March 9, 2018 10:34:31 AM
For years now, the state of Mississippi has struggled to provide funding for K-12 education, yet there is another level of education that also continues to remain underfunded and undeveloped in our state -- pre-K education.
Once, it was thought that 3-and-4-year-olds were too young to benefit form educational programs. For the majority of those children, the emphasis was on day-care.
At the turn of the century, however, that thinking began to change. Research showed that children who started in educational programs at age 3 proved to succeed at much higher levels upon entering kindergarten than those who did not.
In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature appropriated $3 million for the Early Learning Collaborate Act and while the number of pre-K programs have grown since then, the demand for these programs continues to far outpace the availability. There are now school pre-K programs in more than half of the state's school districts, but the majority of those programs have long waiting lists and can be costly -- up to $400 per month or more.
Head Start, a federal program that provides free Pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds continues to be the biggest Pre-K program in the state. But in a state where 25 percent of children live in poverty, even those programs are seriously inadequate. A little over a third of children eligible for Head Start are currently enrolled in these programs.
And, by some indications, the problem is getting worse, not better.
In May, the Anderson Grove Community Head Start near Caledonia is scheduled to be closed. The Head Start currently serves 57 students. After closing, returning students will be able to attend the Coleman Head Start in Columbus, but any new children who would have been able to attend the Caledonia Head Start must find a new program. It's likely to be difficult -- both Head Start and school district pre-K programs already have waiting lists.
The Institute for Community Services, which operates the Head Start programs in north Mississippi, said the decision to close the Caledonia Head Start was based on the increasing demands on its budget.
We believe there must be every effort made to keep this school operating.
Since it is a federal program, we urge U.S. Congressman Trent Kelly to intervene on behalf of these children. While there may not be a political advantage in doing so -- these are children from poor families -- we believe Kelly has a moral obligation to come to the aid of these, our most vulnerable children.
It will take time and money to provide the kind of broad-based Pre-K education our children need. We will not get there by going backwards, as the closing of Anderson Grove Head Start seems to indicate.
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