Michigan lags behind other states in pre-K efforts

The education of Jordan Shaw will start a year later because she lives in Michigan.

The Canton girl was in a private preschool program last year as a 3-year-old. But after Jordan’s little brother was born, her parents could no longer afford it.

"Preschool gives them good learning skills. (But) trying to pay for her and (baby brother) Jason, we just couldn’t do it," said her mother, Abena Shaw. We took her out because of the (cost)."

The Shaws weren’t aware of Great Start Readiness classes, and weren’t sure if they qualified. In some states, that wouldn’t be a question.

Five states, including Oklahoma and Florida, offer free preschool for all 4-year-olds. Even some states that limit enrollment to low- and moderate-income households like Michigan have a higher percentage of 4-year-olds in classrooms than the Great Lakes State.

"We did a lot of teaching her at home," Shaw said. "Unfortunately, some kids don’t get that. If you are not doing anything with your child and you’re just letting them watch TV all day, then they need some place that is structured where they can learn."

Michigan is falling behind in a race that begins with crayons and ends with paychecks.

It’s a race Michigan can’t afford to lose.

Other states are pumping more money into pre-K education than Michigan does, in the belief that preschool now means higher graduation rates and better jobs later.

In 2003, Michigan ranked 14th in per-pupil spending among 36 states that provided funding for preschool for 4-year-olds, according to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Just eight years later, in 2011, Michigan had plummeted to 33rd out of the 39 states now funding preschool. (Bridge’s analysis adjusts NIEER’s 2011 figures to take into account that about a third of Michigan’s 4-year-olds attend full-day preschool, using funding meant to pay for half-day programs for two children.)

It’s not that Michigan is spending less than it used to on the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state’s pre-K program for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The state provides $3,400 per student, an increase of $100 over funding in 2003.

But other states have increased funding at a much faster clip. Alabama increased per-pupil preschool funding by 43 percent, to $4,544 per student, according to NIEER. West Virginia more than doubled its spending, from $2,486 in 2003 to $5,605 in 2011. Alaska didn’t have a preschool program in 2003, but eight years later was spending $6,855 per enrolled 4-year-old.

Michigan, by contrast, increased funding by 3 percent since 2003. When inflation is taken into account, however, Michigan’s spending is actually a 23 percent decline.

That disinvestment has allowed other states to lap Michigan in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled. Michigan ranked 10th in access to state preschool in 2003, according to NIEER; by 2011, the state had dropped to 24th.

"We’re paying a price for that disinvestment," said Larry Good, co-founder of Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, in Ann Arbor. "There are enormous economic implications."

States to south exceed Michigan

Bridge studied the preschool practices of a dozen states that have made significant pre-K enrollment gains in the past decade even through tough economic times.

Successful programs in other states have some similarities from which Michigan could learn. For example:

* Pre-K is an important part of school aid formulas. In Michigan, K-12 school aid funding grows as enrollment grows. But with preschool, funding is set, and that funding determines how many kids get access to preschool. In states such as Iowa, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Maryland, the school funding formulas consider enrollment needs each year – so funding grows (or, conceivably, shrinks) with demand.

* Full-day pre-K programs increase participation, and universal access programs really increase enrollment. Georgia was the first state in the nation to offer universal public pre-K in 1995 – since then, Iowa, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida have joined Georgia.

* Growth by partnering with providers beyond traditional school systems. Arkansas achieved 38 percent enrollment growth in the past decade, with a program where only 55 percent of those preschool students are in public schools; the rest of the students are in classes run by private and nonprofit providers. Michigan has a GSRP competitive grant program for that purpose, but only about 10 percent of the state’s preschool funding goes to private providers.

Sooner State sets the standard

The leading state in early childhood education is Oklahoma, where about 75 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded, free, universal-access preschool. When children enrolled in federally funded Head Start are counted, 88 percent of Oklahoma 4-year-olds are in taxpayer-supported preschool. By comparison, Michigan has 18 percent of its 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool, and 34 percent in any kind of taxpayer-supported pre-K.

