STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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'We want the whole $140 million.' The push for more early education funding

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Clarification:We've updated the story to make the funding comparisons more clear.

Governor Snyder covered lots of ground in his State of the State speech last week. As we pointed out on our blog last week, he listed off a number of priorities he wants addressed this year – everything from fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure to reforming no-fault auto insurance to pumping more money into early childhood education. But not all priorities, it seems, are created equal.

When it comes to modernizing the state's ailing infrastructure, Snyder called for more than $10 billion dollars in new taxes and fees over the next decade. He called it the "toughest single issue" of 2013, but something that must be done.

Snyder also made a pitch for more early education funding. For those of you keeping count at home, it would cost roughly $140 million in additional funding to enroll all 29,000 four year olds in the state’s half day Great Start Readiness preschool program. In terms of funding, Snyder says he doesn't believe the state can afford the full $140 million, but he says some kind of funding increase is needed.

So to recap: $1.2 billion dollars a  year for roads and transportation is a must, according to the Governor’s speech. But when it comes to high quality preschool for at-risk kids, $140 million is a little steep.

Karmari Johnson is one of the 29,000 four year old kids who didn't get a spot in GSRP this year. His mother, Viergela Johnson, put his name on four waiting lists, but no luck. (One spot did eventually open up, but it was too far away and  Johnson didn't have reliable transportation.) Instead, Karmari stays at home all day and Johnson does her best to teach him his ABCs and shapes and colors, but she worries he’ll be behind his peers when he enters kindergarten. And she has good reason to worry. A recent study shows that 4-year olds who attended Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program did better in school overall and were more likely to graduate high school on time compared to those who did not attend GSRP.

Republican Senator Roger Kahn is the Michigan lawmaker pushing hardest for that $140 million more in preK funding, and he says he won’t stop until he gets it.

"We want the whole $140 million and we’re going to go back to the table with the Governor and see if we can increase that," says Kahn. "I don’t want to be a pig or unreasonable, but we are passionate about our kids, their future and our future."

Kahn says he’s been promised at least $50 million in early education funding for now, though no one from the Governor’s office would confirm that number. We’ll all have to wait until Governor Snyder releases his budget recommendations on February 7th.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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