November 11, 2014 – Like many of you, I’m happy that the seemingly endless political ads are finally over. Now that voters have decided who will be representing us in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. next year, it’s time to help these newly elected officials focus on the issues. Though our state Legislature will look decidedly more conservative next year, I do not take that to mean that “nothing will get done” as some of my liberal peers might. We can’t forget that the historic increase in funding for our state-funded preschool program – the Great Start Readiness Program – happened with bipartisan support under Republican leadership (and was, in fact, the largest prek investment nationally). So, what does the GSRP program have that made it appealing to both sides of the political aisle? It has a strong evaluation that demonstrates its child-outcomes that advocates knew existed for decades. The evaluation helped public officials understand the equity-promoting nature of the GSRP program that serves four-year-olds with a high quality program that promotes school readiness and reduces the achievement gap. And, legislators could understand the ROI that came from reduced special education costs, fewer kids repeating grades, more students graduating on time, and higher earnings as adults.
But the GSRP program isn’t the only program that has a strong evaluation and ROI. Many programs that serve families with very young children – beginning at birth or prenatally and into the toddler years – also have strong evaluation findings and ROI. And if we want to get the most bang for our GSRP buck, we must ensure that young children don’t start preschool so far behind that they’re just playing catch-up during that one school year. While we know that a school readiness gap exists, preschool teachers know that there is a preschool readiness gap as well. With the achievement gap emerging well before four years of age, making investments targeting young children from birth (or even prenatally) through age three is critical.
Fortunately, Michigan can build upon its momentum to continue to strengthen our early childhood system. Opportunities to expand evidence-based home visiting services will ensure that more young families can benefit from these voluntary parent coaching programs that help parents become their child’s first and best teachers. Bolstering our Early On early intervention program that targets infants and toddlers with identified developmental delays will help reduce special education costs down the road while more children access individualized services to address their own developmental needs. And increasing access to high quality child care options – particularly for families with infants and toddlers when high quality care is most expensive – can ensure that young children receive developmentally appropriate early learning experiences they need to be preschool and kindergarten ready.
While these issues will likely get little play this lame duck session, now is a great opportunity to start talking to our newly elected officials about these issues. Now is the time to congratulate your state legislators and invite them to visit your programs, meet them for coffee, or have an informal exchange with them to talk about what matters to families with very young children. That way, they can hit the ground running when they get sworn into office in January.