Tired of living in the only Southern state without a publicly financed program of early-childhood education, business leaders across Mississippi have launched a three-year pilot effort to improve the educational quality of child-care centers and better prepare children for school.
Recognizing the grim outlook for their state’s budget in the near future, the effort’s organizers are not asking for state funds to implement the project, which is expected to cost $3.5 million in the first year. So far, $4.6 million has been committed.
“We need to get Mississippi off the bottom of every bad list in America,” said John S. Oxford, a vice president for Resanant Bank in Tupelo, which is part of the Mississippi Economic Council. The council, which is also part of the state chamber of commerce, has listed the phase-in of an early-childhood-education program as one of its top legislative priorities.
The state already pays for a voluntary rating system for child-care centers—called the Quality Step System—and for a resource and referral program that helps parents locate programs.
The new Mississippi Building Blocks effort, kicked on Dec. 15, will offer training to licensed centers statewide to help them meet higher standards and to seek to increase the number of centers participating in the rating-system program. (“Preschool Rating Systems Need Fine-Tuning, Study Says,” Oct. 29, 2008.)
“The idea is to have this pilot program out there, to look at the results, and then go looking for state and federal funding to create a program that is sustainable and viable,” Mr. Oxford said. The new initiative will reach roughly 1,500 children in 50 centers.
Organizers of the effort might also be laying the groundwork for the next gubernatorial election in 2011, suggested Mimi Howard, the early-learning-program director at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. Unlike his counterparts in other Southern states, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has not had state-funded preschool at the top of his agenda. Instead, he has favored allowing existing providers to increase services with the help of state money.
A version of this article appeared in the January 07, 2009 edition of Education Week