Jackson Public Schools will expand pre-K access to children in the city through a new early learning collaborative. Credit: Jackson Public Schools

Enrollment and spending on pre-K remained relatively stagnant in the 2021-22 school year, according to a new national report. 

Newer state data shows that enrollment has increased significantly this school year because of recent investments from the Legislature. 

State-funded pre-K in Mississippi is primarily the Early Learning Collaboratives, which are partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers and nonprofit groups. 

According to the 2022 State of Preschool Yearbook, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, 2,807 students were enrolled in state-funded preschool last year, which amounts to 8% of the 4-year-olds in the state. The state has hovered at 8% access since 2020 when the institute previously said Mississippi had high-quality standards but lacked comprehensive access.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education, 6,800 students are being served in 37 collaboratives this year, up from 18 collaboratives last year. 

The increase in the number of collaboratives, and subsequently the number of students being served,  is the result of a $16 million increase in funding over the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions. The state also allocated $20 million for state-funded pre-K in school districts separate from the Early Learning Collaboratives in the 2022 legislative session, which the education department allocated to 11 school districts in November of last year. 

The report, using the older figures, ranks Mississippi 37th nationally for access to state-funded pre-k. 

“Mississippi leaders should continue to move forward to address this ongoing lack of access and increase teacher pay to ensure that all children have access to the educational opportunities they deserve,” said the report’s lead author, Allison Friedman-Krauss, in a statement.

The report noted that nationally, state-funded preschool programs reported a shortage of qualified teachers. Additional data on pre-K teacher shortages in Mississippi was not available in the report, but the education department reported 66 pre-K teacher vacancies this year in its annual survey

When looking at pre-K access more broadly, the institute’s report found 53% of Mississippi 4-year-olds enrolled in some type of publicly funded pre-K, including Head Start and locally administered programs. 

The institute again found Mississippi to be one of the only states in the nation to meet all 10 of its quality standards, which the 2013 Early Learning Collaboratives Act was specifically designed to meet. 

“Mississippi continues to be a national leader in early childhood education because of the quality of our Early Learning Collaborative program,” Mike Kent, interim state superintendent of education, said in a statement. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.