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Opinion | Listen to constituents about pre-K. Michigan's economy depends on it

In 2023, early childhood education advocates packed conference rooms with parents, educators, business owners and representatives of nonprofit organizations to provide input on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to provide free pre-K to every 4-year-old in Michigan.

Through these input sessions and written feedback, more than 4,000 Michiganders shared their hopes and fears about efforts to expand pre-K. Overwhelmingly, these stakeholders feared that if not implemented carefully, “Pre-K for All” would exclude community-based early learning and care providers, destroying small child-care businesses and nonprofits that have been operating for decades and damaging the capacity of Michigan’s child care sector.

Chana Edmond Verley and Furqan Khaldun headshots
Chana Edmond Verley is the chief executive officer of Vibrant Futures and Furqan Khaldun is the partnership director for Detroit Champions for Hope.

Their worst fears are now coming true.  

School aid budget proposals in the House and Senate will significantly limit community-based providers from participating in the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state’s publicly funded pre-K program. The proposed approach will dismantle Michigan’s nationally recognized “mixed delivery” pre-K program and make expansion more difficult.

The proposed school aid budget works to exclude community-based providers.

Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature will soon be working to reconcile the differences between the school aid budgets approved by the House and Senate. Both spending plans include language that limits the ability of child-care providers to participate in GSRP. Why are policymakers failing to support child care and hurting the constituents they claim to care the most about? 

Thirty percent of GSRP programs are currently required to be run by community-based organizations, which includes Head Start, nonprofits and private child-care programs. Legislators appear determined to destroy that standing: the House budget proposal removes any requirement that pre-K be offered in community-based early learning and care settings and even prohibits these providers from accessing startup grant funding for pre-K. 

Community-based providers serve children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12. Because of the tremendously high cost of providing care to infants, it is critical for providers to also educate children ages 4 and 5 to stay afloat. However, legislators are effectively making it possible for school-based GSRP to take all of Michigan’s 4-year-olds, making it more difficult for already-struggling early-learning and care providers to stay in business. 

Furthermore, the House and Senate’s school aid budget proposals are in direct opposition to the governor’s approach and the recommendations of the report released in January called “Making the Vision a Reality: A Roadmap for Implementing PreK for All.” The report, which was guided by the Pre-K for All Action Team, is based on national research, work taking place in other states, as well as input from stakeholders. 

Both the governor and the roadmap recommended a provision to allow more early-learning and care providers to join GSRP. Instead, both the House and Senate versions of the school aid bill failed to include this crucial provision. 

Policymakers are failing to see the whole picture.

These community-based early learning and care settings are critical because they: 

  • Add needed capacity to the state’s pre-K program 
  • Offer care outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workday 
  • Provide infant and toddler care 
  • And deliver high-quality early education, as evidenced by the over 500 providers already engaging in GSRP. 

Michigan’s school aid dollars have long been used to support pre-K classrooms in community-based early-learning and care settings because policymakers previously understood that the system is stronger and can better meet the needs of all families when a mix of providers can participate. 

Current budget proposals have the grave potential of weakening the already fragile child-care sector. This would be a slap in the face to struggling providers who are overwhelmingly staffed by women, a large percentage of whom are women of color. Downstream, this is also a message of “we don’t care” from legislators to a labor force of working mothers, already challenged to find child care for their children so they can work.  

The solution: Gov. Whitmer’s GSRP budget proposal, which reflects the carefully crafted recommendations within the “Pre-K for All” roadmap. Michigan’s stakeholders, when asked about GSRP expansion, wanted community-based providers to be included. 

Policymakers are ignoring the voices of communities across the state. We hope they will finally start listening.

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