A report released by a non-profit group this week shows that 70 of Mississippi’s 146 school districts did not offer public pre-K education to students.
The report, published by Mississippi First, examines every public school district in the state during the 2011-2012 school year. It shows how many kindergartners the district had that year, and where, if anywhere, they attended pre-K. For many, public opportunities for pre-K come through Head Start programs. Local districts often partner with Head Start to host pre-K classes, but having those classes within a district depends on how much Title One money the district contributes.
In the Golden Triangle, the results of the study remained consistently inconsistent, with access for public pre-K varying with income.
Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, told The Dispatch public pre-K is often available for families in poverty, while wealthier families go the private preschool route.
Those in the middle, Canter said, are often without access.
“The greater the access, the more likely the recipient is low income,” Canter said. “The middle class children experience the most difficulty.
“In the Golden Triangle, it’s a little all over the map,” she said.
The study found 36 percent of children in Columbus Municipal School District did not have public pre-K access in 2012. CMSD does offer on-site pre-K education, and Canter said the district has done a good job of putting up Title One money over the years to do so. In the 2011-2012 school year the district had 424 enrolled in kindergarten. Of those, 130 transitioned to CMSD from Coleman Head Start Center and 140 were taught within the district. The others either went to private preschool, or none at all.
Currently, the district provides pre-K education for 100 students — 20 at each of the district’s five elementary schools. Each class of 20 has one teacher and one teacher’s assistant in the classroom.
Seventy-nine percent of Lowndes County School District kindergartners did not have access to public pre-K education in 2012, according to the report. There was no pre-K education provided within the district. The 78 out of 380 kindergartners district wide that year who attended public pre-K did so at Coleman Head Start Center.
Starkville School District also did not provide public pre-K education to its students. Sixty-five percent of SSD’s 387 kindergartners in 2012 had no public pre-K access. Approximately 134 transitioned from a Head Start program.
True to Canter’s statement, small, low-income districts locally had the most public pre-K access. Oktibbeha and Clay County school districts both had access to public pre-K for 100 percent of their kindergartners. But OCSD only had 80 kindergartners in 2012. Clay County Schools had 30.
Access to public pre-K education depends on the commitment of the community, Canter added. She hopes this study serves as a baseline to improving the quantity and quality of public pre-K education statewide. High access does not mean that the educations being offered are high quality, Canter noted. Still, the state has made improvements since 2012.
“What we’ve seen is that there is huge demand,” Canter said. “Every year they are putting more money into it.”