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Lawmakers reflect on 10 years of expanded pre-k access in Mississippi

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More than 26,000 butterflies were placed on a lawn near the capitol to represent the children who have been part of the state's Early Learning Collaborative program
Kobee Vance, MPB News

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Mississippi Early Learning Collaborative Act. Lawmakers are considering legislation that could expand the state’s nationally acclaimed program.

Kobee Vance

Lawmakers reflect on 10 years of expanded pre-k access in Mississippi


The Early Learning Collaborative Act established a system in Mississippi where children are able to attend pre-k classes within their community at no cost that can prepare them for primary schooling. There are currently 35 state-funded early learning locations across Mississippi, serving up to 25% of 4 year olds in the state. Republican Senator Bryce Wiggins helped pass the legislation in 2013, and says it has helped Mississippi rethink education.

“And the gains that we’ve made in the last ten years got started that year, 2013,” says Wiggins. “And there was a lot going on, and I just hope that people recognize what we’ve done. And I think they do and I certainly know the legislature does.”

Experts say having access to early education can help kids get a jump start on their schooling, lower rates for special education and potentially grow graduation rates. Hattiesburg’s Mayor claims early learning collaboratives helped schools in his area grow to an A ranking for the first time.

Republican Representative Kent McCarty, vice chair of the House Education Committee, says the state needs to expand this program so all students can have access to free, early childhood education.

“I’m working on some legislation to give us some targets to increase that to 100% over the next three to five years. The great thing about it is that we’ve seen a commitment, especially on the house side,” says McCarty. “Last year I think the request from the stakeholders of the collaborative program was actually below what we gave them. That never happens at the capitol. That to me shows the commitment for our appropriators on the House and Senate side.”

More than 26,000 children have been able to participate in Mississippi’s early learning collaboratives since the law was signed in 2013.