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Mississippi Pre-K Aid Welcome But Limited, Advocate Says

While it's true that Mississippi has for the first time offered state money for pre-K initiatives this year, one advocate for early-childhood education says many in that state are expecting sweeping changes this fall—a perspective that's ill-informed.

The state awarded $3 million this winter via grants to a handful of school districts that already offer pre-K programs, said Carol Burnett, the executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, a Biloxi-based nonprofit that advocates for high-quality education in the early years.

The money, for example, could offer additional teacher-training or pay for teaching materials like art supplies, but won't likely open up new seats in established classrooms, Burnett said.

"I don't mean to denigrate it," she said. "It is a step in the right direction."

That said, Burnett warned that sweeping headlines announcing state-funded pre-K are misleading.

"They put money on the table to encourage school districts so that they'd move in the direct of pre-K," she said.

More specifically, 11 grantees will receive the $3 million, although some 30 applications were filed showing a great interest, said Robin Lemonis, the director of early childhood education, literacy, and dyslexia for the Mississippi Department of Education, in an e-mail. The money can be used to "establish, expand, support, facilitate or implement" pre-K, she said.

The money will aid fewer than 6 percent of the state's population of 4-year-olds, according to The Hechinger Report

Unfortunately, the cash isn't enough to offer systemwide change, which is what's needed, Burnett said.

Still, "if there are stories of success," Burnett said, "the state will go further next time."

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