Earlier this week, the Legislature approved an historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten. This $65 million increase – a 60 percent expansion of the program – will provide an additional 16,000 half-day slots, which is much needed considering the 29,000 eligible but unenrolled four-year-olds currently living in Michigan.
This year’s success was the result of the collective impact of many individuals and organizations who have entered into the early childhood education advocacy arena over the past several decades.
First off, this expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Michigan’s elected officials. Broad support for preschool across both chambers, both parties, and the Governor’s office was expressed early on in the budget process, with some elected officials championing early childhood issues since they first took office well before the fiscal year 2014 budget process began. These important leaders played critical roles in ensuring that the final budget bill included this significant expansion.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Center for Michigan – to not only uncover the unmet need of GSRP across the state through Bridge Magazine’s excellent journalism but to also provide support to the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM). The CLCM, co-chaired by Doug Luciani of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Michigan’s Children’s own board member Debbie Dingell of d2 Strategies, corralled the business community in support of high quality early learning opportunities and did an effective job of communicating the research and the business argument for expanding access to GSRP.
Another significant player in this year’s efforts was the High Scope Educational Research Foundation, who has been evaluating GSRP since 1995. Their most recent evaluation was released in March of 2012 and demonstrated the long-term benefits of young children participating in GSRP including fewer students being retained in K-12 and more students graduating on time from high school – both which save taxpayer dollars. And of course, evaluation efforts like these have helped economists like Michigan’s own Tim Bartik and others across the country make the case for the high return on investment that quality early learning programs provide.
Finally, expansion of early childhood programming has been on the forefront of early childhood advocates’, parents’, and providers’ agendas for the past several decades. This is evidenced by GSRP’s inception in fiscal year 1986 and its fairly steady growth since then. At the same time, advocates have been working tirelessly to build an early childhood system that includes high quality child care, evidence-based home visiting, targeted early intervention services, and other family supports to ensure that all Michigan children get a great start in life. While there is still much work to be done to continue to build a comprehensive early childhood system, we must take a moment to applaud our successes and thank those who have made it possible for more of Michigan’s most challenged four-year-olds to access a high quality preschool program. Thank you from Michigan’s Children.