As President Biden’s American Families Plan meets opposition in Congress, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer is moving forward with a $400 million dollar plan to expand the state’s Great Start Readiness Program so that it can provide free preschool to 22,000 more children.
Whitmer wants to spend $255 million of federal funding and $150 million of state funds over three years to expand state-funded preschool making it available to the remaining third of eligible 4-year-olds. While an estimated 65,400 children in Michigan are eligible for Great Start Readiness, which is offered to households with income at or below 250% of the poverty line, only about 43,000 children are enrolled in the program or Head Start services now. About 20% of Michigan’s preschoolers are classified as English learners.
“We have a unique opportunity right now to make the type of investments in early education and preschool that will pay massive dividends by improving health, educational, and social outcomes for our children decades down the line,” Whitmer said. “Parents across our state are aware of the importance of early education and now we have to seize this chance to eliminate waitlists for eligible children.”
Whitmer’s plan includes an additional $50 million to fund $15,000 grants for providers to open an estimated 1,500 more preschool classrooms, and spending an additional $10 million on scholarships for educators, school transport, and expanding outreach.
“There is no better investment than our children,” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich told ABC News. “As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the long-term benefits of a quality preschool education, and that’s why I am so glad that Governor Whitmer is making the Great Start Readiness Program available to more of Michigan’s kids.”
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, only four states (NJ, NC, OK, WV) and Washington, D.C., spend enough money to support preschool programs. The nation’s capital spends the most money per preschool student and has the highest percentage (79%) of 3 and 4-year-olds in pre-K classes, compared to a nationwide average of just 20%.
The American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion spending plan to expand government support for children, families, and education including $200 billion for free preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, was proposed by President Biden in his first address to a joint session of Congress in April. Biden argued that, “research shows when a young child goes to school—not daycare—they are far more likely to graduate from high school and go to college after high school…no matter what background they come from, it puts them in the position to be able to compete all the way through 12 years.”