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Department of Education Looking for Ways to Expand Pre-K Statewide
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Education officials are looking for ways to expand Mississippi's state-funded early education program. The Department of Education is asking lawmakers for an increase in funding.

State funded pre-k has been a reality in Mississippi for nearly two years, but to date only 11 local programs have received financial backing. Yet, efforts are underway to expand the program known as Early Learning Collaboratives.

Carey Wright is the State Superintendent of Education. She says her department has already asked lawmakers to triple the appropriation for the ELC's from $3 million to $9 million.

"We had three times as many applications as we did funds last year," says Wright. "So this coming year we're going in asking for nine, and hoping that that will be still the three that currently exists, but also six million to expand the collaboratives."

Under the Early Learning Collaborative Act public school districts, non-profit entities like Head Start, or private pre-schools are compelled to work together so that they might, as a group, receive state funding. The ELC program is similar to another Mississippi based early education initiative known as Excel by Five; in fact several of the state funded pre-k programs were originally members of Excel by Five. Nadine Coleman is President of that initiative's Board of Directors. She believes the state's ELC program is working to bring communities together around early education.

"What it has done for our community is that it has moved ownership of this work from the school district and from a small coalition to the community," Coleman says. "The community is now involved in 'Okay, what can we do? How can we go about working on this together?"

Republican State Senator Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula introduced the original Early Learning Collaborative bill. He says lawmakers are willing to look into expansion.

"The Legislature has chosen to get behind programs that work; early education works," says Wiggins.

The Department of Education is also applying for a federal grant to would give the state four million dollars a year for pre-k.