Gov. Rick Snyder formally called for an additional $130 million for state preschool classes Thursday, a move long hinted at by administration officials – and long sought by advocates for early childhood education.
“One of the things I’m most excited about (in the budget) is we are making a large investment in early childhood funding,” Snyder said.
His budget calls for an additional $65 million in spending for state’s preschool program in the coming year and recommends another $65 million boost for fiscal 2015. If adopted by the Legislature as outlined, spending for preschool would rise from $109 million currently to almost $240 million in fiscal 2015.
For parents, this would mean an additional 16,000 opportunities for preschool slots for qualifying children. The Great Start Readiness Program provides free preschool to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. A family of four qualifies for the program if their income is under $69,000 a year.
A lengthy review of the state’s preschool program last year by Bridge Magazine found that about 30,000 children across the state were eligible for classes, but were not in them, due to problems that were led by limited funding. Referring to that group, Snyder said, “By doing this, we can make a dramatic difference in these kids’ lives.”
“Michigan must provide its children this path toward long-term prosperity,” said Doug Luciani and Debbie Dingell in a statement issued by the Children's Leadership Council, a coalition fo business, nonprofit and education interests that has pushed for preschool investment. “Expanding public preschool will result in considerable gains in school readiness, reading and math proficiency, and a variety of long-term public savings. Learning does not start at Kindergarten. To move the needle on educational achievement we absolutely must start earlier.”
Part of the new investment would increase the state’s payment to preschool providers, be they traditional public schools or private organizations – a move that Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel deemed “extremely significant.”
“That number hasn’t moved since, I think, 2007, but costs haven’t gone down, so this led to districts subsidizing the state preschool,” he noted. “The increase allows districts to better cover the costs of the program – that’s absolutely key for kids to be kindergarten-ready.”
Snyder’s move is just the latest in a series of political pledges to boost early childhood work.
The governor’s proposal begins the legislative phase of the process, with funding requests going before appropriations panels in both legislative chambers. The standard practice is for the Legislature to settle on final spending figures shortly after the May Revenue Estimating Conference confirms the available funds.
Last fall, Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced his backing for at least $130 million in new preschool money. More recently, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said he wanted more preschool dollars, without naming a specific figure.
Speaking to Michigan Radio after Snyder's presentation, Kahn lauded the nonprofit Center for Michigan for the progress: “The Center for Michigan did a very good job with a piece that largely became the foundation for doing this.”
“It is very good that we are seeing a commitment to new investment in early childhood,” said State Board of Education President John Austin. “But it’s a modest investment. I’m always eager for us as a state to do more on how we gather new and additional resources to put into most effective investments in our economy – education across the board.”
Richard Zeile, a Republican member of the State Board of Education, praised Snyder’s plan as “judicious,” but said, “I think the road ahead is curve not a straight line. … What I would emphasize … is that preschool is needed only by those whose home life does not provide the kind of background that kids need. The majority of children are better off interacting with parents than spending time at a preschool.
“Having said that, there are homes where kids are better off in preschool and the figures I have seen show that Michigan is not reaching all of them.”
Doug Rothwell, who heads the advocacy group Business Leaders for Michigan, issuing a statement in support of the budget, stating, “Studies show that children who participate in a good preschool experience have more success in life. “We want every child to enter kindergarten ready to succeed yet many of our children today are playing catch up. If we invest on the front end, they will do better in school and have better opportunities down the road.”
*The Center for Michigan is Bridge Magazine’s parent organization.
Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.
Senior Writer Ron French contributed to this report.