The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi in its latest report on pre-K quality as one of only five states whose state-funded pre-K program meets all 10 quality standards for early childhood education.
The latest ranking is published in the NIEER report, The State of Preschool 2021. The annual survey provides an in-depth look at state-funded education for 3- and 4- year-olds nationally and in each state with a focus on enrollment, spending and 10 policies that support quality education.
NIEER evaluated Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) programs, which are partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers and non-profit organizations. The program has grown from 11 collaboratives serving 1,700 children in 2014 to 30 collaboratives that will serve 6,000 children in 2022-23.
Because of the quality of the Early Learning Collaboratives, Mississippi has consistently been one of only several states meeting all NIEER standards.
The Mississippi Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which provided $3 million to establish a limited number of collaboratives in underserved areas throughout the state. Funding increased in subsequent years based on the program’s immediate success reaching $8 million by 2020-21 and doubled to $16 million in 2021-22.
The Mississippi State Board of Education has made increasing access to high-quality early childhood education one of its top priorities. The Mississippi Department of Education has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to build the state’s early childhood education infrastructure through coaching and professional development and by providing guidance and support to school districts. State funds now support these efforts.
“The quality of Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative program has made our state a national leader for early childhood education,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education for Mississippi. “Research consistently shows that high-quality early childhood education has a long-term impact on student achievement. Children who participate in high-quality pre-K programs achieve higher levels of school readiness, reading proficiency by third grade and higher graduation rates.”
The proportion of Mississippi 4-year-olds enrolled in Early Learning Collaboratives rose from 3% in 2016-17 to 7% in 2020-21. When combined with Head Start (27%) and special education pre-K programs (3%), approximately 37% of Mississippi 4-year-olds attended public early childhood education programs in 2020-21. COVID-19 disruptions caused 337 fewer children to enroll in collaboratives in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20.
“The pandemic has made it even clearer that such preschool programs are essential for young children and their families,” said W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., NIEER’s founder and senior co-director. “Mississippi is moving in the right direction, doubling the state investment in preschool to enable more children to attend the program in the coming years.”
Mississippi’s national ranking for pre-K improved since last year from 39th to 38th for access and 42nd to 39th in state spending per child.
Read the State of Preschool Report 2020 at NIEER.org.