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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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