Jackson, Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Early Learning Collaborative Act into law last spring. The state legislature appropriated $3 million for the program that will expand pre-k. Educators say they hope that can reverse some startling trends.
Directors of pre-k programs will all tell you the same thing, learning starts at an early age.
“They're like little sponges and the most they learn is going to be by the time they get to 5 years of age,” said Jennie Sturgis, director of Noah's Ark Daycare Center.
Now, the state has committed to pay up before kids ever hit kindergarten.
"Pay now or pay later. It is an investment,” said Dr. Kim Benton, interim deputy superintendent for the Mississippi Department of Education.
The results of this year's Kids Count report supports the idea that the investment is needed.
“Kindergarten teachers reported that 41% of the children coming to public kindergartens in Mississippi are not ready to be there,” said Linda Southward, director of Mississippi Kids Count.
The Department of Education is currently developing a statewide assessment for kindergarten students. They say they believe it could help catch any learning gaps or problem areas before the child advances to the next grade.
“We're moving in the right direction," said Benton. "We just have to move quickly and do our work well.”
If a child's not learning their shapes and their colors, they run the risk of being behind once they hit kindergarten.
At Noah's Ark Daycare, kids are learning everything from social skills, numbers, the alphabet, to vocabulary words.
“For our four and five-year-olds, our ultimate goal is school readiness,” Sturgis said.
Pre-k programs must have a collaboration with a school district or Head Start program to qualify for the grant money.
“It's as though we're begging for money; we're begging for education,” said Deloris Suel, director of Prep Company Tutorial School.
Providers say they're hoping to all eventually qualify.
“The bottom line is the passion for the children,” Suel said.
The MDE received more than 70 letters of intent to apply for the grant money. The official proposals are due Tuesday.