Early education is a founding policy area for Mississippi First. 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.

The Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013 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.

In passing both the House and the Senate with over 80% of the vote, the pre-K law was the most popular education effort for many years. That year, the legislature appropriated $3 million for the program, the first-ever state investment in pre-K. 

Following the passing of the law, in December 2013, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) selected the first 11 Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs) from across the state. For almost a decade, Mississippi First has continued to advocate to increase funding in order to maintain quality and grow the program. With each legislative funding increase, the number of impacted communities has grown. In 2022, the Mississippi State Legislature increased its investment in state-funded pre-K to $24M. This historic step is the second $8M boost by the legislature in two years. 25% of Mississippi four-year-olds (9,120 children) will have access to an ELC seat. 

When we helped pass the original law in 2013, we hoped that within 10 years 25% of Mississippi’s four-year-olds would have access to high-quality, low- or no-cost pre-K. With this new allocation, we have achieved our target! THIS IS A HUGE DEAL!

Moving forward, we plan to continue our Raise the Rate initiative to make the per-pupil funding rate of at least $5,000 per child permanent. We will also continue to advocate the expansion of the pre-K program.

  • State-funded pre-K refers to pre-K programs establised by the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013. These programs, known as Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs), currently operate in 18 communities and serve 3,000 students. All collaboratives are overseen by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), even though individual providers may also have other oversight agencies.
  • 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. Every county in Mississippi has at least one Head Start center. Currently, Mississippi has 18 Head Start grantees serving over 22,000 four-year-olds.
  • A licensed childcare center provides supervised care to children of any age for which the facility is licensed by the State Department of Health. Examples include childcare centers located in church facilities or private businesses. Some Head Start centers must also be licensed, if not affiliated with an educational institution such as a public school. Most, but not all, counties in Mississippi have licensed childcare centers.
  • Other public school pre-K programs refers to pre-K programs that are operated by a Mississippi public school district, including a charter school. Districts may offer six types of other public school pre-K programs, if they choose, categorized mainly by the funding source and its related restrictions, including Title I, local district, tuition-based, blended, hybrid, or externally funded programs.

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.

See our Pre-K Publications page for related briefs, reports, and research.