Petal Pre-K receives $640K from tax donations

By HASKEL BURNS,

The Petal Early Learning Collaborative received a generous boost this season from taxpayers in the Friendly City, who donated approximately $640,000 to pre-kindergarten efforts in the Petal School District.

During the recent tax season, individuals were able to donate to the collaborative – which serves 4-year-old Pre-K students at the C.H. Johnson Head Start and Petal Primary School – for the opportunity to be eligible to receive a 1:1 state tax credit for the donated amount, up to $1 million.

Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District, said he was especially pleased with the donated funds, considering a new tax law that limits individuals to just the state credit rather than both state and federal credits.

“We didn’t really know how that was going to look,” he said. “But due to our dedicated community, and the people within our community that value Pre-K education and what we do with early childhood education, they stepped up.

“We’re blessed to be able to have these funds to help our progression with early childhood education, where we’re a leader in the state. So these funds are extremely important for us to carry out the mission of what we’re trying to do in early childhood education.”

The funds are earmarked strictly for Pre-K measures, and can be used for programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free books to children from birth to 5 years old. Other uses include initiatives at The Coleman Center for Families and Children, such as outfitting Pre-K buses with seat belts and the implementation of OWL, a new curriculum the school district was required to purchase last year.

“(It can be used for) the efforts we have both at the center and our outreach program, going to homes and communities,” Dillon said. “(That can be) our Parents as Teachers, who go into the homes of our kids to work with our students and families, or working with our local daycares and how we provide professional development and curriculum so that we’re all working toward the same goal of preparing kids to be kindergarten-ready. “So that’s just some of the things that we can get from it.”

Dede Smith, director of The Center for Parents and Children, said the tax credits have been extremely helpful in the past when implementing the new curriculum.

“We had to purchase those curriculum materials for all of our classes that are in the Early Learning Collaborative – three classes at Charles Johnson Head Start and one Pre-K class at the primary school,” Smith said in a previous story. “But we also went beyond that and used tax credit dollars to purchase the same curriculum for our area full-time child care centers.

“We’ve done this three times over the years, and it’s very unusual to go into a community where all of the Pre-K settings have the opportunity to have the same curriculum. If they live in Petal, they go to Petal Primary School, so having the opportunity to have that common curriculum across the community is very positive.”

The Mississippi Department of Revenue awards the tax credit on a first-come, first-served basis in which a tax return is filed, not in the order in which a donation is made.

If a taxpayer attempts to claim a credit of the $5.25 million cap approved by the Mississippi Legislature, the taxpayer will not receive the tax credit, although that cap has never been reached before.