By Jack Kresnak/Michigan's Children
A new report on the nation’s efforts to provide quality early learning shows Michigan was one of the few states to increase preschool funding last year.
The bad news: We still serve only 18 percent of 4-year-olds and no 3-year-olds, putting Michigan in the bottom half of states in accessibility to pre-k programs.
As stated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “Raising the quality of early learning and expanding access to effective programs plays a pivotal role in improving our children's chances at being successful in grade school through to college and careers. It's the kind of investment that benefits us all.”
This thinking, substantiated by numerous economic and scientific studies, should guide legislators’ actions when doling out state funds and setting related policies. Michigan’s new Office of Great Start illustrates recognition of the critical importance of early childhood. But creating an office is not enough. We must expand programs for young children and their families and provide a consistent source of funding to support evidence-based services and programs serving children from birth through age 3 and their families.
It’s a commitment not just to the children of Michigan, but to Michigan’s future.
As the report authors at Rutgers University’s National Institute of Early Education Research wrote: “In a state shaken by economic distress, which has placed more children at-risk, early education can be a powerful contributor to long-term growth, if additional resources are dedicated to expand coverage and improve quality.”
The first three years of life are critical to prevent large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities that begin to emerge as young as nine months of age and grow throughout life. Long-term disparities in educational success and their economic, social and fiscal consequences are profound. However, taking advantage of the first three years of life by supporting families to be their child’s first and best teachers can help reduce future taxpayer burdens associated with disparate child outcomes.
For children birth through age 3, participation in high quality infant-toddler programs protects them from the negative impacts of poverty by increasing parents’ abilities to support their children’s healthy cognitive, language, social-emotional and physical development. Young children and families who access high quality home visiting programs and child care develop stronger literacy skills; are better prepared to start kindergarten; and achieve at similar academic levels as their more affluent peers, regardless of parental education and employment.
This should be more than enough evidence to prompt Michigan to do better for our youngest children who are most at-risk. The Office of Great Start was established to align, integrate and coordinate Michigan’s investments from prenatal to third grade. Ensuring that infants and toddlers have access to high quality programs supporting healthy development and connected to high quality pre-k programs and early elementary is critical to reduce the education achievement gap and put all children on the path to education success.
We know we can -- and must -- do better than we are now, for the children and the state.