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

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 Leaving 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 four times—to $4 million in 2016, then to $6.5 million in 2018, to nearly $6.7 million in 2019, and now $16 million in 2021.

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. During the 2021-2022 school year, 16% of Mississippi four-year-olds (roughly 6,080 children) will have access to an ELC seat. 

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:

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.