The Mississippi Department of Education wants to provide more children around the state with pre-kindergarten education within the next two years. Educators hope the pre-k expansion will be achieved through the use of federal grant dollars.
Last year, Mississippi implemented its first-ever state funded pre-k program. The early learning collaboratives – or ELC’s – are partnerships between school districts, non-profit entities, or private pre-schools intended to compel existing pre-k programs to work together. The state Board of education approved eleven of those programs earlier this year.
Now, through the use of a federal grant, the department of education is hoping to expand the program. Rachel Canter is with Mississippi First – an education policy think tank that’s helping to write the grant proposal.
"Mississippi is in the development category for states that have no state funded program or a very small program," says Canter. "This grant would allow us to expand those collaboratives. To build on what we already have that passed the legislature in a bi-partisan fashion. To expand it to more communities across the state."
Yet, some members of the state board of education remain unconvinced the department of education has the authority to expand the program. Newly appointed board member Danny Sprietler says expanding the program could hurt small, private pre-schools.
"It is a small business group that drives economic development in our communities," Spreitle says. "This is a large group of people; they serve a very large need. If this department and this agency wants to move into pre-k we need a robust plan that clearly outline what we're going to do because we can not hurt private businesses. That's not what we're into."
However, Mississippi First Executive Director Rachel Canter says those private entities have the ability to join a collaborative if they are willing to show they have a quality program.
"Any provider who provides pre-k services can participate in a collaborative as long as they're willing to meet those state standards," Canter says. "That was the bargain under the state funded program; that's the intention of this grant. As for any provider whether they are private child care, head start, a public school to be able to form a collaborative and participate in a collaborative."
If the federal government approves the grant, collaboratives will have to ensure that they will be able to provide children with a high quality early education before they will be eligible to receive any money.