Children who attended a public pre-K school program had greater success throughout their K-12 career, including graduating at a higher rate, according to a first-of-its-kind study that followed more than 500 Michigan children for 14 years.
That study, to be discussed today at a meeting of the State Board of Education, provides fuel to growing calls for increased funding for early childhood education in the state.
Michigan’s public pre-K program, called Great Start Readiness Program, provides early childhood education to about 30,000 poor and at-risk children. The study followed 338 children from Detroit, St. Clair County, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Wyoming and Roscommon who attended Great Start as 4-year-olds in 1995-96, and 258 demographically similar children who qualified for Great Start, but didn’t attend any type of pre-school before entering kindergarten.
The results were startling.
Kindergarten teachers rated the Great Start students as demonstrating more creativity, initiative and ability to retain learning. When they reached second grade, the Great Start students were still out-performing their peers.
A higher percentage of Great Start graduates passed the MEAP in fourth grade.
Significantly fewer were held back a grade (36 percent to 49 percent in the control group).
And more pre-K participants graduated from high school on time than their peers who had no pre-K education (58 percent to 43 percent). For minorities, the graduation gap was even wider – 60 percent for pre-K participants to 36 percent for those with no formal early childhood education.
High quality early childhood programs continue to make a difference,” said Keith Myers, executive director of the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children. “If we’re serious about becoming a business-friendly state, we need to put our funds at the front end.”
The state spent $104 million this year on the Great Start program, with the goal of offering early childhood education to low-income families who may not otherwise be able to afford it. The state would need to more than double that investment to reach all the children who qualify for the program.
“It’s a huge investment,” Myers said. “But all the research says it’s money well-spent. If you expect a payoff in the next quarter, you’re not going to see it. You have to be patient. You have to understand what these types of programs do for children.”
Another study conducted by the same organization, High Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, found that the impact of high-quality preschool was still being felt 40 years later, with participants earning more money than those who didn’t participate in pre-school.
The study presented today, conducted for Michigan Department of Education by High Scope, gives the state the first quantifiable proof of Great Start’s long-term impact on children, and makes a case that pre-K gives taxpayers a good return on investment.
The Great Start program currently costs about $3,400 per student served. Those students are less likely to be held back grades in school -- and each repeated year of school costs taxpayers $11,987, according to the study. The lowered grade retention levels pay 45 percent of the cost of the Great Start program, even before taking into account higher high school graduation rates and subsequent higher lifetime earnings.
At the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce's Mackinac Island Policy Conference in late May, 100 Michigan business leaders called for greater public funding of preschool, specifically for 38,000 children who qualify for the state program, but are not now getting the service.
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.