BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A million dollars in additional funding is set to the doled out to fund preschool programs in Mississippi, and at least one coast school district is hoping to get a big share of that money.
The state Department of Education received a $1 million increase in funding to expand pre-k classes next year, and the department is currently seeking applications from interested groups. The grant opportunity comes at a critical time for the Biloxi School District.
Meghan Ward's son, Lyric, just started preschool at Nichols Elementary.
"Oh, it's awesome! He comes home every day talking about the stuff he learned and it's great," said Ward.
The Biloxi School District started the pilot pre-k program for 4-year-olds in 2014. The three classes for 60 youngsters are funded by a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. But, that grant runs out at the end of this school year.
"The intent is to move forward and find funds to keep it going, because Biloxi is committed to early childhood education," said Assistant Biloxi Superintendent Dr. Janice Johnson.
The district is asking Kellogg to continue to fund the program. Then, this week, MDE announced it's seeking applications from Early Learning Collaboratives that want to get a share of $1 million in grants for pre-k programs. Collaboratives include a mix of school districts, Head Start agencies and other private or non-profit child care centers.
"We were excited. We actually knew prior to the email that was sent out," said Johnson.
The district is asking the MDE for $500,000. The funds can either keep the preschool program going another three years, or be used to add three more preschool classes and provide transportation services.
"I'm very hopeful. We've been waiting. We're planning. We're already talking about how we can show the strength of the program we have now. The data is showing they're learning and we're preparing them to be ready for kindergarten," said Johnson.
And parents are looking forward to giving their little ones a strong start to school and life.
"I think it would be a great opportunity for the children in this community. So many people want to be in this program, but I know it's small and limited and not everybody gets a spot," said Ward.
The Biloxi School District applied for this same Early Learning Collaborative Grant three years ago, but did not receive any funding. The deadline to apply for this next round is September 26. The state will announce the grant recipients on November 10.