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 governor initially 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. 

Critics question early education studies

May 23, 2013
einstein quote on research
astronomy_blog / Flickr

We love research. Studies grounded in empirical research drive a lot of what we do and who we talk to for State of Opportunity reporting. Yet, if we take a step back, maybe we should periodically reflect on the actual practice of research, in addition to intent and outcomes.

Infographics are the "Public Service Announcement" of our digital era: informative, easily digested, and memorable. Proponents of early childhood education haven't been left behind in using infographics to visualize stats that affirm the benefit of preschool to kids and society as a whole. But there are also some provocative scare tactics out there.

So, which is more effective? Helpful, contextualizing data or eye-catching, mildly disturbing imagery showing our future without preschool education?

Yesterday, the White House released its budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, and we got our first detailed look at how the President intends to pay for his plan to make preschool available to all four year olds in the country. Basically, he's going to make smokers pay for it.

First, some bullet points: 

lfmuth/ flickr

 This week, the state legislature began its first hearings on Governor's Snyder's proposal to more than double preschool funding in Michigan over the next two years. Yesterday, I went to a joint House committee to get a sense of where lawmakers stand on the proposal. It was clear that many lawmakers are sincerely trying to do their job, and really investigate whether the preschool investment is worth it for taxpayers. But, some of the things I heard were pretty weird. 

Here's a list of the weirdest:

1. "It seems to me, the perverse incentive is to take the family and rip it apart."

Dustin Dwyer

Preschools in this country are segregated. The segregation is based not on race, but on class.

No one sat down and made a plan for segregated preschools. It just kind of happened.

You can trace it back to 1965, with the launch of Head Start. It was created to help kids in poverty. Public dollars were set aside to make sure that these three and four year-olds could get an early education. For kids from the middle class and above, there was private preschool, paid for by parents.

Nearly 48 years after Head Start launched, that's the way it is today — separate preschools for separate income levels.

But there are some exceptions, like the preschool at the YWCA in Kalamazoo.  Some of the kids here come from families who spend as much as 400 dollars a month for full-time preschool.  Some come from families that are homeless.

Dustin Dwyer

 The debate over federal spending cuts has made Head Start a major topic of conversation in Washington. Leaders from both parties have been warning that tens of thousands of kids will lose a chance at Head Start’s preschool program, if the across the board spending cuts are allowed to happen.

But to some critics, cutting Head Start would be a good thing. To them, the program is a failure, and not worth the money. 

To analyze the argument, first let’s meet someone who actually goes to Head Start.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Inside a brightly lit ballroom in East Lansing last week, hundreds of early childhood educators from around the state sat at circular tables for an annual strategy meeting.

Usually, it’s a meeting to talk about how to get politicians to pay attention to preschool.

But this year, it was clear the politicians are already paying attention. 

Susan Broman, the leader of the state’s Great Start Readiness Program, stood at the podium and summed up what many people in the room were feeling.

"Early childhood’s time has come," she said.

Preschool is immoral? Or just political?

Feb 19, 2013

After President Obama threw his cards on the table and said he wanted preschool to be available for everyone in his State of the Union address, preschool moved squarely into the political realm.

Dustin Dwyer

Preschool seems to be having a moment right now. Lots of states are looking at expanding access to a pre-K education. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder just proposed an extra $130 million in spending over the next two years to make sure all 4 year olds from low income homes can go to preschool. 

Last night in his State of the Union address, President Obama took the idea even further. He proposed giving all 4 year olds access to preschool. 

But a promise made in a speech is not the same thing as a policy, and the President's somewhat vague comments left more questions than answers. 

So, we're going to try to answer 3 of the most important questions with the information we have right now: 

1. What will the President's proposal actually look like?