Petal residents urged to keep their dollars at home; support education

By HASKEL BURNS,

With tax season right around the corner, Petal school officials are offering a chance for taxpayers to keep those dollars in the Friendly City for education – specifically in support of the Petal Early Learning Collaborative – while receiving tax credits on their upcoming returns.

In particular, any individual or corporations who make a donation to the collaborative – which serves 4-year-old Pre-K students at the C.H. Johnson Head Start and Petal Primary School – may be eligible to receive a 1:1 state tax credit for the donated amount, up to $1 million. In addition to the state tax credit, a tax deduction may also be available for federal taxes.

“So it benefits them twice,” said Dede Smith, director of the Coleman Center for Families and Children, which is part of the Petal School District. “It really does benefit you, and it certainly benefits us, as far as our work.”

The Mississippi Department of Revenue will award 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 Smith said that cap has never been reached before.

Donations can be made at the Coleman Center for Families and Children, or at the school district’s central office on East Central Avenue. The donations are used for such things as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, field trips for Petal Pre-K children, parent education opportunities, replacement of desktop computers at the Coleman Center, and support personnel. 

“Some people don’t realize the monies that we get for the grant for the Early Learning Collaborative are just a fraction of what it costs for us to actually implement the collaborative – to pay for salaries, materials, resources, all of those kinds of things,” Smith said. “Without those monies, our district would have to fund Pre-K 100 percent. So not only does it benefit the children who are in the Early Learning Collaborative Classes, we use those funds also for our area child care centers. We provide a lot of opportunities for them, and a lot of resources here at the Center for Families and Children. (So) that benefits all of our families; not just the families of children who are involved in the Early Learning Collaborative.”

Last year, the initiative raised a total of $476,500, which was instrumental in adding personnel, in particular a new parent educator who serves English as a Second Language Families.

“Previously, we didn’t have anybody who could interpret for our Spanish-speaking children or our Arabic-speaking children and families; they would get here and we didn’t have anybody that could do interpretation for them,” Smith said. “So we’ve been able to hire a lady whose background is working with multiple different ethnicities. She works with the classroom and the teachers, she works with those families to help breach that language gaps. So that’s a huge piece, that we weren’t able to meet the needs of those children and families before, and because of those tax credit dollars we were able to add her to our staff.”

The Petal Early Collaborative is a partnership between the Petal School District and Pearl River Valley Opportunity Head Start. The program is funded by the Mississippi Early Learning Act of 2013 and is administered by the Mississippi Department of Education.