The 2022 legislative session was a wild ride for pre-K.
Our bill to permanently change the per-pupil funding rate, HB 1246, died late in the session due to unrelated politics. This bill would have increased the state share of per-pupil pre-K funds from $2,150 to $2,500 per child—an increase of $350 per child in state funds or about $7K per classroom of 20. We have been trying to pass this language into law since 2020, but because the pandemic shortened the session that year, we instead got the legislature to make the change directly in the budget. In 2021, we got a bill that included non-funding changes and again made the rate change in the budget.
After the bill died this year, we had no choice but to ask the legislature to once again make the change through the appropriations process—hopefully for the last time. Our champions worked to get this done, which is good news for our current collaboratives who have come to rely on an even 50/50 split for the cost of quality, especially as the pandemic has increased costs related to technology and cleaning supplies. In addition to keeping the rate increase, the legislature gave pre-K two additional gifts in the budget—an overall funding amount of $24M, which is an $8M increase, and a coaching line item of $3.25M, which is a little over double last year’s amount. These budget amounts will allow the state-funded pre-K program to reach 25% of four-year-olds in Mississippi and provide pre-K teachers the support to ensure quality.
One final note: The budget includes a new $20M line item for “other early learning programs.” The language is extremely vague and asks the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) “to provide grant opportunities for Other Early Learning Programs through public schools including other public school preschool programs not participating in Early Learning Collaboratives.” We are going to work with MDE to ensure this money is used in alignment with the collaborative program and does not undermine the requirement of gold standard quality that is a hallmark of our nationally recognized state pre-K program. MDE has been a strong partner with us throughout the last decade so we feel confident we can support them in developing a program that will ensure quality for children. However, this is something for advocates of quality pre-K to watch over the course of the next year.