Reaching out to Michigan’s vulnerable kids

OK, here’s what we know about how to get poor and vulnerable kids started on the path to success: Get ‘em enrolled in GSRP (Great Start Readiness Program) the state’s pre-K program aimed at four year-olds from low income families and designed to get them ready to succeed when they start kindergarten.

Compelling research conducted by the High Scope Educational Research Foundation shows clearly that poor kids who participate in GSRP are far more likely to graduate from high school than those who don’t.

It’s a great program that actually works.  Too bad, though, that over the years thousands of eligible four year-olds could not go to GSRP classes because there weren’t enough open seats.  According to research conducted by Bridge Magazine, nearly 30,000 eligible children were not enrolled in GSRP last year.

That’s why it’s so great the legislature and Gov. Snyder this year agreed to increase state support for GSRP by $65 million, which should open up nearly 19,000 slots beginning in September.  It’s the largest preschool expansion in the nation this year.

But it’s not all that easy to get the attention of poor and vulnerable parents, who are more than overwhelmed with the difficulties of getting and keeping jobs, managing a household, putting food on the table, keeping track of their kids and worrying about their futures.

That’s why The Center for Michigan, together with the Michigan Department of Education and United Way of Michigan, has started a special recruitment program to get the word out about pre-school.  By calling 2-1-1, the United Way’s hot line for help, interested parents will be directed straight to their local GSRP enrollment offices to sign up.

Beginning this week, The Center will hand-distribute thousands of GSRP recruitment flyers featuring the 2-1-1 phone number in high-traffic locations throughout the 14 counties where unmet needs for GSRP slots are highest and where major preschool expansion is scheduled for this fall: Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Ottawa, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.

“Our goal is to do everything we can to help local schools, intermediate school districts, United Way agencies, food pantries, Michigan Works sites and other preschool providers reach out to parents of kids who especially need the kind of lift GSRP pre-K can provide for them,” said A. J. Jones, operations manager for the Center for Michigan and a key driver behind the program.

Jones will be careening around the state this week with stacks of flyers designed to catch the eyes of parents and show them the easy way to enroll their kid in GSRP.  (To see the flyer, click here.)   If you’d like to help out, just make copies and get them out to people who you know who might be interested.

The Center for Michigan’s mission is to help make our state a better place.  This can’t be done by only one group.  It requires taking initiative by figuring out new ways to collaborate with state government, local human service agencies and well-meaning citizens.  Distributing flyers and putting out the word to help thousands of our children who desperately need a good start to succeed in school is a great place to start.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Tue, 07/30/2013 - 12:50pm
Phil: thanks for making GSRP recruitment a priority and promoting the opportunity among some of our state's most vulnerable and at risk populations. In the northern lower peninsula and upper eastern peninsula recruitment is also of concern, so several Great Start Collaboratives, under the name Great Start North, created a PSA that is running on TV 9 & 10 to let families know about GSRP. While sequestration resulted in a loss of Head Start preschool capacity in much of our region, the increased GSRP allocation is helping make preschool a possibility for many four-year-olds. We want to help all families plan for their children's education.