25 September 2012
Bridge Magazine presents a multi-part series exploring how 30,000 Michigan kids who qualify for free pre-school are not getting the education they need, due to inadequate state funding, logistical hurdles and poor coordination of services.
Research shows that these children will get lower grades, drop out more frequently and earn less money over the course of their careers.
Landen Ford wants to go to preschool. The 4-year-old Flushing boy with a crew cut and a toothy grin thought he’d learn the alphabet and his sounds, and maybe make some friends, just like his big brother Logan did last year. But instead of learning to write his name, Landen is learning an early lesson in budgets and bureaucracy.
Susan Broman is director of the state’s Office of Great Start, an office created in 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder to consolidate the state’s early childhood education efforts. Broman recently responded to written questions posed by Bridge regarding the state’s Great Start Readiness Program, and the 30,000 eligible 4-year-olds who aren’t in classrooms.
A Bridge Magazine analysis of state and federal data revealed that your child’s chances of getting high-quality, free preschool depends on where you live. Statewide, 39 percent of children who meet the current eligibility guidelines are not enrolled in the program or any other taxpayer-supported preschool. But Bridge’s analysis found a large disparity in service to at-risk youths between regions, even though the state divvies up money to give every child a roughly equal shot at free preschool.
Like any mother, Grand Rapids resident Courtney Malone wants the best for her children.
That’s why she worries about her 3-year-old son, Bryson, who is on a waiting list for the state’s Great Start Readiness Program. She fears he could be losing ground by missing out on the all-day preschool.
The “forgotten 30,000” highlights what may well be the most critical public policy issue facing our state today. Everybody involved – schools, businesses, families – knows the present system doesn’t make sense. But for years, virtually nothing has been done.
Hundreds of Michigan 4-year-olds qualify for Head Start and Great Start, but are in neither preschool program, stuck in a no-man’s land between bureaucracies.
Five states, including Oklahoma and Florida, offer free preschool for all 4-year-olds. Even some states that limit enrollment to low- and moderate-income households like Michigan have a higher percentage of 4-year-olds in classrooms than the Great Lakes state.
Across the state, there are 118 school districts (20 percent of Michigan’s districts) that don’t offer public pre-K classes. The state doesn’t require school districts to take part in its Great Start Readiness Program. In fact, in the short term at least, some have decided it’s economically smart not to.
Maybe she just didn’t have enough experience to know better. Maybe she had a financial incentive. Whatever the reason, Natalie Merryman succeeded where a lot of school districts failed.
In many Michigan communities, free preschool comes with a price. Families must transport their 4-year-olds to and from school, even when buses going to the same school go through their neighborhoods.
Grand Rapids is a microcosm of the challenges schools face with a program that is good for children, but bad for budgets.
The state divvies up its preschool money to local school districts based on $3,400 per half-day slot; schools get a set amount of cash for a set number of slots. Once the money’s gone, children go on a waiting list.
About 40 percent of Michigan 4-year-olds eligible for the preschool program weren’t in classes, due to inadequate funding, logistical hurdles and inconsistent coordination of services.
Some communities aren’t waiting for the cavalry to arrive. Business, political, education and church leaders across the state, though, are banding together to find creative ways to provide preschool for Michigan’s 4-year-olds shut out of state-funded classrooms.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, made headlines recently when he proposed adding $140 million to the 2013-14 budget for state-funded preschool.
Momentum is growing for groundbreaking improvements to Michigan’s public preschool programs. Statewide business leaders are leading the way.
For the first time in years, the door to far-reaching school reform in Michigan is gradually creaking open. But will it stay open?