This week marks the first week of school for many children across America. In Michigan, the recent expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) means even more young children will have the opportunity to attend preschool this fall.
For the second year in a row, Michigan delivered on Governor Rick Snyder’s call for an expansion of the state’s public pre-kindergarten initiative, GSRP. For the upcoming fiscal year (FY15), which begins October 1, 2014, $65 million in new funding will make it possible for an additional 10,000 four-year-olds to attend pre-k who would not have otherwise had access to this demonstrated high quality program.
In the last two years, we have seen an expansion of public pre-k in Michigan by $130 million to $239.6 million. This means that, in the school year beginning this September, more than twice as many half-day slots (more than 60,000) will be filled and more than twice as many children (more than 40,000) will receive either half-day or full-day high quality pre-k than just two years ago.
This caps another year of intense, coordinated work by early childhood advocates and the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, a network of more than 110 statewide business leaders organized to support wise investment in early childhood programs. Countless meetings with key legislative and administrative champions—combined with testimony before appropriations subcommittees, FAQs, and coordinated messaging—were instrumental in doubling last year’s success.
Features of the GSRP expansion include:
- $65 million increase in funding.
- Of the $65 million, $10 million ($150 maximum per slot) is set aside for transportation (we view this as a very good thing, especially because there was no per slot funding increase, as there was last year)
- $25 million of the $65 million is put into reserve and will not be appropriated to the Office of Great Start unless it demonstrates that it has spent the first $40 million. (A similar provision is in the FY14 budget and the full $65 million was appropriated and spent.)
- Thirty percent of slots in each intermediate school district going to non-school community-based providers
- Eligibility set so that 90% of the children served in any intermediate school district must be in households with annual income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level
- Ongoing longitudinal evaluation to demonstrate the long-term effects of GSRP on student achievement.
This year’s push presented an unusual confluence of forces. On the one hand, we had much in our favor. We had momentum from last’s year’s victory, very strong commitment for continued expansion from Governor Snyder and powerful lawmakers, and a united advocacy front. On the other hand, we faced lower-than-expected state revenue collections and legislative skepticism about the state’s ability to handle such a rapid expansion. We needed the first year’s expansion to go well or it would undermine the drive for further expansion.
The Office of Great Start, which is responsible for administering GSRP at the state level, and the intermediate school districts, the local implementers, did an incredible job of finding the families with four-year-olds to fill the slots made possible by the expansion. This was no slam dunk—in a few short months, more than 30,000 eligible four-year-olds—an increase of 10,000 over the previous year—had to be enrolled. Existing programs had to be expanded. New programs, especially those in non-school, community-based settings had to be identified and ramped up with qualified teachers. The great news is that this went very well. The challenge ahead is that yet another 10,000 four-year-olds will have to find GSRP classrooms in the upcoming school year.
Now we will turn to the birth-age 3 arena, striving to devise policy options that will build on the accomplishments of the previous two years. But we must also anticipate that a new legislature will have questions about GSRP expansion. We stand ready to protect a pre-k program that makes a real difference in children’s lives long after they start kindergarten.