Whitmer’s PreK for All plan will provide boost to Michigan children - TAI News
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Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to introduce universal free prekindergarten has the potential to make sweeping improvements to educational outcomes for Michigan children, advocates say.

Michigan’s state-funded Great Start Readiness Program, which makes pre-K available to 4-year-olds from low-income families, has been around since the 1980s. During her Jan. 24 State of the State address, Whitmer announced a proposal that would make state-funded pre-K accessible to all families regardless of income.

Presenting her 2025 budget proposal in February, Whitmer asked lawmakers to approve $159 million to make pre-K for all a reality as soon as the upcoming fiscal year.

Pre-K for all would be a game-changer for education access in Michigan, proponents of the governor’s plan say.

Michelle Richard, interim director of the new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential, says pre-K has clear lifelong benefits for children who are able to attend.

“We have evaluation after evaluation that tells us that when kids participate in pre-K, but specifically in this state-funded GSRP program, that they are more likely to arrive at school ready to succeed in kindergarten, they are more likely to graduate, they’re more likely to continue on to higher education, and they’re more likely to land a good-paying job, which is a real incredible suite of outcomes,” Richard said. “And we’re thinking about a single investment in one year at 4 years old.”

The preparation for kindergarten that pre-K can provide is a massive boost for kids in the area of social emotional learning, said Cari O’Connor, director of early childhood and parent programming for the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District.

“In preschool, we’re really trying to build students who are going to be ready for kindergarten, to walk into kindergarten as learners,” O’Connor said. “We need them to have those social emotional components … having self-regulation and being able to work with their peers and being able to follow directions, those are learned attributes that preschool is helping students move forward with. And our kindergarten teachers tell us they can see the difference between the kids who have had a preschool experience and the kids who have not.”

Rawia Alhoussaini, administrator of the Wayne County-based Dreamy Children’s Center, also said universal access to pre-K will get more kids prepared for kindergarten.

Children who don’t attend pre-K are “walking straight into a much bigger building with higher ratios,” Alhoussaini said. They’re expected to know how to eat by themselves or use the bathroom on their own, she said, and it can be a setback for kids if they need to spend too much time mastering these skills.

“I have kindergarten teachers that contact me and say, Thank you so much for what you did last year, because we can tell the difference that these children came in from a program that helped these children out in these families,” Alhoussaini said,

Many parents are well aware of the benefits, but cost can be a barrier to those who don’t qualify for free pre-K under the existing program.

“It can cost between $9,000 to $15,000 per year per child,” Alhoussaini said.

Those costs can make pre-K inaccessible to many middle-income families that don’t qualify for free access through the GSRP but don’t have enough extra income to cover thousands of dollars in tuition for their 4-year-old.

That’s why pre-K for all is such a priority for the state, Richard said.

”What we’ve been working to do for years in Michigan, and working across the aisle with Republicans and Democrats alike, is to continue to make sure that more 4-year-olds have access to that high-quality programming in this state and this opportunity to start a pre-K program at 4,” Richard said.

And while the benefits of pre-K are clear on the individual level for kids and families, pre-K access has wide-ranging benefits on a societal level as well. Because children who attend pre-K are more likely to go to college and end up with higher salaries, there’s a minimum $7 to $9 return on every $1 of state investment in pre-K, O’Connor said.

“There’s very little equivalent investment that will give you that return,” O’Connor said. “We cannot not talk about return on investment and the fact that we know that this is working for our students.”

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