Mich. needs early education champions
In Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, he stressed the importance of early childhood education, especially from the “prenatal to third grade” years, and committed his administration to focusing upon early education in his second term. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) champions efforts that put children front and center, and we applaud the governor’s support for early childhood education.
In 2013-2014, according to the Michigan Department of Education, only 61 percent of Michigan students were proficient readers in third grade. Among children of color, only 37 percent of African-American and 47 percent of Hispanic students were proficient. This reality motivates WKKF to partner with community leaders, teachers, parents, businesses and philanthropy to find the most effective, equitable and high quality approaches in response.
We applaud Snyder’s proposal to establish a multisector commission, including business and philanthropy, to consider best practices nationwide to improve third grade reading proficiency. Through such efforts, along with more than $100 million already invested in early childhood education, the expansion of the state’s Great Start Readiness Program and Snyder’s “P-3” initiative, we see real opportunities for improving student outcomes and making preschool available to all children.
But as Snyder said last week, we cannot stop there. Michigan was one of just six states to receive federal support through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge competition. But despite the administration’s best efforts, thousands of children remain on wait lists to access quality early childhood education.
Earlier this month, Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report, assessing states’ efforts to improve K-12 education. Michigan earned a C-minus, ranking 32nd in the nation. The report pointed to progress with 48.5 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool. But it also highlighted the pitfalls of income disparity with 64 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in households earning $100,000 attending preschool programs, compared with 40 percent of children from households with incomes below $20,000.
Clearly, there is much work to be done. But we are not discouraged. We are dedicated to helping both children and their parents by removing barriers to education, health and economic opportunities, and by addressing racial inequities to break the cycle of poverty in Michigan. We’ve maintained the integrity of the Kellogg Foundation’s decades-long approach to partner with community-led efforts, supporting the optimal development of children from birth.
In the past year, WKKF invested more than $23 million in early childhood education in our home state alone, and nationally, we are a strong partner in efforts to identify best practices in early childhood education. Last month we joined the White House Summit on Early Education, where President Barack Obama recognized the need for critical investments to improve and increase access to quality education for young children, launching the Invest in US campaign.
The foundation concentrates its investments to support high quality, early education with a targeted focus on children and families who face barriers due to income or race. In Detroit, we have committed resources to train childcare providers and pre-K teachers, support parent engagement, and develop curriculum and standards across the early childhood continuum.
Listening to Snyder’s early childhood proposals reminds us to be persistent in preparing children who are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, bridging the gap between preschool and the K-12 system. Government support, as well as nonprofit and business support, is crucial if we’re to improve third grade reading proficiency.
As we look ahead, we see a shared responsibility to seek every opportunity to marshal our resources to offer quality, early childhood education to every child in the state, especially our most vulnerable. This will not be easy, but the Kellogg Foundation hopes to see state and local policymakers prioritize young children as essential components of Michigan’s path to success.
La June Montgomery Tabron is president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.