The Mississippi Economic Council brought the first leg of a 10-city road tour to Meridian Monday.
The MEC is using its "Next Steps" tour to encourage investment in early childhood education.
It says there's a direct tie between early learning and economic development.
Even though the majority of Mississippi's state budget goes to education, officials say little public money is directed at those under three.
"If you're from a low socioeconomic family, there's a cognitive brain difference as early as nine months of age and it's continued to be identified through 24 months of age," said Laurie Smith, executive director of Mississippi Building Blocks. "So by two years old, there's already a difference if you're from a family of low income versus middle to high income. So there's pretty significant research that shows these problems we're having in the schools actually start way before the first year of kindergarten."
Smith says her organization studied this issue with private funds. It's looking at 100 infant/toddler classrooms to identify ways to alter the trend.