Guest column: Snyder is right to invest in expanded early childhood programs

By Doug Luciani and Debbie Dingell/Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan

As a former venture capitalist, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder knows much about how to calculate return on investment. Today, we applaud him for seeing the ROI in young children.

In his State of the State Address, Snyder acknowledged Michigan has 29,000 4-year-olds eligible for public preschool who are not enrolled because there are not enough slots and he pledged to close, and eventually eliminate, that gap. He said: “It's important for us to make a major budget commitment to get as many kids as possible and get us on a path to getting all those kids in Great Start and early childhood programs.”

We completely agree!

And now, Snyder has a quick opportunity to reinforce those courageous words with the state budget proposal he will unveil in early February. Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn has proposed to increase state investment in the state’s public preschool program by $130 million. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger also have called for more investment in early childhood. We are eager to see the governor’s response in his budget. We think early childhood is one of the very best investments this jobs-focused governor can make in our great state. Four reasons why:

“You can’t get there” without it. More than half of Michigan’s fourth-graders are not proficient readers. Solving this problem is the governor’s top goal for elementary education. You can’t get there without expanding high-quality preschool programs, Superintendent Flanagan declares. Research shows big gains in reading and math proficiency for at-risk students who attend the state’s Great Start Readiness (GSRP) preschool program.

“The Forgotten 4-Year-Olds.” Nearly 30,000 eligible 4-year-olds are shut out of GSRP because there are not enough spaces for all the children in need. The $130 million investment proposed by Flanagan and Kahn can go a long way toward solving this problem. For more, read Bridge Magazine’s report on the “Forgotten 4-Year-Olds” at Michigan's Forgotten 4-Year-Olds.

That Giant Flushing Sound. Michigan taxpayers are spending $100 million per year for more than 13,000 students who flunk kindergarten and must repeat it. The quickest way to solve this unspeakable waste of money and young brains is to assure all children arrive at kindergarten healthy and ready to learn. Maximizing the public preschool enrollment for at-risk students is a key step.

The Business Mandate. More than 120 statewide business executives have worked through the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, which we co-chair, to call attention to the urgent and crucial need for a more comprehensive preschool and early learning strategy in Michigan. Business voices across our state are pushing for comprehensive early childhood strategies because early childhood is the best way to give at-risk children a fighting chance to ascend the steep path to success in today’s global economy.

A $130 million expansion of public preschool programs in Michigan will change lives.

As columnist David Brooks puts it, “By age 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.”

Snyder can literally improve statistical probabilities for young children with his next budget. That’s power. We urge him to exercise it.

Doug Luciani is president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and a co-chair of the Children’s Leadership council. Debbie Dingell is president of d2 Strategies and a co-chair of the Children’s Leadership Council.

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Thu, 01/17/2013 - 8:31am
Early learning success offers unquestionably the best return on public investment. Let's do it right, by insisting on quality early childhood programs, and by completing the job with parent outreach and education, and with quality K-3 programs. These are the three legs to a program that has far-reaching impact, and neglecting quality preschool, quality K-3, or effective parent outreach mitigates the return on investment.
Charles Richards
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 12:45pm
Possibly preschool makes a difference for "at-risk" children from low-income, dysfunctional families, but it doesn't seem to be effective for the general population. Robert Samuelson, in his column of Sept 6, 2010, after noting the dismal state of our education, noted that " Maybe more preschool would help. Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008."
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 3:09pm
I beg to differ on comment about low income dysfunctional families, my friend,who wanted a spotlessly clean house would NOT allow her preschool children crayons pencils paper or anything else that might mess her house. School was where they would learn, that was what school was for. All children learn in preschool, even socializing and behavior is important. I WILL agree that our schools are behind and need a lot of help but money is not the answer to all the problems, caring, involved, interested, parents would be a great help.
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 4:37pm
Currently, only the poorest 4 year-olds in Michigan get taxpayer-funded preschool. I'll be blunt...that makes it welfare, the same as food stamps, Medicaid, etc. And since when has education become welfare? If pre-K schooling is so important (and I believe it is), why is it not supported for ALL Michigan children? Families who are just above the poverty line don't qualify and yet cannot afford private preschool. I guess their children are not as important in the eyes of our state officials and legislators. I think the legislature should enact a bill that provides a voucher (let's say for $3,000) for each 4 year old legal resident in Michigan that the family can use at a public or private preschool. Those that like public education can get a spot at a public program. Those that prefer private education rather then supporting more MEA members can use the voucher at a private program.
Carolyn G
Tue, 01/22/2013 - 1:22pm
Here is a topic where we have some bipartisan consensus, what a great place to start ! ALL children need access to high quality preschool programs. And parents should have a choice on what type of program to use. Not all children fit well into every individual program. Not all children fit well into all types of programs. Let's encourage the investment and support for the youngest children, and then figure out how we can make it work for every family!!