(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed an additional $255 million in federal dollars and $150 million in state dollars, for a total of $405 million, for preschool education over the next three years.
The Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds, and the federal Head Start programs currently serve 66% of eligible children statewide.
“We have a unique opportunity right now to make the type of investments in early education and preschool that will pay massive dividends by improving health, educational, and social outcomes for our children decades down the line,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Parents across our state are aware of the importance of early education and now we have to seize this chance to eliminate waitlists for eligible children.”
GSRP provides full- or part-day services to children from families at or below 250% of the poverty line — $66,250 for a family of four. Combined with the Head Start program, GSRP currently provides preschool to 43,100 kids statewide, whereas an estimated 65,400 students are eligible for the program.
“There is bipartisan support to expand preschool access for kids across Michigan and I am pleased we can make this investment,” State Budget Director David Massaron said in a statement. “I think it’s important to note that this is a plan with identified resources to ensure we can sustain full access into the future. The fact that this is not just a one-time investment for one year but rather a plan that incorporates continued investment in future years is extremely exciting.”
Whitmer’s office claimed GSRP spending would improve literacy performance by 3rd grade, narrow achievement gaps between low and high-income students, and improve high school graduation rates.
“Research shows that the earlier we start investing in kids, the better the outcomes will be in education and in life,” President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan Jeff Donofrio said in a statement. “Investments in programs like GSRP not only will improve the lives of thousands of Michigan kids, it also will help many parents return to the workforce to build family-sustaining careers.”
The plan also calls for an additional $50 million in federal funds to:
- Ensure an adequate providers supply based on regional demands through grants to providers. An estimated 1,500 additional classrooms may be needed, at $15,000 per classroom, which would cost $22.5 million.
- Spend an additional $15 million to ensure access to transportation for early education in addition to the $10 million currently dedicated to transportation.
- Provide scholarships to credential early educators and grants to ensure all programs are using state-recommended, research-based material ($7 million).
- Expand outreach efforts to increase awareness of the availability of taxpayer-funded programs and connect parents to all programs in their area ($5.5 million).
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, welcomed the news.
“There is no better investment than our children,” Ananich said in a statement
“As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the long-term benefits of a quality preschool education, and that’s why I am so glad that Governor Whitmer is making the Great Start Readiness Program available to more of Michigan's kids. Her plan cuts down the financial and logistical barriers that currently stand between families and preschool, ensuring that more children start their education on the right foot."