By Ward Schaefer
The Jackson Free Press–April 14, 2010
Little Samaritan Montessori is an unusual sight in Jackson’s Midtown neighborhood. In an area with high rates of vacancy and a declining population, Little Samaritan represents the future. The child-care center serves 62 children, from 6 weeks to 5 years old, with a Montessori curriculum, an experiential approach to education that emphasizes students’ self-direction.
Good Samaritan Midtown, which operates the Montessori program, is also pursuing an initiative to make sure that every child under 5 in Midtown receives some form of quality early childhood care.
“In a neighborhood like this, where we’re already dealing with all these issues, it’s all about prevention,” Executive Director Kristi Hendrix says. “We’ve got too much to do here to not be comprehensive in our work.”
Programs like Little Samaritan Montessori–along with publicly operated programs like Head Start and Jackson’s Early Childhood Development Centers–represent Mississippi’s best opportunity to beat cyclical poverty and ensure long-term economic development, according to a new report issued by the Southern Education Foundation. Children in quality pre-K are more than twice as likely to go to college than those who don’t receive early childhood education and far less likely to repeat a grade or drop out.
The reported economic benefits of quality pre-K are staggering. For every dollar of state investment, a quality early childhood program targeted at poor kids would generate $12.30 in private and public returns, the Southern Education Fund report estimates. Those returns would come in many forms, chiefly a lower incarceration rate and a better-educated and more productive work force.
In fact, while spending on economic subsidies creates more jobs than investing in pre-K in the short term–within 30 years–spending the same amount on pre-K creates almost twice as many jobs in the long term, over 75 years.
As the only southern state currently without a state-funded pre-K program, though, Mississippi risks being left behind by its peers, the report argues.