Universal-access pre-K in Oklahoma was pushed not by education groups, but by a consortium of business leaders and conservative legislators.

Researchers from Georgetown University found that, everything else being equal, 4-year-olds in the Oklahoma program scored better on a letter recognition test (an indicator of later reading success) than those who didn’t enroll.

"Parents are the first, best teacher for their child, but we see value in pre-K programs," said Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Education.

The preschool program is wildly popular among Oklahoma families. "Pre-K is not mandated, but if we have 20 classrooms serving pre-K, we could start probably four to six more tomorrow – and if they were full day, probably eight," said Lance Crawley, chief financial officer for Deer Creek Public Schools, a suburban district outside Oklahoma City. "We’re turning people away."

The program began as an effort to assist children born into poverty, especially Oklahoma’s large Native American population. But it has morphed into an economic engine for both families and schools. Families are saving about $500 a month in private preschool bills by enrolling their 4-year-olds in the state program, Crawley said. Meanwhile, the schools receive 30 percent more money from the state for a child enrolled in full-day pre-K than they do for K-12 students. (In Michigan, schools get 7 percent less for full-day pre-K students than K-12 students, but for the majority of 4-year-olds, who are in class for a half day, schools get 53 percent less.)

Although the state budget is tight, there is no movement in Oklahoma to pare back the universal access pre-K benefit.

"If anything, there’s more emphasis on it," Crawley said. "Families love it. Kids love it. Their brains are like sponges at that age."

On outside looking in

Jordan Shaw celebrated her birthday last week. She’s now 4, the age when many poorer children are in taxpayer-supported preschool, and wealthier children are in private preschool; an age when almost all children are in preschool in Oklahoma and Florida.

But while those children head into classrooms, Jordan will spend her days at the home of their pastor’s mother.

"Kindergarten is free," Abena Shaw said. "Let them have a place to learn (at preschool) without it having to cost so much."

