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Early Childhood Programs are Critical for Mississippi's Rural Communities
Quality early care and education in rural communities can bolster public safety and revitalize the economy
The call for high-quality early childhood education takes on greater urgency in the rural areas of the nation. “Mississippi has 82 counties, and 80 of these counties are considered rural,” says Mission: Readiness member Major General (Ret.) Roger Shields of the Mississippi Army National Guard.
Mississippi has the greatest concentration of child poverty in the nation. The state’s rural, economically challenged communities see high-quality early learning programs as a pathway to end cycles of generational poverty that have reigned supreme in so many families for decades. Many rural communities, like those in the Mississippi Delta, home to civil rights heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer, know that early education is fundamental for children to achieve any level of success in life.
Mississippi State Representative Tommy Reynolds of District 33 joins others in highlighting the critical importance of early education, noting that "the younger children learn, the more likely they are to master skills they need over their lifetimes.”
“By age 5, a child’s brain develops to 80 percent of its capacity,” adds General Shields.
Business leader and Early Childhood Investment Council member Jack Reed, Jr. of Tupelo sees the need for investments in improving ECE in rural areas. Providing additional, high-quality early childhood education opportunities in rural communities will require continued funding and expansive supports. With 60 percent of rural Mississippi families living in child care deserts, there is much work to be done to bring equity and resources to children across the state. Currently, early learning collaboratives serve just eight percent of the state’s 4-year-olds and none of the state’s 3-year-olds.
In acknowledging the recent major strides in funding for early childhood education, families are hopeful that brighter days are ahead for Mississippi’s rural communities as we stay the course toward meaningful investments that will help all children acquire the skills they need to thrive.