For Immediate Release: October 25, 2013
MDE Accepting Proposals for First State-funded Pre-Kindergarten Program
JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Education is accepting proposals for grants appropriated through the state’s first state-funded, voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program. Based on initial response from across the state, interest is strong.
The MDE has received 72 letters of intent to apply for funds from existing and newly organized early learning collaboratives (ELC), an indicator of the level of interest in the initiative. Not all groups who expressed interest will apply for a grant, but a majority of them are expected to send proposals, which are due Nov. 5.
Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, who co-authored the legislation in the House, said the interest confirms the state is serious about improving educational outcomes.
“Much of a child's development occurs before the age of five, and I believe adding a fiscally responsible, early learning component through this collaborative model will pay huge dividends for Mississippi in the future,” he said.
The purpose of the Early Learning Collaborative Act, signed into law last spring, is to provide funding to local communities to establish, expand, support and facilitate the successful implementation of quality early childhood education and development services. The state Legislature appropriated $3 million for the program.
Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, who co-authored the legislation in the Senate, said the fact that the MDE received that level of interest “shows the overwhelming desire for early education in Mississippi.”
“We knew there were a few programs in place that could apply to take advantage immediately but what this shows is the overwhelming interest in high-quality early education in all areas of the state. This is proof that we are serious about readying our children for kindergarten and making Mississippi competitive nationwide,” he said. “Mississippi has continued to receive positive national recognition for the Early Learning Collaborative Act's conservative, fiscally responsible approach to early education.”
An ELC must include a lead partner, which can be a public school or other nonprofit group with the expertise and capacity to manage a collaborative’s Pre-Kindergarten program. Funds will be competitively awarded based on evidence of existing strong local collaboration, capacity, commitment, need, ability to demonstrate enhanced outcomes for participating children, and availability of funds.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued Oct. 10, and more than 100 people attended a technical assistance meeting on Oct. 18, designed to answer any questions about the ELC and to review the RFP. After applications are submitted, a review committee will evaluate proposals in November, and a second level interview of the finalists will be completed.
House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said the collaboratives show what can be done when the focus is on children. “It shows that when we have problems, everyone comes to the table and works together,” he said.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said: “There’s a lot of interest in supporting early education in communities across the state. I’m excited about the demand that’s been shown.”
MDE has an early childhood technical advisory committee that consists of nine nationally early childhood experts from around the United States to provide guidance and feedback during this process. The department anticipates releasing funds in January to awarded collaboratives, pending approval by the Mississippi Board of Education.
“We are pleased to see the diversity of organizations within communities from across the state to form partnerships to do what’s in the best interest of children. I look forward to seeing the innovative ideas submitted through the competitive grant process,” said Dr. Kim Benton, interim deputy superintendent of education.
A complete list of ELCs that submitted letters of intent can be found here.