This is due to growing research on the brain development of babies starting at Day One and the relationship between quality early childhood care, and a strong workforce generations later. Governor Phil Bryant stated, “Mississippi’s workforce of tomorrow can be found in daycare today.” Phil Bryant spoke in his 2019 State of the State address. He noted the state’s recent emphasis on child care. Berry, who was previously the director of Jackson State University’s Mississippi Learning Institute knows how limited her impact can be on children living in poverty. Berry’s 4-year-old student has a chronic blood condition that puts a strain on his family’s limited resources. A single mother cares for him, working multiple jobs in fast food restaurants. These jobs do not provide a stable income or a living wage. Berry stated that the baby is quiet. He doesn’t make eye contact at all. You know there are some problems and you try to make up for them with love and ‘I have a book for your’ You’re going home with this book. The latest Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids COUNT report, released Monday, shows Mississippi maintaining its 48th rank from last year in overall child well-being. Mississippi had 27 percent of its children living below the poverty line in 2017. This is a decrease from the 33 percent recorded in 2010. The report had placed Mississippi last every year since 1991, except 2018. Heather Hanna, codirector of Mississippi KIDS COUNT, said, “I feel like a broken record. But I also feel that we have to continue saying the same thing.” We know that children who are poor have more risky childhood experiences. This is because their families are more stressed, making them more susceptible to developmental problems. We know that children who are raised in poverty actually develop less brain tissue as a result of family stress. It’s not about our personal choices. It’s often about the environment we were born into. “I believe that if we want to make better choices in this state, we must create better environments to raise our children.” More than a third of Mississippi’s children live in families where neither parent is employed full-time. This could be due to Mississippi’s high single-parent rate. Mississippi’s single-parent family rate has risen from 35% in 1990 to 46% in 2017, which is the highest in any state. Berry stated that helping her mom find steady employment at a wage-earning job is one of the best ways for her student to succeed. Berry stated that if she could find a job that paid more and was more secure, she would not feel the need to constantly look for another job to make a few more dollars. This opportunity is not available in Mississippi because there aren’t enough job openings. Mississippi Today examined the 36,716 job postings that included salary data from the Mississippi Works search engine. This search engine underpins Governor Phil Bryant’s workforce agenda. Only one-third of the jobs listed paid an average salary above $14.51 an hr — that is, the amount someone would need to earn to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The state’s unemployment rate was at an all-time low of 6% in 2018, but there were still 62,700 people searching for work in Mississippi in April. Berry stated that she hasn’t seen her 4-year-old son in weeks. His mom is eligible for a voucher from the federal Child Care Development Fund to help pay for her son’s enrollment at the academy. Berry stated that there are “just some circumstances” Berry is currently facing. Parents must still pay a portion of the voucher even if they have the voucher. After ballooning to more than 20,000 children, Mississippi’s waiting list for child-care assistance has been significantly reduced since 2017. The state claimed that it had eliminated all wait lists by 2019. The program only serves a small percentage of low-income parents who are eligible. According to the 2018 Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative report, 60,000 children are young and low-income, but they are not connected with any public early childhood program. The state has been historically underfunded and underrated. Barry stated that we don’t have the heart to help the people who really matter. “Before all this, a long while ago, I was a teacher in schools, so I taught language arts at Jackson Public Schools. So, I have a lot of history. The people who really matter don’t always have the best interests of our children in mind. Berry stated that although they claim to do so, their actions often don’t reflect it. The Mississippi Legislature has failed to fund the public school funding formula, which determines how much money is required to provide an education. This formula is heavily influenced by the socioeconomic status of students in each district. Pre-K in Mississippi is not large enough to provide education for five percent of its 4-year-olds. With the recognition of how important these early years are, attitudes are changing within state leadership. Mississippi is currently changing its child care center quality rating system, like Berry’s academy. Those centers that are eventually designated a comprehensive center will be reimbursed via the child care voucher at nearly twice the standard rate, according to Laurie Smith, executive director, State Early Childhood Advisory Council. Smith stated that if Smith walked into ten child care centers today, eight would perform moderately, one would exceed expectations, and one would fall below standards. Smith stated that nine child care centers would have performed poorly 15 years ago. Smith stated that the centers are not performing as well as they should. “How do we get them there? It’s not a grant-funded project that comes and go… There’s never been one system that allows every child care center to get consistent help over the long term. Mississippi was awarded a $10.6million federal grant in December to implement structural changes. This included creating Early Childhood Academies and sending coaches to community colleges to train child caregivers in educational methods. This fall, the state will be eligible to receive another $50 million grant. Berry stated, “I realized that there are pockets people with the exact same passions and the same interests as I have and we’ve banned them together.” Mississippi’s attempt to improve the whole family through connected services is by connecting early childhood education with the workforce — Smith is also the director of the State Workforce Investment Board. Experts say that a work-oriented approach to supporting families won’t significantly reduce child poverty. This would require strong cash support, such as a government-funded child allowance. The February report, which was $750,000 in value, was released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It outlines ways to reduce child poverty by half in 10 years. Researchers created “The Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty” by simulating a variety of policy packages. However, only the most aggressive of these, including significant increases to the Earned Income Credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, and housing voucher programs, achieved their goal to reduce poverty by 50%. These proposals would have a cost of at least $90 Billion per year. Researchers found that the most effective policies to tackle poverty are expensive and don’t encourage employment. However, most states, including Mississippi, still have a work-first attitude after welfare reform in 1990. While the work-oriented policies proposed — which include distributing child care vouchers to low-income families, increasing the minimum wage, and implementing workforce training programs — would cost between $9 billion to $44 billion per year, they would still need to increase the tax credit and reduce poverty by only 20 to 35 percent. Because there is no evidence to support them, the authors did not include popular anti-poverty policies such as marriage counseling and pregnancy prevention. Mississippi has mandatory work requirements that are tied to benefits like food assistance. Smith said Mississippi’s approach to poverty does not focus on work, but instead focuses on training. Smith stated that the family-based approach they’re using doesn’t require you to work. Smith stated that the family-based approach Smith is taking doesn’t say, ‘You have to work to do all this.’ Smith was also asked about the state’s willingness to increase cash benefits such as the Earned Income Credit. Smith replied that it had not been discussed in policy discussions. The Roadmap authors acknowledge the high cost of the programs that are likely to succeed, but these numbers pale in comparison to the national annual cost of child poverty, which is estimated at $800 billion to $1.1 trillion. This is due to increased crime, poor economic mobility, and health issues. We can either pay upfront or down the road. Hanna stated that it was a choice.