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.
2020 Michigan Fact & Issue Guide
- Michigan could decide presidency. These are the facts that shape our state.
- 50 facts that frame Michigan, from health care and poverty to crime
- Michigan K-12 test scores slowly improving, but remain mediocre at best
- Michigan college tuition hikes leave average graduate with $35K in debt
- Jobs up, poverty declines as Michigan emerges from Great Recession hangover
- Incomes climb in Michigan, but state still struggles with loss of manufacturing
- Michigan has great access to health care. Health outcomes are another story
- Michigan’s cherished Great Lakes, clean waters face threats from all sides
- Michigan roads are infamously bad. But sewers and dams are in rough shape too
- Michigan doles out more in business tax breaks than it spends on schools
- Michigan employs 48K people. A quarter of them work in prisons.
- Nearly 200 Michigan communities are financially distressed, despite economy
- Michigan is a toss-up state again after favoring Democrats for a generation
- Michigan voters may weigh ballot issues on abortion, LGBTQ, lobbying reforms