A teacher in Leland gets her pre-K student to recite her months of the year as she points to them. Credit: Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

Mississippi will gain five new early learning collaboratives in August 2022 to serve more of the state’s youngest learners.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved the additional collaboratives, which will serve 840 new 4-year-old students. These additions were the first to be approved in an expansion of the program that will double the number of students served.

Early learning collaboratives are pre-K programs made up of partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers, and nonprofit groups. There are currently 18 collaboratives serving more than 3,000 children across the state.

These early learning collaboratives will be located in the Brookhaven School District, Kosciusko School District, Rankin County School District, Scott County School District, and South Panola School District, bringing the total number of early learning collaboratives across the state up to 23. 

“When early learning collaboratives increase in Mississippi, it means more of our state’s preschoolers will have access to a quality early childhood education,” Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, said in a statement. 

First created in 2013, the collaboratives have been nationally recognized for their high quality and success in preparing students for kindergarten. In 2019, 77% of students in collaboratives tested as kindergarten-ready, 8% higher than other state-funded pre-K programs. 

However, the collaboratives have not been widely accessible in the past, serving only 8% of the state’s 4-year-olds in 2021.

The Legislature doubled funding for the collaboratives in the 2021 session, bringing the total state spending on the program up to $16 million. With this increase in funding, the Department of Education has begun approving new collaboratives and will be requesting more proposals in the coming weeks. Once this new funding has been fully allocated, the early learning collaboratives are expected to serve twice as many 4-year-olds. 

“It’s thrilling that we have approved additional collaboratives,” said Rachel Canter, director of Mississippi First, a nonprofit that helped write the law to create the collaboratives. “Hopefully we’ll have even more communities approved by the end of the school year (to open in August), and I think MDE is on track to get there.”

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Julia James is Mississippi Today's poverty and breaking news reporter. A native of Mandeville, Louisiana, James recently completed an investigative reporting internship with Mississippi Today. In that role, she closely covered the sprawling welfare scandal and public education. She will continue that work, as well as working closely with Mississippi Today’s breaking news team. James is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has been published in The New York Times, Mississippi Today, and Clarion Ledger.