State adopts ‘nation’s largest’ expansion of early childhood funding

Ten thousand additional Michigan 4-year-olds will be in classrooms next school year, after Republican and Democratic legislators Wednesday passed the largest expansion in early childhood education in the nation.

The $65 million expansion for the 2013-14 budget year is a major victory for business leaders, educators and children advocates, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders who believed early childhood education offers a good return on investment. But the biggest winners will be Michigan’s low- and moderate-income children, who will now be able to enroll in a program proven to improve test scores and lower drop-out rates.

The victory comes a year to the day since the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan unveiled a coalition of 100 business leaders endorsing a vast expansion of the state’s Great Start Readiness Program that provides pre-K to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

That announcement was made at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Policy Conference last year. In September 2012, Bridge Magazine’s report, “Michigan’s forgotten 4-year-olds,” revealed that almost 30,000 preschoolers who qualified for free public pre-K education were locked out of classrooms because of insufficient funds, logistical hurdles and poor coordination of services. That report recently won a national award from the Education Writers Association.

Bridge’s coverage helped rally support for GSRP among legislative leaders such as Sen. Roger Kahn, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. Snyder endorsed the expansion in his State of the State address in January.

The expansion, passed by the House Tuesday and the Senate Wednesday, provides $40 million to enroll more children immediately, and another $25 million as the program gears up. Language in the bill calls for an additional $65 million expansion next year, though that additional money would have to be approved by the Legislature in 2014.

The expansion is designed to largely end the phenomenon of eligible but unenrolled 4-year-olds over the next two years.

The $65 million increase – a 60-percent bump over current funding – also is the biggest in the nation this year. “Michigan’s increase is way bigger” than those being considered in other states, said Margie Wallen, director of national policy at the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago. “You will be the absolute leader in this year’s increase in investment and increasing quality."

 MORE COVERAGE: Michigan moves into national forefront of preschool funding

Michigan is once again being viewed as a leader in early childhood education. “I was at a(n education) conference in Washington recently, and people were marveling at what’s happening in Michigan,” said Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel. “They’re encouraged by the political dynamics.”

Those political dynamics – bipartisan support for expanded public-funded education – “gives me hope that there are more educational issues we can come together on,” said Livingston Educational Service Agency Superintendent Dave Campbell. “Both parties looked at the research and both parties agreed that this is a good investment. Money is tight, and we’re still expanding in an area that has the most impact.”

Key to the expansion for Menzel was an increase in the per-student allotment for next school year, from $3,400 to $3,625. Currently, some schools lose money with every GSRP student who walks in the door. “The per-slot increase is essential to high-quality programming,” Menzel explained.

“We’re really glad the Legislature has a made a budget decision rooted in evidence and geared to address the achievement gap,” said Mina Hong, senior policy associate for the advocacy group Michigan’s Children. “We know GSRP reduces the readiness gap in kindergarten and improves third-grade reading proficiency. And GSRP gets more people to graduation.”

In more than 600 community conversations about education reform held around the state by The Center for Michigan, residents listed expanded, high-quality pre-K as one of their highest priorities.

“Many people said the way to move the needle in our schools was through early childhood education,” said Phil Power, founder and chairman of The Center for Michigan. “The Center’s method is to nourish public attitudes and amplify them in the halls of power. And damned if it doesn’t work.”

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.

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Thu, 05/30/2013 - 8:31am
I'm curious as to the mandates on this 4 year old preschool. Is the intent that parents will be made aware of its availability but not required to send their 4 year olds to school? There is generic interest in this topic....and the research....and there is family-specific inquiry.
Ron French
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 9:58am
There will be no mandate to send 4-year-olds to school; The funding means that more families who wish to send their children to pre-K can do so.
Michelle R.
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 8:41am
It's a great day for Michigan's young children!
Charles Richards
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 3:30pm
Has anyone considered the possibility that it is not formal education or cognitive ability that is responsible for success, but character? Paul Tough, writing in the Sept 7, 2012, Wall Street Journal said the idea behind early education " is an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive skill—the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests—and that the best way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible. " He goes on to say, "But in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate group of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis. What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character.
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 8:35pm
In theory it is wonderful...what we have been waiting for. In reality, it isn't all that impressive. Programs have been hit very hard with administrative fees now that we are under local ISD's who take 5-7% of the grant money off the top. In addition we will now have to pay $3500 per classroom for an official PQA (Program Quality Assessment) ...very very expensive, considering we have been trained and doing them on our own for years. To summarize programs will have to serve more children, and have less money to do the job well. We estimate that all these changes in GSRP is costing our small program $44,000. Not good news for us, bad news for the children. It is a sad situation.
Genny Connors
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 9:33pm
Praise the Lord! A great day it is! Character, as well as formal education, along with morals and values, are the keys to success, and it is a blessing to see the bi-partisan support for Michigan's children come to fruition.