Watchdog report questions taxpayer funded prekindergarten program

By Steve Wilson
January 20, 2020

A report by a state watchdog says there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that public prekindergarten programs have a positive long-term impact.

The PEER Committee (Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review) issued a report on the state’s taxpayer-funded prekindergarten program, which began as the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013.

The Mississippi Department of Education runs the program, which has received $21,229,151 since fiscal 2017 to assist 14 early learning collaboratives (a district or countywide council that submits an application that involves a public school district) in implementation for 2,200 students. 

MDE evaluated the sites (either a public or private school, licensed child care center, or Head Start Center) and found 59 successful and put three on probation.

Fiscal YearLegislative appropriationFunds distributed to collaborativesMDE administrative costs
2017$4 million$3,833,881$166,118
2018$4 million$3,802,598$197,401

*Estimates using percentages mandated in Senate Bill 2395

The report also says that MDE should investigative several sites for highly unlikely results on several assessments used to measure whether the program prepares students for kindergarten. It also criticized the MDE for its evaluation criteria for the program participants, which uses a “rate of readiness” score. 

The report says the measure fails to adequately measure collaborative and site performance. The MDE, according to the report, has added two more assessment tests to measure the success of grant recipients.

MDE also requires prekindergarten program participants to use a curriculum that PEER says is not evidence based, as required by the authorizing law from 2013. The curriculum, known as Opening the World of Learning or OWL, doesn’t meet the requirements in state law because it has not been tested at multiple, random sites across heterogeneous populations. PEER said the only test conducted found that OWL was worse than another curriculum in comparison.

Collaboratives must match state funds on a one to one basis and those can include local tax dollars and federal funds. Taxpayers pay $2,150 per student for a full-day program and $1,075 for a half-day one. 

Also, MDE is prohibited from reserving more than 5 percent of the appropriation for administrative costs and funds can be carried over to the next fiscal year if they’re not used.

MDE has asked for an increase of $3,276,616 over last year’s appropriation of $6,699,517 for the prekindergarten program in fiscal 2021, which starts July 1. 

This was PEER’s second evaluation of the program after another report was filed in 2015. 


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