Early education is a founding policy area for Mississippi First. Between September 2011 and January 2012, Mississippi First published two major reports on pre-K, the Title I Preliminary Report that described how school districts were using Title I dollars to provide pre-K in public schools and Leaving Last in Line that recommended a “collaborative delivery model” for state-funded pre-K. A “collaborative delivery model” brings all types of providers—public schools, private childcare, and Head Start—to the table, if they agree to meet high standards.

In 2013, the legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act and appropriated $3 million for the program, the first-ever state investment in pre-K. Since then, the legislature has increased its commitment to the program thrice more—to $4 million in 2016 and then to nearly $6.7 million in 2019.

In December 2013, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) selected 11 communities from across the state for the first round of Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs). With each legislative funding increase, the number of impacted communities has grown—to 14 in 2016 and then to 19 in the 2019-2020 school year. In the 2018-2019 school year, 5.2% of four-year-olds in state were enrolled in state-funded pre-K.2 In 2019-2020 when the 5 new ELCs begin operating, the number of students affected by the program will increase by about 1,000, for a total of nearly 3,000 students, or 7.9% of four-year-olds.

The Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013

2012 was a year of great political change in Mississippi as many new legislators began their first term. One of these new legislators was Senator Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula), who was passionate about early childhood issues. After meeting in December 2012 with Rachel Canter, Executive Director of Mississippi First, Senator Wiggins asked for Mississippi First’s help in drafting what became the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. Around the same time, long-time representative Toby Barker (R-Hattiesburg) spoke with Rachel Canter about an idea he had to re-purpose funds to provide money for pre-K. When he learned of Senator Wiggins’ interest in introducing a bill, he agreed to introduce a companion in the House. Although there have been numerous attempts to pass pre-K legislation over the years, the 2013 effort received a major boost due to bipartisan legislative support, along with endorsements from Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and Governor Phil Bryant, early in the 2013 session. Read the legislation. (Legislative History Project (MC Law): Video of Senate Bill Passage)

Passing both the House and the Senate with over 80% of the vote, the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013 was the most popular education effort in many years. One of the reasons for its popularity is the strong support that pre-K has with the public.

Consistently, pre-K including government-funded pre-K polls as one of the most popular education issues in Mississippi.


In a November 2017 scientific poll, 82.9% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “The State of Mississippi should fund pre-K in all school districts throughout the state.”¹ The other reason for pre-K’s strong support is that the law enshrined Mississippi First’s recommended “collaborative” model. Legislators valued the program’s focus on parent choice and the maximization of resources across the entire sector.

Implementation of the Law

One of the hallmarks of the Early Learning Collaboratives is its emphasis on quality and accountability. All participants in a collaborative must administer the pre-K version of the kindergarten-readiness assessment in the fall and spring of the pre-K year so that the public can assess how much each program is growing its students, regardless of their starting point. Collaboratives have a strong record of growing their students to kindergarten readiness. The spring 2018 statewide average score of pre-K collaborative students on the Mississippi kindergarten readiness assessment was 573, above the fall kindergarten-entry “readiness” score of 530, indicating that, on average, collaborative students are ready for kindergarten.

Approved State-Funded Pre-K Collaboratives in Mississippi:

*In December 2018, the Mississippi State Board of Education voted to add five new early learning collaboratives (ELC) to the current list to provide high-quality early childhood education programs to 4-year-old students. Their contracts will start January 2019.

Additional Early Education Resources

Research, Technical Assistance, Government, or Regulatory Organizations

¹ See Mississippi First’s Mississippi Voices report: http://1iq0332x28t34od07uajkv11.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Mississippi-Voices.pdf.