The Mississippi Early Learning Alliance met at the Capitol on Wednesday to highlight the importance of early childhood development in the state.

Kicking off the press conference was Angela Bass, the Executive Director of MELA. She spoke of the alliances mission to ensure positive outcomes for children and bring more awareness to early childhood influence.

“We also believe that ensuring the holistic development of Mississippi’s children is the single most important accomplishment we can achieve to improve the quality of life in our state, because when we focus on early development, we focus on building up our state’s most precious assets, our children, our future leaders,” said Bass.

Bass said research studies have shown that a child’s strong development in the first eight years of life is a foundation for future learning, health and economic stability. She said that by supporting the youngest the state is investing in the power of the future.

One of the biggest accomplishments for MELA came in 2013 with the passage of the Early Learning Collaborative. With it came the appropriation of $3 million for the program. This was the state’s first ever investment in pre-k. Since then Legislature has increased that amount to $4 million in 2016 and again to $6.7 million in 2019. Senator Brice Wiggins was instrumental in drafting and passing this legislation in 2013 and remains committed to the cause.

“At the time in the state of Mississippi, we were one of 10 states that had no support for early education,” said Senator Wiggins. “Since then Mississippi has been ranked in the top five on early learning collaboratives.”

Participating organizations include the Barksdale Reading Institute, Friends of Children of Mississippi, Gateway to Kindergarten Readiness, Kids Count, Mississippi First, Parents for Public Schools and many others.

In conjunction with the MELA press conference Wednesday, Mississippi First officially launched the Raise the Rate campaign. This campaign is working to raise the pre-k funding rate from $4,300 to $5,000 per child for early learning collaboratives.

According to Mississippi First the cost of state-funded pre-k programs are shared between state and local, therefore in their plan the state would pay an additional $350 per child and the local programs would provide the other half.

“The time is right to increase per-pupil funding for our pre-k collaboratives. Year after year, students in the state-funded pre-K program outperform the average Mississippi child. Over 75% of students in the program met readiness benchmarks,” said Rachel Canter, Executive Director of Mississippi First. “Now we must make sure we are providing the collaboratives with the funds that they need in order to continue to deliver quality as we also seek a major expansion in 2020.”

According to the group, raising the rate to $5,000 per child will ensure quality classrooms, accurately account for the true cost of expansion, and keep the states promise to pay 50% of the costs would have both the state and collaborative paying $2,500.