Legislation could open funding for Starkville pre-K programs

April 13, 2013 9:36:35 PM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Starkville School District's Family Center Programs could see an expansion of its preschool services through the state's recent commitment to early childhood education, program director Joan Butler told school board members Tuesday. 


Butler discussed SB 2395, also known as the Early Learning Collaborative Act, with school officials Tuesday and said potential funding sources could allow the district to expand its pre-kindergarten program from four to 10 classrooms. 


The bill establishes a competitive process for statewide entities to compete for early childhood service funding over three phases. The first round of funding, Butler said, will introduce $8 million to the program, while phases two and three will add an additional $16 million and $33 million, respectively. The grants require a 1-1 match from qualifying districts, she said. 


State funding sources administered by the Mississippi Department of Education could begin as early as this upcoming school year. The bill passed both the House and Senate April 2 and is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant by April 25. 


Funding priorities will be given to districts with greater needs and larger segments of at-risk populations, Butler said, while factoring in other educational commitments and designations, including Excel by 5 certifications. 


"We're a part of the Excel by 5 certified community, which says to our community partners that early childhood education is important for our younger children and an investment worth making," Butler said. 


If SSD receives the grant, Butler said she expects to phase out its infant child care services while expanding the program for older children not yet at kindergarten age. Currently, Emerson Family Preschool serves 28 3-year-olds and 24 4- and 5-year-olds. 


Services would not be denied to families that already have children in Emerson, school officials confirmed. 


"This would probably be some form of a paid program by parents," SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway told school board members Tuesday. "The downside would be we would eventually need classrooms where our diaper/toddler kids are. Not that we were denying students into the program now, but we'd have to stop taking (younger children). The kids, when I visited a week ago, were engaged, learning and happy. This also gives us the opportunity to tell more students and parents our story as they come into the district." 


Funding could also help Emerson add wrap-around services for parents, including morning or afternoon child care and expanded summer programs, Butler said.  


Emerson's services began in 1994 when school officials made a deliberate commitment to the core family unit as an integral factor in children's education, Butler said. Through recent SSD strategic planning sessions, stakeholders said they hope to see the school system expand and build upon its pre-kindergarten foundation and abilities. 


"It's so important that we look at this grant proposal opportunity because of how preschool helps with school readiness, which in turn reduces dropouts, increases academic potential, accelerates achievement and closes the achievement gap," Butler said. "I used to be the principal at Sudduth Elementary. About two-thirds of the children coming in (to the school) were behind in language, and language is a strong indicator for success. There is a real need to tighten up and provide stronger education on the front end."

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch