By: Senator Brice Wiggins
Each legislative session, education funding is always a hot topic of debate. Whether it is fully-funding MAEP, passing teacher pay raises or identifying ways to improve test scores and graduation rates, this is an issue that Mississippians are passionate and vocal about.
While we have made strides in education over the last several years, there is one learning program that has clearly demonstrated its success and return on investment for the last six years – the Mississippi Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs).
- What if I told you that an investment of $4,300 in the education of a 4-year old annually would catapult the kindergarten readiness of that boy or girl to one of the Top 5 ratings in the United States?
- What if I told you that the State treasury does not share the full burden of funding this investment and that the private sector contributes 50% of these funds?
- What if I told you that since 2013, when the Early Learning Collaboratives were introduced and initially funded, they have helped over 11,000 4-year olds have the best possible chances for success as they enter kindergarten and elementary school?
Why is this important?
IMPACT ON CRIME:
As our State grapples with systemic problems in our prisons and the criminal justice system, many are not aware that we base future prison bed needs on the test scores of third graders. It is a documented fact that 4-year olds who participate in the Early Learning Collaboratives outperform children in other types of pre-K programs in the state. In 2019, 77% of students participating in ELCs across our state scored above the end of year K-readiness score. And their test scores in subsequent years have remained above average, including those for the third grade.
In my second year as a State Senator, I, along with former Representative, now Mayor Toby Barker, were able to successfully author and pass this important Early Learning Collaborative legislation that allocated $3 million to start funding centers across the state. With the ELCs’ proven success and with continued Legislative leadership to fund them, the total number of ELC sites has now grown to 18.
But there are so many more 4-year olds in Mississippi who need the benefits that our Early Learning Collaboratives provide. We are only scratching the surface of the transformational benefits that additional funding could achieve.
1/3 of Mississippi children are not ready for kindergarten. Despite our successes, current Early Learning Collaboratives are only reaching 8% of four-year olds.
It should come as no surprise that over 30 Mississippi organizations, including Mississippi First, and Lieutenant Governor Hosemann, are lobbying legislators for more funding of this important program. Senate Bill 2286, recently introduced by me and co-sponsored by Education Chairman Dennis Debar, passed the Senate Education Committee and is now going to Appropriations Committeee
There are currently ELC applicant communities that have met all the high quality requirements, but are having to sit on the sideline. That is why an increase in funding should occur this session, to allow places like Brookhaven to access this proven program. 85% of children in Mississippi are not at home with Mom or Dad during the day. These children need the type of program and structure that ELCs provide.
There is no reason to link this funding and the ELCs’ future to debates or calls for universal or mandatory Pre-K programs. The ELCs’ successes are largely tied to the fact that a child’s participation is 100% voluntary and that leaders at a local level have developed programs to meet the individualized needs of their own communities. This coupled with strong adherence to national program standards (NIEER), on-going monitoring and testing of child outcomes and classroom quality, and annual PEER reviews have allowed the ELCs to transparently thrive in our state.
New collaboratives cannot open unless new money is appropriated by the Legislature or a current collaborative closes. Mississippi’s 4-year olds need us to renew our investment in their potential and set them up for the greatest success possible.
Please contact your Senator or Representative and tell them to VOTE YES for Early Learning Collaborative funding.