Assistant teacher Zeinab Charar with students at the Alawie Education Center, which has a waiting list for the Great Start Readiness Program. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Dearborn — Batoul Hammoud’s 4-year-old son could not recite the alphabet or count to 10.
But five months after enrolling in an early childhood center, Alawie Educational Services, Mohamad Hammoud not only knows the alphabet, he can spell his name, his parents’ names and can count to 100 by 2s, 5s and 10s.
“I’ve seen a big difference in my son, and that makes me very happy,” said Hammoud of Dearborn. “I think the earlier children learn, the better, because they catch on really fast — whatever he’s being taught, he catches on.”
Mohamad is among the group of 4-year-olds Gov. Rick Snyder will target in his budget address today, and who President Barack Obama championed in his State of the Union address last week. Both leaders seek expanded free preschool for low-income students.
Last year, Snyder and state lawmakers added $65 million to the Great Start Readiness Program, allowing up to 48,075 preschoolers to enroll in publicly funded classes, an increase of 16,000 over 2012-13. The governor is expected today to formally ask the Legislature for another $65 million for the second phase of the expansion, which aims to enroll another 16,000 4-year-olds.
Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said the governor created the Office of Great Start, headed by Susan Broman, “to coordinate the state’s once fragmented early childhood efforts into a focused program that aligns, integrates and coordinates Michigan’s investments for prenatal care to children in third grade.”
“We know that children will be much more successful in school if they have a solid foundation for learning,” Snyder said in a statement. “My administration has made early childhood education a priority, investing an additional $65 million this year and proposing $65 million more next year to touch families who will most benefit from these programs.”
Murray said the Snyder administration has been building a “P-20” education plan, working with schools and families from preschool through high school and beyond so Michigan graduates are college and career-ready, providing the talent that attracts and retains more and better jobs.
The goal is to make Michigan a “no-wait state” through Great Start, which Snyder called “the largest investment in 2013 of any state in the United States.”
Parents who meet income requirements do not have to pay for early childhood education, which usually comes with tuition. The income limits are $39,000 a year for a parent with one child, $59,000 for a family of four.
The Alawie Educational Services school, where Mohamad attends, has 48 students in three classrooms. Each classroom has a lead teacher and an associate teacher.
Lisa Alawie, who owns the child care center building with her husband, Samir, already served infants and toddlers in tuition-based programs. After the state allocated the extra funding, she opened GSRP classrooms in September. The response from parents was immediate.
“I’ve already had to open up an extra classroom for those on a waiting list, and parents still are coming in to ask about the classes,” said Alawie. “This is a lower-income area where at-risk children in need children come from immigrant families.”
In Detroit Public Schools, the DPS Universal PreKindergarten initiative increased enrollment by almost 10 percent in one year, from 3,064 to 3,357, as of this past fall, and operates programs in 203 classrooms.
“We are very pleased with the growth, which has well-documented educational value but additionally assists DPS in fiscal stability by developing a cadre of students ready for our kindergarten programs,” district spokesman Steve Wasko said.
Schools are scrambling to make room for these additional 4-year-olds.
At DPS’s Golightly Education Center in Midtown, with help from the district, Principal Sherrell Hobbs was able to provide two new classrooms for pre-K students in the main building, instead of in an annex, where classrooms were at a premium.
Before the expansion, there were 64 GSRP students; now there are 96. Hobbs is planning for even more expansion.
“My goal is to figure out how we might be able to meet the challenge again for the upcoming 2014-15 school year in our effort to gain and retain more students,” she said.
In the Madison District Public Schools, the early childhood education program tripled its enrollment in the past year, adding 32 new students from the original 16.
“When we learned about the additional funds for GSRP, we petitioned the Oakland ISD to increase our enrollment from 16 to 48,” said Menhem Aouad, director of student services and special education for the Madison School District.
“I think it’s a great idea, because the earlier we intervene and assist children in achieving a structured environment, the more prepared they’ll be for learning,” she said.