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Give to Education to Get a Tax Break

Preschool education is increasingly being recognized as vital to children’s long-term educational attainment, well-being and success. Yet, less than half of Mississippi 3 and 4-year-olds attend a preschool program annually, according to data collected annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids County Data Book.  

To encourage Mississippians to support early learning, businesses and individuals are eligible for 1:1 tax credits on donations up to $1 million made to Early Learning Collaboratives each year. Donations are down in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, but officials say there is still time to give. Donations received on or before Dec. 31 are eligible for credits on 2020 tax bills.  

Locally, the Lafayette-Oxford University Early Learning Collaborative (L.O.U. ELC) provides more than 350 local children with high-quality, research-based pre-K education through four programs at three local elementary schools. They include the Bramlett Elementary, Lafayette Lower Elementarythe Willie Price Learning Lab and Mary Cathey Head Start programs. The programs are free and open to all students.  

Zachary Antonelli, an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to American (V.I.S.T.A.) member at LOU ELC, explained the credits allow local businesses and individuals to meet their state tax burdens while ensuring their dollars are spent to benefit their local community. The state government only provides half the cost of a collaborative pre-K program annually, requiring these programs to raise the remainder of the matching funds through other means – the tax credits are one of the most effective.  

Antonelli said it costs LOU ELC approximately $4,300 to provide a student with nine months of early childhood instruction. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) covers only $2,150 of that cost through state funding. L.O.U. ELC, Antonelli noted, relies on community donations to match the state funds so that it can provide high-quality education, that includes the latest technology. The programs, he noted, were well prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, in that it already had tablets, laptops and other technology resources – including skilled staff members and support staff – in place for students to do remote virtual learning.  

Mississippi offered no publicly funded preschool education until the last decadeState legislators passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, that established a framework for partnerships between school districts, federally-funded Head Start agencies, child care centers, and non-profit organizations to create high-quality preschool programs. The first ELCs launched in 2014. In 2018-2019, 34 percent of Mississippi 4 years olds attended a publicly funded preschool program. Of those, five percent attended a program administered by an ELC, up from 3 percent in 2017. 

To help support them financially, the legislature created the 1:1 tax credit, gradually increasing funding to its current $7.79 million level. The credit benefit individuals and businesses who give directly to the ELC, but 2020 tax credits are only available for donations made through December 31. Donations up to $1 million are eligible for the 1:1 credit. MDE tracks qualifying donations and issues donation certificates documenting contributions. When filing state taxes, indication the donation on form 80-401, which can be downloaded from the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s website.  

To make a donation contact, L.O.U. Early Learning Collaborative Coordinator, Tamara Hillmer at tlhillmer@oxfordsd.org or 662-234-3541.