MEC leaders seek daycare education goal

Published 6:18 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

Whether it’s preschool at the church, daycare downtown or allthe cousins that pile up at granny’s house for the day watch, theMississippi Economic Council wants the state’s various forms ofchild daycare to pull together in the same direction.

MEC leaders and speakers will hold court in Brookhaven on Tuesdayas part of the 10-city Next Steps Tour, aimed at enhancing earlychildhood education in the state by involving local businessleaders in the process. The presentation will focus on thepossibilities of ramping up childcare for preschool-age children tosolidify their learning abilities in school and give them the toolsto be sharp, productive members of the future workforce.

The meeting will take place at Rusty’s at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday duringa joint meeting of the Lions and Kiwanis clubs.

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“The purpose is to really focus attention on the economicdevelopment aspect of early childhood,” said MEC President BlakeWilson. “What difference can you make by putting a little moreeffort into the process, and training providers to be able toprovide a higher level of interaction? How can we, as businessleaders, be more demanding in making that happen?”

Wilson said 85 percent of Mississippi children participate in somesort of preschool daycare, important programs that can givechildren a learning advantage during primary education. Everyadvantage a child gets is huge, he said, quoting statistics thatshow children who don’t learn to read by the third-grade have asignificantly lower chances of making it through all 12 years ofschool.

The goal of the Next Steps Tour is not to demand a state-fundedpreschool program or “create another grade,” Wilson said, but toencourage existing daycare programs to improve the quality ofeducational activities offered – more time spent reading, morepuzzles and learning games and more interactive learning.

Additionally, MEC wants to spur the creation of ratings systems foreach community’s daycare programs, whether that system be statewideor tailored to fit each locale. Such a system could be an importanteconomic development tool, a way for communities to tout theirpreschool prowess to industrial prospects looking to create jobs inan area where the workforce – and the services that support it -are up to par.

“When you have a bad daycare situation, it creates challenges.There’s absenteeism, and employees are worried about the situationwith their children,” Wilson said. “If you’re looking to locate aplant there in Brookhaven, they’re going to say, ‘What are thecommunity resources?'”

Wilson said the goal of the Next Steps Tour is not to draw up andimplement a system immediately, but to bring awareness about thepotential of improved daycare to communities. Hopes are thatimprovements and a rating system will be in place in three years,to better position the state for a hopeful end to the economicdownturn. He hopes to have 1,000 community leaders signed up andpledged to the program’s future by the time the tour ends.

“Right now, we’re trying to deal with a dropout problem. Let’s dealwith the dropout problem when they start school,” Wilson said.”This is a way of making a front end investment that pays dividendsover a 20-year period, so when they’re 20 years old, they’reskilled and in the workforce.”