HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi landed at the bottom again for overall school performance. But, the state's preschool programs are getting better grades, based on the latest rating by Education Week. Early education leaders said the report should spark more community and state support for expanding programs for our little ones.
Early childhood education leaders were all smiles Friday after learning that Mississippi's preschool programs are getting national attention. While Education Week's Quality Counts Report gave Mississippi a D for student achievement, the state's pre-k programs earned a B. It also ranked high, only behind the District of Columbia and Hawaii.
"It's really nice to see something positive in those statistics for a change," said PreK4Ward Executive Director Cynthia Minton Walker.
The report looked at the number of children who attend preschool and focused on the enrollment rate of poorer children. PreK4Ward is a free program for four-year-olds and has expanded to seven classes in Gulfport, Harrison, and Hancock Counties. Walker said we need to focus on more than just the attendance levels.
"If the quality of that student is still not showing us the gains in kindergarten, we still have work to do. I don't want to get complacent just because it's a positive statement. I want us to know that what we're doing is also extremely effective for those children," said Walker.
The Biloxi School District launched its own preschool program this year. It's funded by a three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation. The assistant superintendent said the latest performance report should challenge state leaders to support early childhood education.
"I hope this will encourage our leaders to move forward and give us funding that's allocated for pre-k, because if we're doing this and receiving a B, without allocation from the state, just imagine what we can do with allocation for pre-k funding," said Biloxi Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Johnson.
And they say by building the foundation early for children, that can lead to higher graduation rates, lower incarceration levels, and help move Mississippi schools from being at the bottom in the nation.
According to Education Week, 52-percent of all three and four year olds attend preschool in Mississippi. That's higher than the national average of 47-percent.