The state Department of Education may use a classroom rating system to decide which groups qualify to run state-supported prekindergarten programs.

And some child care centers in low-income areas say the ratings could prevent them from participating.

Lawmakers this year started the state’s first foray into preschool, a pilot program that will be implemented in three phases with up to $33.9 million from the state.

During legislative debate, child care providers lobbied successfully to remove a requirement that limited participation to those centers with a Quality Rating and Improvement System score of 3 or above, with 5 being the highest.

Under the rating system, only 61 of the state’s more than 1,700 licensed child care centers would meet standards to operate a prekindergarten program, said Debbie Ellis, who co-chairs the Mississippi Child Care Coalition that represents 200 child care providers and advocates.

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