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Business boosts ambitious pre-K expansion plans in Michigan

Momentum is growing for groundbreaking improvements to Michigan’s public preschool programs. Statewide business leaders are leading the way.

"It's become clear to the business community there are thousands of job openings going unfilled for lack of people with adequate skills,” said William Parfet, chairman and CEO of MPI Research in Mattawan and a member of the executive committee for Business Leaders for Michigan. “Over the long run, the very best way to move toward a skilled work force is to increase sharply Michigan's investment in early childhood learning programs. Research demonstrates they get kids ready for kindergarten, and those who go through the state's Great Start Readiness Program are considerably more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not. It's a long, long overdue reform that we need for a prosperous state."

Consider these momentum boosts this year:

Public preschool expansion proposals -- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan and Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, are both proposing a more than $100 million expansion of the state’s Great Start Readiness preschool program. And Gov. Rick Snyder is considering preschool expansion as part of an ongoing overhaul of how all public school operations in Michigan are financed. All of those approaches are expected to be deliberated in the Legislature over the next several months.

Business groups rally behind the cause -- More than 110 business executives have signed on to a policy platform called the Michigan Early Childhood Business Plan. Developed by the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, that business plan calls for preschool access for Michigan’s roughly 30,000 eligible but un-enrolled 4-year-olds. Signatories include representatives from Business Leaders from Michigan; the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce; the Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Howell, Traverse City and other regional chambers; the Small Business Association of Michigan; and dozens of individual corporations. Likewise, the business-led Talent 2025 initiative in West Michigan has supported public preschool expansion.

Major policy gatherings focus on preschool-- The state’s two premier economic and state policy conferences – the Mackinac Policy Conference in June and the West

Michigan Policy Forum in September – both featured preschool as a major issue. The West Michigan Policy Forum concluded by naming state investment in early childhood as one of its top five policy priorities.

In essence, Michigan business executives are echoing a national call for a fundamental reworking of public education to reach at-risk children much earlier in the stages of brain development. Many state and local business groups across the country – ranging from trade groups to chambers of commerce – are spreading this message along with noted economists and many education experts. Read about them in the Michigan Early Childhood Business Plan.

“I’m so excited that the business community in Michigan has recognized how enormously important it is to increase investments in early childhood,” said Grand Rapids entrepreneur Mike Jandernoa, a former CEO of Perrigo, Inc. “It’s by far the best way to improve the lives of kids who need help. We need to make these changes – right now! And if any section of our society can help move this fundamental long term reform, it’s the business community.”

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