The Early Learning Collaborative Act established state pre-K programs known as “Early Learning Collaboratives” or ELCs. All collaboratives are overseen by the Mississippi Department of Education, even though individual providers may also have other oversight agencies.

History of the Law

The Early Learning Collaborative Act, Mississippi’s state-funded pre-K program, reaches 25% of four-year-olds in Mississippi and provides pre-K teachers the support to ensure quality.

In 2012, Mississippi First published two major reports on pre-K, the Title I Preliminary Report which described how school districts were using Title I dollars to provide pre-K in public schools, and Leaving Last in Line which 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, we worked with Senator Brice Wiggins and then-Representative Toby Barker to pass the Early Learning Collaborative Act, which we wrote to reflect Leaving Last in Line. Passing both the House and the Senate with over 80% of the vote, the pre-K law was the most popular education effort in many years. That year, the legislature appropriated $3 million for the program, the first-ever state investment in pre-K. (Read the full history in our case study, Transforming Pre-K in Mississippi: The Story of the Early Learning Collaborative Act.)

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. Today, there are 35 ELCs across Mississippi.

The legislature has increased its commitment to the program five times—$4 million in 2016, $6.5 million in 2018, nearly $6.7 million in 2019, $16 million in 2021, and $24 million since 2022.

In 2023, Mississippi First successfully advocated a permanent per-pupil rate change. In the pre-K law, the state promises to pay half the cost per child for a program meeting the state’s high standards. The state has now raised the rate to $5,000 so that the state and collaboratives each contribute $2,500 per child.

Since 2022, the legislature has given pre-K two additional gifts in the budget—an overall funding amount of $24M, which is an $8M increase over 2021, and a coaching line item of $3.25M, which is a little over double 2021’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.

Understanding the Law

Collaboratives have several unique features. The list below briefly describes the most important features differentiating ELCs from other Mississippi pre-K programs.


One aspect of the law that is most unique is its special focus on local collaboration through a formal council of partner pre-K providers. To be eligible for state funding, all ELCs are required to have two or more partners, including at least one school district and at least one Head Start, if one exists within the county. Collaboratives can also include private childcare centers and private or parochial schools. These partners form a collaborative council and select a Lead Partner, who serves as the fiscal agent of the collaborative. The Lead Partner coordinates a joint application for state funding.


One of the hallmarks of the Early Learning Collaboratives is its emphasis on quality and accountability.  Collaborative pre-K programs are required to meet the highest levels of quality, as defined by meeting 10 of 10 quality benchmarks by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). 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.


Approved collaboratives receive state funding to operate full-day or half-day programs. The funding amounts to $5,000 per child enrolled in full-day programs and $2,500 per child enrolled in half-day programs. The State of Mississippi provides half of these costs ($2,500 per child enrolled in full-day pre-K and $1,750 per child enrolled in half-day pre-K). The state requires that the other half be provided by local matching funds, which may include local tax dollars, federal dollars (as allowed), parent tuition, philanthropic contributions, or in-kind donations of facilities, equipment, and services required as part of the program, such as food service or health screenings.

State Tax Credit

Individuals or corporations who make a contribution to support the local matching fund of an approved early learning collaborative may be eligible to receive a state tax credit for the donated amount up to $1 million. See “Pre-K Tax Credit” below for more information.

Competitive Application

The program is competitive. New application cycles depend on the legislature increasing the funding for the program or on the closing of a current collaborative. The last expansion of the program was in 2022, but MDE is still in the process of approving applications.

To learn more, we encourage you to read the legislation and view a video of its passage in the Senate through Legislative History Project at MC Law: Video of Senate Bill Passage. You can also read our How to Start a Collaborative Toolkit.