Rural Stockbridge provides pre-K springboard

Feb 11, 2013
Logan Chadde

Locals joke that the village of Stockbridge, Michigan is a 45 minute drive from anywhere. Apart from a few small businesses there’s really nowhere to work and a lot of families struggle to get by. In rural places like Stockbridge families rely on the public community schools for the educational opportunity that is one of very few ways kids from these towns can get a leg up.

Stockbridge gets described as "country," meaning the landscape and the mindset of the people. But of course that is too simple of a characterization. There is mud bogging with 4x4's and custom vehicles for those who are interested, but there's also a nice coffee shop that serves a great latte. Even so, without a plan or an education it can be easy to get stuck in Stockbridge without money, a job or a future. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity reporting project, Michigan Radio's Jennifer White hosted a special, hour-long call-in show examining the importance of pre-K education.

Guests of the show included Governor Rick Snyder, State Senator Roger Kahn, economist Tim Bartik, and Susan Broman, Deputy Superintendent of the Michigan Office of Great Start. The show explored why pre-K education matters for Michigan's most vulnerable kids, the economic impacts of early childhood education, and how the issue affects the state's future.

Dustin Dwyer

As you listen to State of Opportunity's special on the value and benefits of early education you can use this guide to help you dive into the material, help you understand what you're hearing, and start conversations or discussions with your friends or co-workers.

PART ONE: This is your brain on poverty.

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.

Official press photo of Governor Rick Snyder

Early childhood education got a shout out from Governor Snyder last night in his annual State of the State speech. But was it a big enough shout?

Let's start with the major focus of Snyder's speech: roads and transportation. He called it the "toughest single issue" that he wants passed: roads. Over the next decade, Snyder wants to spend $1 billion more a year on the state's infrastructure. Here's a clip: 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There are a number of state and federal programs to help poor and at-risk children develop and thrive. But funding is tight, and the programs can only serve a select number of kids at a time. That means life on the waiting list for many low-income parents and their children.

Let's meet one of those families.

Amanda and Mike Hood live in a modest, cottage-sized house in Hillsdale, about 30 minutes north of the Ohio border. They have two dogs, two ducks, four fish, and two little blonde daughters - 2 year old Gracie and 5 year old Emma.

Emma was born with a very rare disease called Congenital Central Hyperventilation Syndrome (CCHS). She was just 4.5 lbs when she was born, and required round-the-clock care. Her mom, Amanda Hood, had to put her life on hold to take care of her daughter. She dropped out of community college and quit her job as a bartender, which meant her husband was the only one bringing home a paycheck.

Last year Mike Hood pulled in about $32,000 as a certified heating and cooling repair man.

Now, $32,000 for a family of four isn’t exactly destitute; they make about $8,000 over the federal poverty line. But funds are tight, what with medical bills, a mortgage, and a night nurse for Emma.  Not to mention all the money they have to pay for gas.

"We have to go to U of M, she’s got a neurologist, cardiologist, dentist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist... and so we are constantly driving to U of M. It’s an hour-forty five minutes just to get there and an hour-forty-five to get back," says Emma's mom, Amanda Hood.

Being able to pay for something like preschool is a luxury they cannot afford.

I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to answer what seems like a fairly simple question: Does Head Start work? The latest report from the federal government seems to suggest it doesn't. The report says that virtually all of the positive benefits from Head Start fade by 3rd grade. You can read the report for yourself. And stay tuned, because there are other reports that give a different answer. We'll be exploring those in an upcoming special on Jan. 24th.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Let's play the "what if" game for a second:

What if there was a program for kids in poverty that guaranteed at least a $7 return on investment for every $1 spent? What if that same program also improved graduation rates and significantly reduced crime rates?

Sound to go to be true? It’s not.

Those are just some of the long-term benefits associated with a study from the 1960s called the HighScope Perry Preschool Program.

About 120 African American children from Ypsilanti were enrolled in the project, all of whom lived in poverty. Half the children were enrolled in half-day preschool at Perry, the other half were not.

The two groups have been studied for more than 40 years and the children who attended Perry Preschool have pretty much outperformed the control group in every measurable category – from test scores and high school graduation rates all the way through to adulthood.

So what, exactly, does it take to produce those kinds of results?


  James Heckman is one of the world’s most distinguished economists. He built his career studying the labor market. In 2000, he won the Nobel Prize.

But in recent years, Heckman has become famous for something else. He is now one of the country’s leading advocates for investments in early childhood education. Earlier this month, I had a chance to sit down with him to find out how an economist came to care about preschool.

Dustin Dwyer

You've been hearing about it. I've been hearing about it. We're all sick of hearing about it. 

We wouldn't even be talking about a "fiscal cliff" if lawmakers in Washington had been able to reach a real compromise on raising the debt ceiling last summer. Or if the congressional "supercommittee" had come to an agreement last fall

You can read the doom and gloom predictions of what might happen  if lawmakers don't reach a deal on avoiding the "fiscal cliff" before the end of the year. If you want details, you can read the White House report on exactly what will get cut from the federal budget. You can also read a primer from the Tax Policy Center on how it will affect your taxes

You could spend every waking hour reading up on this manufactured crisis, but do you really want to? Me neither. 

But here's one thing that caught our attention at State of Opportunity: