Speaking For Kids

We Shouldn’t Treat Preschool Like Valentine’s Day

Ahh Valentine’s Day.  The day of love.  The day when flower shops, candy shops, and restaurants do remarkably well.  But I must admit I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  Sure, I love reminding my loved ones how much I care about them on this day, but I also find it rather silly to single out one day a year that we express our love and appreciation for our loved ones who stand by us every day.  I have similar feelings about singling out four-year-old preschool in budget and program conversations about improving school readiness, and here’s why.

In President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, he called for universal access to preschool, and anticipated details of this plan include expansion to high quality early learning programs that span the birth to five continuum.  This comes on the heels of Governor Snyder’s state budget presentation for fiscal year 2014 that calls for a substantial expansion for the Great Start Readiness Preschool program (GSRP) – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of starting school behind.  (Learn more about what the Governor’s budget means for young children in our Budget Basics report).

We know access to high quality preschool is an evidence-based strategy towards reducing an achievement gap – a gap that begins early and can build over time without the appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.  GSRP has proven to reduce disparities in student achievement including reducing the readiness gap at kindergarten, improving reading proficiency for third graders (a critical benchmark for school success), and getting more young people to their high school graduations.  And in fact, children of color who participated in GSRP were three times more likely to graduate high school on-time than children of color who did not attend GSRP – proving its effectiveness in reducing disparities.

I am a huge supporter of preschool for four-year-olds, and I also think that focusing significant investment only towards four-year-olds is short-sighted.  Just like expressing love should be about more than one-day, we know that early childhood education should be about more than support for a single year.  While GSRP is geared towards four-year-olds, we know that disparities in cognitive development emerge in babies as young as nine months of age.  And for the babies and toddlers who struggled the most, one year of preschool is a huge help towards preparing them for kindergarten but it may not be quite enough to offset the challenges they faced early in life.  Even Governor Snyder acknowledges that education must focus on the entire P-20 continuum – that begins prenatally not at four-years-old – though he does not reflect this in his budget.

To lay the best foundation to build a successful education career and to reduce achievement gaps, we must begin at birth and provide support to the most challenged young families.  I applaud President Obama’s efforts to expand access to not just four-year-old preschool but also Early Head Start, quality child care, and evidence-based home visiting.  Perhaps as we advocate to ensure that the GSPR expansion stays in the final FY2014 state budget, we should also talk about some level of support for Michigan’s youngest learners – children from birth through age three – to prevent early disparities.  And perhaps as we discuss President Obama’s early childhood focus with our Congressional folks, we should discuss how any plan to offset the sequester must safeguard the federal programs that currently support infants and toddlers like the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Early Head Start.  Here at Michigan’s Children, we love preschool, and we also know that early childhood education begins before four-years of age.

-Mina Hong

Investing to Expand Minds and Opportunities in Michigan

Despite the crushing pressure of the fiscal cliff and the federal economy, I came back from Washington, DC last Thursday after spending several days with some Michigan colleagues and colleagues from around the country at the Afterschool Alliance National Network meeting feeling quite proud of my Michigan Congressional Delegation.

Some members of our delegation have been, of course, champions building extended learning opportunity (before- and after-school, summer learning, other opportunities outside the traditional school day) over their entire political careers.  Some are just beginning their careers in Washington and are thinking strategically about how support of extended learning may fit into their own political legacies.  And some, who are not always supportive of public spending, were indeed intrigued by the way that the largest federal investment in afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, maximizes federal investment by encouraging innovative and targeted partnerships geared toward the needs and strengths of each local community. These partnerships have demonstrated impact on the educational and life success of young people; provide support for families; and build stronger communities.

The evidence is crystal clear that high quality afterschool and summer programs accelerate student achievement, particularly for those most at risk of school failure – closing the achievement gap.  In case there was any doubt, the Afterschool Alliance has brought together literally decades of research that brings together best practices and the impact of those practices in a new compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities:  Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success.

Unfortunately, upon my return to Lansing, I was not so proud of the way that the Governor has again left off his priority list, as evidenced by the FY14 budget release last week, investment in one of the most powerful tools toward increased educational achievement and equity at his disposal – afterschool.  While I am extremely excited about the impact of the kinds of investments to our early childhood system he is proposing, these investments early will fail to reap all of the successes that they could without continued, targeted investment intended to build equity in outcomes throughout children’s educational careers.

Michigan’s Children will once again be working hard over the next months to ensure that we reinstate funding for extended learning opportunities – once funded at $16 million through the state budget.  Federal investment is not enough; we need to make this equity strategy a priority in our own budget as well, serving to make a dent in the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them.  In addition, any cuts to the Child Care subsidy Program, 40% of which supports elementary school participation in before- and after-school opportunities, should be taken with caution.

Now the Legislature has their chance to build Michigan’s investment in extended learning opportunities.  Join us in making sure that they do just that.

-Michele Corey

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Next Cliff?

Folks in Michigan are anxiously awaiting the release of the Governor’s budget on Thursday, with many hot issues already making the news in anticipation of the its release – a sizable increase in early childhood education funding, expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income children and families, or continued efforts around education reform.  While the buzz in Lansing is all about the Governor’s upcoming budget, it’s important to realize that everything that will be determined by the Governor and Legislature regarding state priorities is completely dependent on the federal budget.

Michigan’s Children’s latest Budget Basics publication takes a closer look at just how reliant critical programs in Michigan are on federal funding.  In the current state fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2012 and goes to September 30, 2013, over 40 percent of Michigan’s entire state budget is supported by federal sources.  However, a significantly higher reliance on federal funding supports budgets that serve Michigan children, youth and families – particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  Specifically, federal funds support:

  • two-thirds of the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) budget,
  • three-quarters of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) budget (note: this does not include the School Aid budget), and
  • four-fifths of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) budget.

Even more important to note is that these federal resources support Michigan’s efforts to address huge disparities in child and family outcomes – disparities that begin early in a child’s life and can continue to grow if not recognized and addressed.  Federal funds pay for equity promoting programs like Medicaid and school and community-based health services through DCH, nutrition programs and child abuse and neglect prevention efforts through DHS, and child care assistance and support for low-income and special needs students through MDE.  All of these programs work to reduce disparities in outcomes, and many could have an even greater impact if funded at levels that ensure program fidelity.

Unfortunately, the federal budget, like Michigan’s budget, doesn’t provide enough resource to ensure access to high quality programs for the most struggling children and families who would benefit from them.  This is evident by the latest Kids Count Data that show that our children continue to struggle and that disparities persist.  At the same time that we will be attempting to address our growing child poverty, increases in child maltreatment, and lack of progress on educational achievement; Michigan will surely be facing some cuts in federal support as a result of the second pending federal fiscal cliff.  The only question is, by how much?

Perhaps as we in Michigan prepare for the exciting budget debates that will soon begin in Lansing, we should also consider the implications of the federal budget and how deficit-reducing efforts may further increase the disparities that we already see in child and family outcomes.  And while we’re considering those implications, we may want to pass on our best thoughts on how to address the federal budget to Congress in a balanced way.

-Mina Hong

* The next fiscal cliff is a combination of the pending sequester as well as the expiration of the continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government through March 27, 2013.  Congress still must address a balanced approach to offset sequestration and pass a federal budget through the remainder of the federal fiscal year (which happens to be the same fiscal year as Michigan’s).  More information about the federal budget is available on our website.

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