About Pre-K

Mississippi First believes pre-K can play a critical role in closing the achievement gap while raising achievement for all learners. Research supporting the positive impact of pre-K has fueled the proliferation of state-funded pre-K programs across the country. Mississippi First is proud to have written the Early Learning Collaborative Act, which established state-funded pre-K in Mississippi. Now, we lead the effort to expand the program.

Mississippi has four main types of center-based pre-K programs for four-year-olds.

  • State-funded pre-K refers to pre-K programs established by the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. See “The Law” to learn more about these programs.
  • Head Start is a program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.
  • Licensed Childcare Centers provide supervised care to children of any age for which the facility is licensed by the State Department of Health.
  • Other Public Pre-K Programs include pre-K programs operated by a Mississippi public school district, whether a traditional school district or a charter school.

Early education is a founding policy area for Mississippi First. In 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 Leavin g 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, we worked with Senator Brice Wiggins and then-Representative Toby Bark 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. Since then, the legislature has increased its commitment to the program thrice more—to $4 million in 2016, then to $6.5 million in 2018, and now 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. 18 communities statewide participate in the 2019-2020 school year, affecting a total of nearly 3,000 students, or 7.9% of four-year-olds.

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.

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

  • Collaboration: 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.
  • Quality: 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.
  • Funding: Approved collaboratives receive state funding to operate full-day or half-day programs. The funding amounts to $4,300 per child enrolled in full-day programs and $2,150 per child enrolled in half-day programs. The State of Mississippi provides half of these costs ($2,150 per child enrolled in full-day pre-K and $1,075 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 2018.

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

Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs) are now located in every corner of the state.

Approved ELCs in Mississippi:

Collaboratives have a strong record of growing their students to kindergarten readiness. The spring 2019 statewide average score of pre-K collaborative students on the Mississippi kindergarten readiness assessment was 575, above the fall kindergarten-entry “readiness” score of 530, indicating that, on average, collaborative students are ready for kindergarten. See the most recent report here.

Pre-K 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 1:1 state tax credit for the donated amount up to $1 million.

Interested in taking advantage of the Early Learning Collaborative? Check out these frequently asked questions.

Learn more details about the Early Learning Collaborative tax credit.