(WSYM) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to pay for preschool education for more Michigan children.
The Great Start Readiness Program is a state-funded preschool program for four-year-old children, but the governor's office says it has not been able to meet demand; currently, only 66 percent of eligible children statewide are served by Great Start or federal Head Start programs.
The plan announced by the governor Tuesday would increase funding for Great Start to ensure eligible 4-year-olds are served.
“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 press release.
“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," she added. "The investments announced today provide access to all eligible children and will help narrow the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students. As we put Michigan back to work, parents can go about their workday knowing that their children are learning in a safe and productive environment.”
Great Start is a proven preschool program that provides full- or part-day services to children from families at or below 250 percent of the poverty line, which is $66,250 for a family of four. In tandem with the Head Start program, Great Start provides preschool to 43,100 kids across Michigan. 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 press release. “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.”
The governor's office says investments in Great Start provide both immediate and long-term results, such as improved literacy performance by 3rd grade, narrowed achievement gaps between low and high-income students, and improved high school graduation rates.
Whitmer’s plan proposes an additional $255 million in federal dollars and $150 million in state dollars, for a total of $405 million for Great Start over the next three years.
The plan also calls for an additional $50 million in federal money to support a successful expansion, such as:
- Ensuring an adequate supply of providers based on regional demands through grants to providers (an estimated 1,500 additional classrooms may be needed, at $15,000 per classroom, costs would be $22.5 million)
- Ensuring additional access to transportation for early education with $15 million in addition to the $10 million currently dedicated to transportation.
- Providing scholarships to early educators to ensure teaching staff is properly credentialed as well as providing curriculum purchasing and training grants to ensure all programs are using state-recommended, research-based material ($7 million).
- Expanding outreach efforts to increase parental awareness of the availability of free programs in their area and developing web resources to connect parents to all programs in their area ($5.5 million).
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