Since 2013, Mississippi First has been dedicated to increasing access and quality to public pre-K across the state. This week, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) announced that Mississippi is one of the top six states for high-quality pre-K.
These accolades are well deserved as Mississippi pre-K students continue to outperform their peers when entering kindergarten. Mississippi ensures quality by requiring all early learning collaboratives (ELCs) to meet the 10 NIEER benchmarks. This year, HB1123 upgraded the law to include new benchmarks NIEER unveiled in 2017.
The hard work of ELCs combined with the legislature’s commitment during the last two legislative sessions to increase per-pupil funding from $4,300 to $5,000 per child makes maintaining high-quality pre-K attainable. The per-pupil funding increase has been critical for our current pre-K programs, especially as they navigate the pandemic. We know this raise increase needs to be made permanent in 2022.
Permanently increasing per-pupil funding to $5,000 per child gives ELCs the best chance of success long-term. A quality classroom in Mississippi costs $100,000, not including any administrative costs. Current law only guarantees each classroom $86,000. For the last two years, we have relied on year-to-year budget clarifications to ensure classrooms receive a full $5,000. Without the fix, collaboratives will be back to either raising more money than their fair share or looking for ways to cut costs, and that pressure may eventually lead to cutting corners on quality.
We are excited that Mississippi’s pre-K program is getting the praise it deserves for quality nationally. Now, we need to make the push to maintain the increase of per-pupil funding so ELCs can continue to have the resources they need to provide high-quality pre-K to Mississippi’s four-year-olds!