How state’s new early childhood funding will help boost student learning

After years of study and debate, Michigan is putting big money into efforts to help kids learn to read earlier and better.

Those efforts ‒ many of which come on the heels of Bridge Magazine reporting ‒ could pay dividends for decades in improved student learning, increased high school and college graduation rates, and a stronger economy. The funding approved by the Legislature earlier this month is part of a nearly $16 billion education budget for 2016.

A Bridge series in March, “Paying for children, now or later,” explored the economic argument for increased investment in quality early childhood programs. Many of the issues in that series are addressed in the 2016 fiscal year budget approved by the Legislature last week. More than $31 million is allocated for early literacy programs.

That money will help:

  • More low-income families to continue to receive a child-care subsidy when their incomes inch upward, so that work isn’t an impediment to child care. Under the new budget, families can receive child care benefits for 12 months, even if their income increases during that year. Currently, about 20,000 low-income children in Michigan receive state-funded child care, while almost 90,000 do not, according to a recent Bridge analysis. Families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line can receive benefits.
  • Increase payments for child care to high-quality providers.
  • Hire additional child care consultants to monitor and license child care facilities.
  • Implement a parent education pilot program for families with kids under age 4. Currently, only 1-in-10 at-risk children has had a parent enroll in a parental coaching program, according to Bridge’s analysis.
  • Expand home-visiting programs for at-risk families to help families learn how to encourage early literacy.
  • Continue funding for the Michigan Kindergarten Entry Assessment, which was set to expire without new funding. The assessment gauges each child’s learning and development levels at the beginning of kindergarten to inform teachers’ instruction and help parents determine if their children need more learning opportunities outside of class.

The budget includes funding to sustain the expansion that has occurred over the past two years of the Great Start Readiness Program, the free, state-sponsored pre-school for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. A Bridge series exposed how inadequate state funding was keeping up to 30,000 4-year-olds who qualified for the program from gaining access to classrooms, where they could become better prepared for kindergarten. As of January, about 21,000 children were in GSRP classrooms because of the expansion.

The budget also includes $2.5 million for teacher evaluation implementation and support by the Michigan Department of Education. That is in addition to $14.8 million set aside in the school aide fund for next year. Bridge recently examined the difficulty the legislature has had in passing a rigorous teacher evaluation policy, despite research indicating that effective classroom observation and feedback can improve student learning.

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Thu, 06/11/2015 - 10:01am
"Bridge recently examined the difficulty the legislature has had in passing a rigorous teacher evaluation policy, despite research indicating that effective classroom observation and feedback can improve student learning." Bridge, please...stop misleading people about teacher evaluations. Yes, effective classroom observation can improve learning. However, when the people who develop these evaluations make comments indicating they see no difference between one part of the state and another, it is clear they only have an academic understanding of how students learn. Students are not standardized!!!! To use the same evaluation for a teacher in a classroom full of students who are traumatized, hungry, etc. with the same one used to evaluate a teacher in an affluent community defies both research and common sense. The USDE has been forcing states to adopt punitive measures (RttT) based on test-based teacher evaluations. Why in the world would anyone think that Michigan will somehow magically be the exception? Even if the new evaluations were actually supportive and not based on ridiculous assumptions that socio-economics do not matter, MI would still have to fall in line with the punitive requirements of the USDE. Through RttT and School "Improvement" Grants, states are given education funding based on how many schools they close or privatize and how much they utilize test score data in doing so. But somehow, MI will be different. Please.
Thu, 06/11/2015 - 10:13am
What a crock, the federal government has been pushing this feal good program in head start for years. The department of education studys show that by 3 rd grade kids with head start are no further ahead in education than kids with out head start. It is just an over priced baby sitting that makes people think there helping and solving a problem. Just a money boon dog all!
Thu, 06/11/2015 - 11:35am
The Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) is Michigan's state funded preschool program. It has strong evaluations that anyone can research on the Michigan Department of Education's website. It's an effective program that replicates many best practices from around the country. I've personally been in nearly 100 GSRP classrooms and watched the instruction and classroom experience. It helps get kids ready for kindergarten. Though the federal Head Start program has some problems more than a decade ago, the problems were addressed by Congress. The good news on the federal Head Start program is that Head Start has been proven to be a viable and strong program with changes in how it's administered. Programs are now required to re-compete. That ensures us that the strong and correctly administered programs, that do get results are the ones that actually are retained and continue to serve at-risk 4-year-olds well. Again, the evaluation research on both the state and federal programs are available for the public to see. I would recommend folks take a look at the research to see for themselves. It's strong and shows the benefits of high-quality preschool for our most vulnerable citizens -- at-risk children.
Wayne O'Brien
Thu, 06/11/2015 - 12:24pm
In her commment after the earlier piece on teacher evaluations by French, Nancy Flanagan made the same point: "...assume that 'better' teacher evaluation will improve practice (French says there's research that confirms that, but doesn't provide links)". Ronald Reagan used to say "There he goes again." That phrase applies. Another article by French, same assertion, no links....If this research on how four teacher evaluations per year improves teaching factually exists, possibly the editor of Bridgemi (in the interests of transparency and clarity) will step in and provide links to research the journalist has again omitted. If the world-wide educational leaders had followed this "test them into competency" path, and we, in Michigan, were motivated to catch up to the folks who are winning the race, then the testing approach would need to be closely examined, but according to any materials I've ever read by Pasi Sahlberg or other folks who describe the Finnish world-wide educational success story, the Finns have done the opposite. By first establishing the actual foundations for teaching excellence (and providing time each day for exceedingly well-prepared teachers to help each other to continually improve their teaching skills), the Finns have achieved teaching excellence and world-wide recognition and this has obviated, for them, the expense of formal testing or formal evaluation. They've spent their resources where it has proven to matter most: public money on high quality public education -- not testing. If we study their example and follow their lead, we'll catch up.
Thu, 06/11/2015 - 1:55pm
Scott let me know the study you are referring to on HEAD Start. I would love to read it. R.L.
Fri, 06/12/2015 - 10:42am
If you're a third grader who is hungry, homeless, and without hope it is hard to focus on your classroom experience. Look at the Michigan 2014 Kids Count numbers. Start at infancy with nurturance, security, and literacy. Sally Reames Community Healing Centers
Sat, 06/13/2015 - 7:55am
I have worked with GSRP programs for over 20 years. When under district oversight, most programs were well run. Children received any additional needed services and monthly parent education was offered. With the switch to ISD oversight, I have seen the program take a rapid nose dive. Districts have become 'hands-off', thus it is next to impossible to get children needed speech and other services. There has been a rapid turnover in teaching staff, due to lower pay and lack of support systems. Classroom budgets are less than half of what they were under direct district supervision. Yet the state funding for the program has increased while the quality has decreased. I have personally seen where growth data is incorrect on documents provided to the state. Our programs are housed with Head Start, again so that the ISD can say we are following a state model. These HS programs receive state GSRP funds as well. Their children receive bussing and hot meals. Ours do not. Their parents are offered parenting classes. Ours are not. Yet our ISD points to us as a model for others. I also need to point out that our ISD Director has never been in the building during regular hours of operation. The state needs to do a better job of fact finding from the staff who are hands on with the program's children and families. These children, and the tax payers, deserve better than what is currently being offered.