Gov. Whitmer urges 'transformative investment' in early education

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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East Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined a plan Tuesday that would invest $405 million over the next three years to ensure the state's early education program for 4-year-olds can serve all eligible children.

Currently, the federal Head Start program and the state's Great Start Readiness Program provide preschool for 43,100 kids. An estimated 65,400 students are eligible, according to the governor's office. The new initiative aims to bridge the gap, providing access for the 34% of kids who qualify but currently don't receive services.

"This is the kind of transformative investment that will yield immediate dividends but long-term as well," Whitmer said during a press conference at Michigan State University's Child Development Center.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appear at a press conference in East Lansing on early education funding on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

Whitmer’s plan proposes an additional $255 million in federal dollars and $150 million in state dollars for the Great Start Readiness Program over the next three years. 

The program provides services to children from families at or below 250% of the poverty line, which is $66,250 for a family of four, according to the governor's office.

State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint; House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township; and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan appeared at the event.

Duggan said quality, full-day prekindergarten can be life-changing. In Detroit, there are 4,000 4-year-olds in programs, but more than 1,500 kids don't have spots.

"There is nothing that we could do more to give our children a better start to their education than as a 4-year-old to have full-day pre-K," Duggan said.

Under the plan, the reliance on federal funding for the expansion would phase out over three years, going from 100% federally supported in the first year to 34% of the money coming from the federal government in the third year.  In the fourth year, the $145 million needed to continue the effort would come from state government.

The governor said the state's budget has been growing over the years. Her administration is confident that the ongoing resources will be available to meet students' needs.

"As people see what a huge impact this is going to be, they're going to be clamoring for us to do even more in this space," Whitmer said. "That's an exciting prospect for what we can do in the future."

In addition to the $405 million for the three-year initiative, she also wants to use $50 million in federal funds to boost the service expansion, including $22.5 million in provider grants, $15 million for transportation and $7 million for scholarships for teaching staff.

The funding would have to be appropriated by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which is weighing how to allocate billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money.

"We've got an opportunity right now because of the resources that are coming in," the Democratic governor said.

In the past, Republican leaders have indicated they support similar investments in early education, she said.

Ananich, the Democratic Senate minority leader and a former high school teacher, said early education has long-lasting positive effects.

"Students who receive an early childhood education are more likely to be good readers, graduate high school and get better paying jobs," the lawmaker said.

Whitmer's plan removes the barriers of costs and wait times that prevent some families from access the programs, Ananich said.

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