Advocates discuss benefits to state-funded pre-k program - - Jackson, MS

Advocates discuss benefits to state-funded pre-k program

By Ashley Conroy - email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -- Mississippi currently lacks state funds in early childhood education, but some have said the state could reduce the drop-out rate and generate millions of dollars long-term if this changed.

The Governor's University Club held their usual monthly Stennis Capitol Press Luncheon with this month's topic targeting pre-kindergarten education.

Guest speaker and Vice President of the Southern Education Foundation, Steve Suitts has written multiple books and conducted research articles about the importance of early childhood education programs.

"Almost more than anything else we can think of predetermines the future," Suitts said.

The reason, Suitts said, is for the social and economic benefits this program could bring to Mississippi.

"A high school drop out in Mississippi is three times more likely to be unemployed right now than someone who's got some college education."

Suitts also said early childhood development would help prevent students falling behind a grade, which in turn is often a contributor to drop out rates.

The Southern Education Foundation reported that from 1998 to 2008, students falling behind cost the state $2 billion dollars.

In addition, some say programs like Mississippi Building Blocks, which is a pilot study tracking the development of children in pre-k programs, can lead the state out of the bottom of the education list.

"But we're putting ourselves in a position to perhaps be ahead of the game in just a few years through the innovative programs through a test basis for programs here in Mississippi," said President & CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council Blake Wilson.

Meantime, programs like Headstart, which primarily helps the underprivileged in Mississippi remain the center of early childhood development, but Suitts said long term, this isn't enough.

"During the last decade looking no further than year to year, Mississippi has failed to start a high quality state-wide program, because it's leaders believe it is a poor state without enough money."

Lt. Governor, Phil Bryant's Working Group on Early Childhood Education plans to meet at the capitol on Tuesday to discuss the issue of a state-funded early childhood program.

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