With budgets tight, it’s hard to imagine the legislature turning down a chance to more than quintuple our state’s money. And yet, that is what we have done, year after year, when we have refused to enact high-quality prekindergarten. Even conservative estimates show that preK can return at least $6 for every $1 invested.
Five decades of rigorous research have shown that high-quality preK has large and lasting effects. Children from all walks of life experience immediate achievement gains, with children from low-income families gaining the most. The cognitive effects persist throughout school and into adulthood. Some programs can even boast they cut the achievement gap in half for low-income participants. Furthermore, preK students are less likely to need remediation in school and are more likely to graduate high school.
Despite the evidence, some people believe preK is an ineffective and intrusive government policy. In reality, the collaborative preK bills now before the legislature are education reform, not business as usual. For example:
They value parental choice by allowing parents to pick from a host of different preK providers or to choose no preK provider at all.
They value student outcomes by requiring research-based curricula and the use of student assessment data to determine effectiveness.
They value accountability by mandating that the state stop funding programs that fail to achieve success for students.
They value local autonomy and flexibility by allowing communities to propose programs that are in the best interests of the children in their communities as long as they meet quality standards.
Finally, they value children by enacting the nation’s highest quality standards for state-funded preK programs.
PreK is not only the right step for Mississippi, it is long overdue. We are proud to stand with businesses that have been clamoring for a better-educated workforce for years. We are proud to stand with law enforcement officers who understand that children who get high-quality preK are far less likely to commit crime and end up in the criminal justice system. We are proud to stand with military officers who see preK as a national security issue because children who start behind are too often ineligible for military service at age 18.
Most importantly, we are proud to stand with everyday Mississippians, especially those with young children. 85% of four-year-olds are already outside the home during the work week. Making high-quality preK available ensures that working parents have the kind of options that we know children deserve.
We know that preK will not solve all of what ails our K-12 public education system. The legislature must make a strong commitment to ongoing reform. But why not begin one of the most effective education reforms in America? Investing in ideas with such tremendous returns not only makes dollars, it makes sense.