Early childhood education is key to success. Michigan still has work to do.

Michigan has vastly improved access to state-funded preschool, but gaps remain. Should the state spend another $400 million to make its Great Start Readiness Program universal?

Preschool is a proven strategy to improve school readiness. Children in high-quality preschools are more likely to succeed in school, graduate from high school, earn higher incomes and commit fewer crimes. The stakes are intensified in Michigan by middling school performance. Michigan’s fourth-grade reading scores on the national assessment rank 32nd in the nation, rising last year after several years of declines.

Michigan dramatically increased access to state-funded preschool through the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). The move followed a 2012 Bridge Magazine investigation that found that nearly 30,000 4-year-olds who qualified for free, high-quality preschool weren’t in the program because of inadequate funding and poor coordination of services. In response, the Michigan Legislature doubled annual Great Start funding and later added another $31 million for early literacy programs.

More work to do on pre-K  

The expansion resulted in more than doubling the total classroom slots for 4-year-olds. The percentage of state 4-year-olds served by the program also has doubled since 2006. Still, 14 other states rank higher than Michigan in preschool access. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she wants universal preschool statewide by 2022. One obstacle is money. The state already spends  $329 million on its Great Start Readiness Program. A 2017 report estimated the state would need to invest another $400 million per year to make the program universal.

In the absence of a statewide reform, many school districts are addressing the issue themselves, adding a second year of kindergarten. Statewide, more than half of 4-year-olds are now in taxpayer-funded preschool or developmental kindergarten. Total cost: about $127 million.

Rising costs of child care

Beyond preschool lies child care, where Michigan faces serious problems for both families and the state economy. 

The United Way of Michigan estimates that child care eats up about a quarter of the household budget of economically vulnerable families in Michigan. 

Michigan’s child care subsidy program has a host of problems including a lack of access, lack of quality caregivers and low reimbursement rates compared to other states. The Michigan program serves about 1 in 5 low-income families.

Increasingly, Michigan business leaders are framing child care access as an issue of economic growth rather than human services. Many companies have faced labor shortages in recent years – especially for low-wage positions. 

But solutions are costly. Michigan families spend an average of $824 a month for center-based infant care. At nearly $10,000 a year, this can rival the cost of housing or college tuition.

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Mon, 02/10/2020 - 10:01am

This article is a big pile of Post hoc ergo proptor hoc! Even though it fits your agenda, Bridge should do better.

Bob Sornson
Sun, 02/16/2020 - 6:03pm

Someday, I still hope, there will be a comprehensive plan for Michigan's children.
It will include High Quality Preschool. This is not the low to mediocre quality that gives us poor to negative results as in Tennessee and Head Start.
It will include wraparound services for kids exposed to ongoing trauma.
It will include training for parents, high quality, and across the state., along with community based initiatives to help all parents choose to want to learn to do their most important job.
It will include high quality K-3 programs, based on actually knowing where kids are at, and never moving them forward in a one size fits all curriculum. Instead they will give children what they need to learn, at their level of instruction, until it is fully learned.

Those who want cheap and mindless solutions are hurting our children.