STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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$65 million increase for early ed expected to pass; creates 16,000 new preschool slots in Michigan

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Update: The state House has passed the proposed School Aid budget, including the $65 million increase for early education. 

The annual legislative brawl over how to spend the state's money is expected to come to a close this week in Lansing. The budgets currently under consideration include many changes. One of the biggest is a nearly 60 percent increase in the state's funding for early education.

The governorinitially proposed a $65 million increase for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) in his budget. The proposal went back and forth as it made its way through the legislature this year, but it's now looking like the governor will get his way. 

A conference report released today shows the latest school aid budget includes that same $65 million increase for GSRP that the governor initially proposed. The report says the funding increase will allow for 16,000 additional preschool slots in Michigan. Last year, Bridge Magazine reported that nearly 30,000 4-year-olds were eligible for the state preschool program, but couldn't get in because of a lack of available slots. The increased funding will help eliminate some of that gap, though some of the money will also go to converting half-day preschool programs into full-day programs for students who are already enrolled. 

There's also a change in how to handle the long wait lists for many GSRP programs around the state. Under the new proposal, districts will separate students on the wait-list based on their parents' income level. When new preschool spots open up, the most economically-disadvantaged students will get the first opportunity to enroll.  

The current legislation would also give districts more money per student enrolled. Next year, districts could get $3,625 per preschool student, compared to the $3,400 they currently receive. 

"It's certainly a good day for early childhood advocates," says Matt Gillard of the Michigan Sandbox Party.

Tim Bartik, of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, wrote earlier this month that the proposed per-pupil increase represents "the first real per-child funding increase for the program in 12 years." Bartik writes that even this increase doesn't go far enough.

But advocates for the state's preschool program are still happy about where the proposals currently stand.

"It's certainly a good day for early childhood advocates," says Matt Gillard of the Michigan Sandbox Party, one of the organizations that led the charge for increased preschool funding. 

Gillard told me he expects the state House to pass the School Aid Budget as early as this afternoon. The Senate could act as early as tomorrow. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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