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Opinion | Support Michigan kids with high-quality pre-K for all 4-year-olds

Michigan's Top 10 Strategic Education Plan

Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the premier pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-old children, will soon be ranked among the top-quality programs in the nation for the sixth year in a row.

Michael F. Rice
Michael F. Rice, Ph.D. serves as Michigan’s state superintendent of public instruction

Research on preschool programs and specific research on GSRP indicate that children provided with a high-quality preschool experience show significant positive developmental differences when compared to children from the same backgrounds who do not attend a high-quality preschool program.

In Michigan, that powerful quality preschool is GSRP. Decades of research and data show children who go through these quality preschool programs have a greater likelihood of success in K-12, in college attendance and success, and in life outcomes. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has put forth a plan to make publicly funded GSRP available for all four-year-old children over the next four years. Starting more children with a high-quality education at the age of four would help improve their reading and math skills and their social development and help identify early any special needs that children might have.

As Michigan works to expand access, the legislature must reject efforts to water down quality by accepting any 4-year-old preschool program under the banner of GSRP. Michigan needs to preserve the important elements of the GSRP model to continue the high quality, and not to open up GSRP to any 4-year-old preschool experience. Quality matters, and if we want the best outcomes, we need a proven model that produces the best outcomes.

GSRP began in 1985 to provide a quality model for four-year olds that required a low adult-child ratio of 1:8, bachelor’s-level teacher credentials, master’s-level classroom coaches, and standards-based comprehensive curricula. GSRP participation has shown consistently to result in a greater likelihood of success in K-12 education: higher proficiency than peers that didn’t participate in GSRP, lower need for special education services, and higher graduation rates.

Governor Whitmer proposed $542 million for GSRP in her FY24 executive budget as the best way to generate these future academic and life outcomes. The governor’s budget recommendation included $50 million to strengthen the early childhood education workforce, to expand pathways to recruit people interested in being part of the early education workforce; to ensure that education and credentialing of people align with early childhood workforce needs; and to pilot projects that support the recruitment and retention of early learning professionals.

Upon the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Education, the governor recommended to the state legislature greater financial flexibility to help facilitate the expansion of GSRP by incentivizing GSRP programs to expand their instructional weeks from four days to five days and their instructional years from 30 weeks to 36- 38 weeks; by expanding funding for GSRP transportation; and by incentivizing and accelerating the development of GSRP teaching staff.

Our top preschool ranking in the country is a tribute to the hard work of Michigan early childhood educators who do a great job for our children in the strong GSRP program that we have built. Anything less would be a disservice to children and a retreat from the advances that early childhood education has made in Michigan over the past three decades.

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