First of several meetings about early childhood education - - Jackson, MS

First of several meetings about early childhood education

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By Ashley Conroy

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Lawmakers and education advocates held the first of several meetings at the capitol on Tuesday, in a bipartisan effort to discuss the likelihood of adding an early childhood education program in Mississippi.

The initiative was created by Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant as a means to discuss the feasibility of a state funded pre-k program.

"Anything that can improve the quality of education in Mississippi is a step in the right direction," Bryant said.

The working group discussed the efforts of implementing a state-funded program like Mississippi Building Blocks.

Building Blocks is a privately funded program designed to track children's learning abilities over several years.

Executive Director Dr. Laurie Smith has suggested using the state's 1,700 licensed child care centers already in place to help house a state pre-k program.

"We're not talking about adding another grade, we're not talking about adding pre-k in every classroom in the public schools, we're talking about adding some assistance to an existing infrastructure," Smith said.

Working group member Elana Tate is Director at New Jerusalem Child Care Center in Jackson that is part of the Mississippi Building Blocks program.

At first, Tate says she was hesitant when Smith approached her about participating in the program but decided to give it a try.

"The resources the one-on-one attention that the teachers received, the training that they received from the mentors made a significant difference," Tate said.

Now, she says the difference in the children's learning ability has astonished her.

Bryant says it will take sometime to get a feasible program in place, but that is why he created the working group.

"I created this working group to study public and private efforts for early childhood development programs in Mississippi, including Mississippi Building Blocks," Bryant said.

In addition, the Mississippi Economic Council presented their ideas on a more "educated" Mississippi, and how reducing the drop out rate could enhance Mississippi's workforce.

Bryant said this reason alone is enough to invest in a long-term plan for early childhood education.

"I cannot imagine that our investment in early childhood development will not pay off in the future for our future workforce," said Bryant.

The working group plans to host several more meetings in the coming months before the next legislative session in January.

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