Bridge fellow Taylor Trammell contributed to this report.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 09/27/2012 - 10:44am
I can't be sure that Bridge is on a political quest for pre-school education, but I have to say the way they are writing about it sure gives the impression of lisntening to a political campaign. It has it good slogan "Michigan is falling behind in a race that begins with crayons and ends with paychecks." that tells you nothing but paints a pretty picture. It is full of 'good intentioins' but never tells what pre-schools should deliver, how we should measure their performances, and what we should do if they don't meet expectations. Oh yes, and it wants to spends millions and millions more money. If anything it alludes to justification for higher taxes, maybe there is a political party in there somewhere. Not that the Bridge has any particality here. Mr. French is on message, he talks about money and how Michgian is trailing, he mentions how in one case where 4 years in the class can recongize letters better than 4 years not in the class (that is the first time I have heard anything about what pre-school was to do). I wonder how much those 4 years are ahead of the others after summer vacation ( 3 months without the class). I wonder how much different that is when both groups are 14. I wonder how much that pre-school matters after 10 years in a system that has a current 50% graduation rate. It is so sad about the family that had their daughter pre-school and then had to take her out. I wonder how much time each day the little girl was in pre-school. I wonder if the pre-school she selected reguired parents to participate or not (some feel that is an important factor in getting the best impact of pre-school), Mr. French didn't mention that about the programs he was reporting on (Bridge never mentions it). I wonder if Mr. French has considered that the parents impact (those that choose pre-school, on the children and how that weighs when comparing pre-school results. I wonder what the status of private pre-schools in all of those states are. I have watch the battle waged by public schools against Charter schools, it makes me wonder what would happen if we had State funded public pre-schools. Would parents even be allowed in the private pre-schools, my experience has been that public school only allow certified professionals in the classrooms. Mr. French gives a lot of number, but he seems a bit short on personal impact and how children learn and whether there are any limitations on pre-schools. This article (inline with all the other Bridge work) seems to be about the 'good intentions' of pre-school and that we simply need to spend more money on it. I am gaining a better understanding of why there is the current preception of the news media.
Fri, 09/28/2012 - 8:13am
IF you have been following the Bridge regularly, you would know they have had several articles on preschool education and the research that indicates its value. This article seems to assume that the reader already knows this, a mistake by the author. But the bottom line, this state, and its Legislature, is hell bent on cutting the budget to the bone and cut taxes left and right. Things cost money, and there is only so much "government waste" one can cut out. Usually that waste is more related to programs that a person/legislator is opposed to, not true inefficiency. But over the past 2 decades, and especially over the last, we have disinvested in our infrastructure and education. College costs are now bore mostly by the student. No wonder why we lag behind in college graduates in this state. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and our kids are lagging behind in school. I don't want to pay taxes any more than the next guy, but I am ready to pay more to invest in these areas. Attracting business to this state is more than just a bunch of tax cuts. They want good roads for their trucks to travel over, they want a well educated local workforce, and livable communities for their employees.
Fri, 09/28/2012 - 1:09pm
TigerDoc, It seems all the reporting is about 'good intentions' with no concern about results. Why should we (taxpayers) believe that the same people (State/local) who are administering the K-12 will do any better at making the pre-school program at acheiving all of the claims that the Bridge/Mr. French are claiming in their articles? You don't seem to have any concern with taxpayers actually getting that value for their money. The Bridge has offered no ideas on how to assure that value, what are your ideas on assuring that value will be delivered? Or do you believe that the people that are administering the current K-12 will do better with the pre-school as long we give them all the money you and the Bridge seemed to want to give them?
Thu, 06/12/2014 - 10:30am
Have you actually gone online and looked at the State's budget? Do believe there are places to cut. Have you ever researched the MEDC? It posts new job openings every week. Take a look further into that and you would be amazed. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy spells it out a lot better. There is waste in State government. There are other things that can go.
Jeffrey L Salisbury
Sun, 09/30/2012 - 7:57am
I’m still trying to figure out who and what is REALLY behind all this Pre-K push. Is there a disparity in the quality and even existence of such programs from school district to school district …wealthy to poor, from community to community…? Yes, just as there is for any number of other academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular and even community education programming. But… There’s no evidence to show any long-term academic benefits – on the contrary, studies show the opposite. There’s no evidence to show there’s any legislative support to provide additional funds for such programs. There’s no evidence to show local parents or local or even state-wide parent groups are clamoring for such programs. There’s no evidence to show a surplus of qualified early-childhood educators available for such programs. There’s no evidence to show any experienced classroom educators or educational researchers with actual classroom experience demanding such programs. In "All The President's Men" - the author's then-anonymous news source advised, "Follow the money..." and I am thinking that may be good advice when it comes to the drumbeat clamoring for Pre-Kindergarten programming in Michigan.
Jeff Salisbury
Sun, 09/30/2012 - 9:21am
REALLY want to know what’s behind this Pre-K drumbeat? Just might reveal there's a not-so-silent point of view to Bridge magazine too. This may help. http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/5499In large urban and suburban areas, large employers are the biggest proponents of universal PreK; not for the Education, but for the child care. Productivity is lost when employees are off the job or distracted because of child care issues. Some days, ironically kids are absent because the usual child care arrangement fell through, and older sibling has to stay home to babysit. And yes actually there is a clamoring for it from (mostly) mothers who are working low wage jobs, raising children with low wage fathers or no fathers at all. Covering the cost of daycare is a major concern. If you listen you hear it every election cycle as we’re in just now. Obviously there are other issues playing into this problem, but the clamor for PreK all comes down to babysitting, not educating. The campaigns for universal PreK push the Education aspect, but this is all about daycare. The author of the above link/article has this one mostly correct.