Speaking For Kids

Early Childhood Development = Workforce Development

As discussed a few weeks ago on our blog, a coalition of 100 business leaders organized by the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM) called for significantly greater investment in early childhood education, linking the connection between access to high quality early education and the state’s economy.  The CLCM’s two early childhood policy planks are to expand access to the Great Start Readiness Program – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure – to all kids who are eligible for GSRP, and to assure the healthy growth of children from birth through age three.

The timing of the business leaders’ call to action couldn’t be better.

Last week, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation and the Michigan Department of Education released its evaluation of GSRP from 1995-2011 that includes high school graduation and grade retention outcomes for students who participated in GSRP.  The 2011 evaluation results make the case for why GSRP works.  It found that more GSRP students graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants and even more telling, that more GSRP students of color graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants.  Access to high quality preschool reduces the high school completion gap that is seen across our state.   This evaluation comes after the state Legislature finalized the state budget for 2012-2013 which includes a $5 million increase for GSRP.

And next week, the Committee for Economic Development and ReadyNation will be in Detroit to release their latest report “Unfinished Business: Continued Investment in Child Care and Early Education is Critical to Business and America’s Future”.  Business leaders across the nation are taking a stand on the importance of high quality early care and education, knowing that it’s more cost-effective to do right by kids from the very beginning rather than investing in remediation later down the road.  And they recognize that Michigan is a key state where dedication and investment to workforce development starting in early childhood can show huge gains as the state transforms its economy.

As Michigan residents, it is critical for us to recognize this momentum that is occurring in our state.  As we enter the thick of campaign season, we must be mindful of who we elect into office and whether they too, will follow in the footsteps of business leaders across our state and our nation.  Are candidates talking about the importance of high quality early education?  Do they recognize the connection between access to high quality early learning programs and Michigan’s economy?  Will they “put their money where their mouth is” when they are negotiating the state budget next year by listening to the business leaders’ call to action to significantly increase funding for early childhood programming in our state?

It is imperative that we take advantage of this opportune time – the election season – to ensure that individuals we put into office to represent us understand our priorities.  Is expanding access to high quality early education one of them?

-Mina Hong

Babies Today, Business Leaders Tomorrow

Last week, the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM) released their early childhood business plan at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.  And though the CLCM didn’t explain how their business plan would be funded– whether from private investments or from targeted public revenue sources – a statement from business leaders calling for significantly increased investment in early childhood education for the betterment of Michigan’s future workforce is a big deal.  So what exactly would an early childhood business plan mean for children and families in Michigan?

The CLCM is a group of business leaders from across Michigan who are committed to ensuring that all children arrive at school healthy and ready to learn.  Since its founding, the CLCM has advocated for expanded resources so that all young children eligible for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure – can access the program.  Currently, 38,000 four-year-olds eligible for GSRP aren’t able to access the program due to limited state funds.

Having business leaders call for fully funding GSRP is great news because we know that the program works.  The GSRP program has proven outcomes.  In addition to a high return on investment, high quality preschool programs like GSRP ensure that young children are ready for school, improve student achievement and ultimately contribute to higher high school graduation rates, all while narrowing the achievement gap.

BUT, four-year-old preschool alone is not enough.  The other half of the CLCM’s platform is to strengthen efforts to assure the healthy growth of children from birth through age three.  At Michigan’s Children, we know that laying strong foundations beginning at birth are essential to help young children prepare for school and to succeed in life.  When cognitive disparities emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life, taking advantage of the first three years of life when the brain is rapidly developing is critical to prevent these large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities.  And the business leaders who are part of the Leadership Council agree with this science.

Michigan’s Children continues to suggest that at least twenty percent of any new money for preschool be set-aside to serve infants, toddlers and their families.  Whether these new funds are from public or private sources, dedicating a portion of new funding to serve children from birth through age three would truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Michigan’s Children applauds the early childhood business plan and will continue to work with the Children’s Leadership Council towards their goals to expand preschool and birth through three services to prepare a strong and diverse workforce for the future.  Growing preschool and birth through three programs concurrently will show the greatest gains in terms of healthy development, school readiness, and return on investment all while preventing and reducing the achievement gap and strengthening the workforce of tomorrow.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

What a Difference Our Voices Make

This week, the Legislature finished their work on the fiscal year 2013 budget.  While it is still possible that funding for specific programs and initiatives, as well as language directing state departments in their implementation, could be vetoed by the Governor in his final budget approval, we can assume what has passed out of the Legislature is pretty close to what we’ll be working with beginning in October.

The state budget, as the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities, is a tool for either improving equity or widening gaps.   Michigan’s Children advocates for many programs, initiatives and strategies during the budget process each year, and this year put some strategic focus on two items that prove critical to improving educational equity:

  1. supporting an expansion of funding for the state’s preschool program (GSRP) and ensuring that some of those dollars would be directed towards Michigan’s youngest children from birth through age three; and
  2. reinstating funding for extended learning opportunities (before- and after-school programs) that was once funded at $16 million through the state budget.

Staff worked with partners, local advocates, Legislators and their staff through each stage of the budget conversation to make sure that those investments were included or protected.  Countless community allies reached out to their Legislators to encourage them to lend their support.

Here’s the verdict:  voices are heard.   The Legislature chose to prioritize additional funding for pre-school programming allowing nearly 1,500 more children to be served in the next school year.  Even though language was not included in this budget to dedicate some of that new language for programs supporting younger children and their families, Legislators and staff have improved understanding and critical ground work was laid.  Another verdict:  as advocates always say, this is a marathon, not a sprit.

The Legislature also chose to prioritize extended learning beyond the school day by including $1 million for the kids who need it most, those in families whose income is below twice the poverty line.  While this was not the $5 million that was originally proposed by champions in the House of Representatives, nor is it even a fraction of the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them, but it is a victory – again, a marathon.

We thank the Legislature for valuing programs that improve educational equity in our state, and we (of course) ask that the Governor not utilize his line-item veto power to remove those investments before signing the appropriations bills into law.

These investments were made because advocates and Legislative champions persisted.  The verdict for this election season:  it matters who is elected to office.  That leads to the need for all of us to understand where our candidates stand on supporting strategies that lead to better and more equitable outcomes for kids and families all around this state.  After the best candidates are elected this fall because of our votes, we continue the marathon.

-Michele Corey

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