State official: Adults have let children down

Susan Broman is director of the state’s Office of Great Start, an office created in 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder to consolidate the state’s early childhood education efforts. Broman recently responded to written questions posed by Bridge regarding the state’s Great Start Readiness Program, and the 30,000 eligible 4-year-olds who aren’t in classrooms.

Bridge: Our analysis indicates that almost 30,000 children who are eligible for GSRP aren’t enrolled in any state- or federally funded preschool program. Why aren’t more children in class?

A: There is not enough federal or state funding to serve all children who meet income eligibility guidelines. We simply do not invest enough to ensure there is enough space to serve all eligible children in Michigan.

Bridge: State funding of GSRP has been practically flat for more than a decade. Isn’t that an indication that state leaders don’t consider preschool a priority?

A: An unchanged funding level for preschool actually demonstrates legislative support over the past several years. Funds for preschool were maintained during a long recession while cuts were made to many other important programs.This is an indication of legislators’ commitment to the value of providing preschool to our most at risk and vulnerable children.

Bridge: In many communities, kids who qualify for free preschool can’t enroll because classes are full. There are long waiting lists at some schools. Given an opportunity, what would you say to those children, and what would you say to Legislators about those children?

A: To the children of our state, I would say that we adults must do better and make sure that all eligible children have an opportunity to participate in a quality preschool experience so that they can enter kindergarten ready to succeed in life and in school. To the legislators, I would point out the numerous national and state studies that document the incredible opportunity we have to make a real impact by investing in early childhood programs. If Michigan children are ever to effectively compete in a global economy and if we aspire to support the development of children with skills needed for 21st century careers, we must bring to scale quality preschool opportunities for all eligible children. The numbers are astounding: at least 40 percent of all Michigan 4-year-olds now eligible for GSRP are not enrolled. Research consistently demonstrates that high quality preschool results in significantly improved school readiness and grade school reading and math proficiency. We may never achieve Gov. Snyder’s metric of having all kids proficient in reading by third grade without increasing access to a quality preschool experience for all children.

Bridge: Is the argument for state-funded preschool for low- and moderate-income families based on public good, or economics?

A: Serving both the public good and economics provide a solid reason for investing in preschool. If we support low-income, at-risk young children with publicly funded preschool, we begin to level the playing field and equalize opportunity. We can build a connector between the culture of poverty and the culture of opportunity with quality early learning experiences. On the side of economic benefits, we can point to the fact we will not be paying for academic remediation at the same level. Does it make more sense to pay for children to repeat kindergarten or first grade, or to invest in preschool so they are ready when they enter kindergarten? There is evidence to support this discussion.

The state-supported GSRP has been in existence for over 25 years. A longitudinal study comparing GSRP participants with nonparticipants demonstrated that children with GSRP experience were retained less often and graduated sooner. The children studied in both groups had comparable characteristics. Other research tells us that for every $1 invested in preschool saves from $3 to $17 in other costs such as welfare, criminal justice, special education and other social expenses. Both the public good and the economic benefit are served when our children grow up to be productive citizens, contributing to the tax base rather than consuming/costing our publicly-funded social safety nets.

Bridge: Some states fund preschool for 4-year-olds, some do not. Why should Michigan?

A: We need to abandon the notion that learning begins at age 5 when children enter kindergarten. Learning begins at birth and a quality preschool opportunity, especially for children living in poverty, supports the early brain development so critical to success in life and in school. Right now, the performance of Michigan children, when compared to children in other states, is lagging. We need to shift public policy and funding to align with what we know from brain research about the importance of early childhood and the benefits of preschool.

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Tue, 09/25/2012 - 10:15am
Perhaps if “free” publicly funded preschool is expanded we can drive the nasty private enterprise property tax paying private enterprise preschools out of business. Then they can stop paying property taxes so the publicly funded preschools can compete with them.
Jon Blakey
Tue, 09/25/2012 - 5:54pm
As I said in another comment, you are not understanding the intent of the GSRP program. It is targeted at children whose parents cannot afford a private preschool program. They must demonstrate income and other educational needs to be considered for enrollment.
Thu, 09/27/2012 - 8:45am
Give those parents vouchers so they can go to any preschool they choose; public, private, parochial, secular, etc. Let the parents have a real choice.
Nick Ciaramitaro
Tue, 09/25/2012 - 5:01pm
Obviously, the State cut early childhood education to fund its massive (83%) cut in business taxes so that those businesses would bring jobs to Michigan (though the money wasn't used for that purpose. Guess it was more needed in Swiss Bank and Cayman Island accounts) Of course, business is now complaining that our workforce is not propoerly trained for the new job market and blaming the education system. And since we know that most learning begins in the first few years of life so we will be continuing the problem for years to come. During the Granholm years, we had hoped to attract private dollars through the Early Childhood Investment Funds but those private funds (when we can find them) tend to follow public dollars and since the public dollars hae dried up ... welcome to the vicious circle.
Jon Blakey
Tue, 09/25/2012 - 6:02pm
Nice try Ms. Broman, but I do not consider an "unchanged level of funding" as a commitment to early childhood education, just as I don't consider the unchanged level of 31a At-risk funds over the last 15 years a commitment to meeting the needs of at-risk students in our schools. As mentioned in an earlier comment, we had no problem taxing pensions to help fund an experiment in trying to entice more business investment in Michigan. Could have done the same for early childhood education and at-risk students, but we didn't. Guess we know where the commitments really are in our legislative and executive branches.
Jon Blakey
Tue, 09/25/2012 - 6:13pm
Mr. French: Thank you for this excellent series of articles on early childhood. They were well written and very informative. Hopefully, we can get them in front of some decision makers and do something about the underfunding of the program. The recent changes which allow intermediate school districts to charge 5-10% for administrative costs should also be investigated. I urge you to explore the 31a At-risk program in Michigan schools. It is another example of a program that has been flat funded for years with little state over-site. We deserve better than this for our most at-risk children. The former state consultant for this program is Michele Patton who works in the MDE Office of Field Services. She could provide good background on the program and possibly some of the problems associated with its effective implementation.
Jeffrey L Salisbury
Sun, 09/30/2012 - 7:55am
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 - 9:19am
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. 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.
Thu, 06/12/2014 - 10:09am
Completely agree with the comments above - it is babysitting. I'm sorry if someone's parent(s) can't find a little precious time to read to their children or teach them their abc's. I have a granddaughter and guess what? How exciting that she will get to go to pre-school for free and her parents won't have to pay for daycare. I'm sure thousands of others are thinking the same thing; however, I would never push for it and would be perfectly happy teaching her in my spare time - not on someone else's dime.