Mississippi was awarded $10.6 million for the “Connected for Success: A Family-Based Unified and Integrated Early Childhood” federal grant.

This is the first time Mississippi has ever received federal funds for educational investments towards ages 0-5 and not children ages 4 to 5 already enrolled in pre-k classes. This is the third year Mississippi has applied for the grant, but the first time being on the receiving end.

“This grant will expand the Governor’s current plan for young children and families,” said Laurie Smith, Executive Director of State Early Childhood Development Council. The funds will expand the ‘Family Based Unified and Integrated Early Childhood System,’ which not only aims to improve the childcare environments for children, but also helps the family as a whole by assisting parents in job training, and securing employment. The program is part of the State Early Childhood Advisory Council of Mississippi.

Here’s a basic summary of the grant:

The Mississippi system reimagines the state’s approach to early care and learning and radically departs from its traditional provider-focused approach. The system is designed to place low-income families on a path to self-sufficiency and ensure their children can attend child care centers that provide high-quality services and learning experiences in a healthy and safe environment.

The system is structured to promote the welfare, learning, and stability of young children through an integrated network of resources and services. Specifically, the Mississippi system focuses on:

• Connecting early care and learning programs and services within and between state agencies and private organizations to holistically support children and their families from birth to age 8 through the development and implementation of individual service plans.

Forming a network of centers based on two designations: standard and comprehensive. The standard designation focuses on high-quality services in terms of curriculum, health and safety, and staff. The comprehensive designation builds on the standard designation and focuses on the continuity of high-quality care and learning as a child transitions from center to center and into the K-12 system.

• Infusing coaching and technical assistance into child care centers through Early Childhood Academies in order to level the playing field and achieve high-quality care and service for all children without being burdensome to child care providers.

• Connecting families to a network of human services, education, and workforce programs designed to eliminate barriers and provide training to achieve occupational goals.

• Relying on data-driven web and mobile technology to improve delivery of services to assist families anytime and anywhere and to maximize efficiency and effectiveness for continuous quality improvement of all services.

The overall vision for Mississippi system is to create a statewide structure that fosters the cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional well-being of children 0-8 years old, preparing children for school, engages families in their children’s learning, and cultivates the social integration of children.

Experts say that brain development is the most rapid from birth to age 5, Smith says if the state can get this right (development programs) the great things in our state like graduation rates and success in the third grade reading gate will continue to improve.

That means that this funding is also going to provide an economic boost, not just improvement to children between the ages of 0-4, but a ripple effect that will span across the state.

“Governor Phil Bryant is Chairman of the State Education Commission and he has chosen this topic as his platform for his chairmanship,” said Smith. “He is leading the nation on this topic and I don’t know of any other Republican Governors that have taken it on as passionately as he has. I think it’s his leadership that has moved the needle on this.”

With the creativity behind the grant Mississippi is now leading the nation on how we are approaching early childhood development.

In 2017 Mississippi State University in collaboration with University of Mississippi Medical Center launched the Child Health Development project through UMMC’s Center for Advancement of Youth and MSU’s Social Science Research Center through a three-year $10.5 million grant from U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.