to get the program off the ground.

“It saddens me that our education community understands this, and our legislators and our funding agents don’t yet see it that way,” says Walker.

Walker says she’s gotten requests to expand to other public school sites, but can’t afford to staff more than two classrooms without state support. It’s an issue of universal access that is on many legislators’ minds. Rachel Canter, Executive Director of Mississippi First, offered legislators a planof action in an issue brief released this morning.

“Across the country, most states have collaborative delivery models, and the way that most of them oversee them is through an office within the department of education,” says Canter.

Canter says a collaborative delivery system statewide would use existing preschool providers like Head Start, childcare centers and public schools to build-out a universal preschool system. In return for public cash, these providers would be held to strict accountability in terms of quality.

The most recent collaborative preschool bill was introduced to the Mississippi State Senate January 20, 2012.

John Moore, Chair of the Education Committee in the Mississippi House, says collaborative delivery may be a way to save on start up costs, but still might not be fiscally feasible.

“There is no doubt there is huge needs out there, but at the end of the day it’s all about the green stuff,” says Moore. “It’s all about the money.”

And that, he says, is in short supply.

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