Officials who reviewed Mississippi’s (rejected application for federal pre-k funds) noted many deficiencies, including vague statements and an overall lack of evidence and details. The reviewers frequently mentioned that the state did not provide plans to ensure that all students, including English-language learners and those with disabilities, would receive a high-quality preschool experience.
The state was also criticized for its lack of commitment to children in poverty. One reviewer noted that only 2 percent of children in poverty were served by the state-funded preschool program in 2014, and only 5 percent will be served in 2015. Unlike in states such as Tennessee, low-income children are not prioritized in Mississippi’s program, although some funding from the grant would have targeted low-income children.
On Thursday, Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, responded to the critiques in a statement. “We are very disappointed that Mississippi was not awarded the federal Preschool Development Grant but will use the feedback from our proposal to help strengthen our early childhood education system,” Wright said. “Mississippi is still in the early stages of offering publicly funded, high-quality early childhood education programming. We remain fully committed to expanding access to these programs for all children.”
Governor Phil Bryant also issued a statement last week in which he called the loss of funds “unfortunate” and lauded the work of current preschool groups in Mississippi, which he said “are already showing positive student outcomes in the state.”
The reviewers noted that if Mississippi wants federal funds for preschool, it must first develop the “necessary infrastructure and capacity for scaling up a sustainable preK program.” Reviewers also detailed deficiencies in Mississippi’s training and preparation for preschool teachers. Although the state proposed a plan to increase education requirements for preschool teachers, reviewers noted that the plan “appeared to emphasize the quickness of acquiring credentialed individuals” rather than “the quality of the individuals’ preparation for their jobs.”