Opinion: Whitmer's budget invests in childhood education

Joe Tate

In May of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson set forth a sweeping domestic agenda in front of a graduating class of University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor. Dubbed the Great Society address, he set into motion a set of proposals focused on eliminating poverty and racism in America.

One of the many policies put into action during this period was a federally funded early childhood initiative called Head Start. Initially beginning as a summer program, Head Start now provides year-round early childhood education and health services to children from birth to age five in low-income families — impacting nearly 40 million Americans. 

Since the inception of Head Start, numerous state governments across the country have taken their own steps to fund early childhood education. The State of Michigan crossed that threshold in 1985 when it created the Michigan School Readiness Program (MSRP) and funded just under 700 preschool slots for four-year-old children. Since that time, MSRP has had its funding expanded to create over 37,000 preschool seats in 2018. The initiative also received a new name: Great Start Readiness Program (GRSP).

While there has been steady progress on early childhood education in Michigan, more can be done in terms of supporting children and families in this space by growing the number of preschool seats across the state. Continued investment and expansion of early childhood education is simply carrying on our state’s proud tradition of ensuring future generations have every opportunity to succeed.

The Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) has published Kids Count in Michigan, a compilation of data focused on how children are faring in the state, since the early 2000s. In its 2018 report, MLPP found that over half (52.7%) of Michigan’s three and four-year-old children do not attend preschool — a sobering statistic. Michigan is lagging behind other states in the Midwest, such as Iowa and Wisconsin who enroll 65% and 68% of their four-year-old children, respectively.    

Benefits abound for children and their families who are enrolled in preschool, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Studies show that children who receive early education have greater cognitive outcomes and are more likely advance to first grade without being held back. Support for our children in economically disadvantaged communities will go a long way in providing equal opportunities to build a bright future for all.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks before the Detroit Economic Club at TCF Center in Detroit.

Prioritizing early education is critical to the success of our children, families, economy and society. Gov. Whitmer’s recent budget recommendation of an additional $42 million in funding to expand GRSP shows that she understands its significance and is committed to taking concrete actions to support our next generation. This means young children from Michigan living in Detroit or Eau Claire or Muskegon, and many other places in between will have greater access to early childhood education.

Frankly, focused investment on children in areas of high need is an investment in our state’s future. I look forward to joining her in this effort to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.

State Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) serves Michigan’s 2nd House District.