Last month, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start (OGS) released its much anticipated report Great Start, Great Investment, Great Future: The Plan for Early Learning and Development in Michigan. This report provides a clear road map on creating a comprehensive, coordinated early childhood system in Michigan that incorporates key principles – principles that Michigan’s Children strongly agrees with – as follows:
- Children and families are the highest priority.
- Parents and communities must have a voice in building and operating the system.
- The children with the greatest needs must be served first.
- Invest early.
- Quality matters.
- Efficiencies must be identified and implemented.
- Opportunities to coordinate and collaborate must be identified and implemented.
Based on these key principles, Michigan has A LOT of work to do to build a system that serves the most challenged young children and their families to ensure a great start in life. As a state, we made historic progress by significantly expanding access to evidence-based preschool through the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). However, much work remains – particularly around the principles of investing early and serving children with the greatest needs first. And as the report clearly lays out, one clear path for this is to expand programs and services for our young children prenatally through age three through increased investment and improved coordination and collaboration starting at the state level.
Rather than repeat myself, please check-out this guest column that I co-wrote with Scott Menzel, Superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Chair of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrator’s Early Childhood Committee. Our guest column praises Michigan’s expansion of GSRP and highlights the work left undone to support Michigan’s youngest learners. It also provides a brief overview of some key programs that could maximize Michigan’s GSRP investment by supporting young children before they reach preschool. As the OGS report states, “[r]esearchers have found that return on investment is highest for investments made when children are youngest. Unfortunately, public investment is lowest for children from birth through age 4…” and particularly for birth through age three. But more money may not be enough to get more children prepared for school.
The OGS, Department of Community Health (DCH), Department of Human Services (DHS), policymakers, parents, providers, and community members have a lot of work to do. The OGS report highlights the need to improve coordination and collaboration across sectors to increase efficiencies and maximize services to families with young children. This couldn’t be closer to the truth when talking about young children prenatally through age three – these services span across departments and agencies and some efforts are already underway to improve collaboration and coordination. Locally, it’s seen through the Great Start Collaboratives and at the state level, it’s seen through the Great Start Systems Team and the Governor’s People, Health and Education Executive Group that includes the directors of DCH, DHS, and Civil Rights in addition to the state superintendent. However, these efforts have not yet been able to transform Michigan’s early childhood system into the coordinated, collaborative system needed to best serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families.
As we focus on increasing investments for programs and services that support young children prenatally through age three in the fiscal year 2015 budget, we must also include incentives for the state and for local communities to continue to work towards a more comprehensive and coordinated system. Some local communities are already doing this well, and there’s always room for improvement. Educating legislators now about best practices to coordinate and collaborate across systems will ensure that they are prepared to continue conversations to strengthen and transform Michigan’s early childhood system in the next budget cycle.