This article is part of Early Education Matters, a series about how Michigan parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators are working together to implement Pre-K for All. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The State of Michigan 2023-24 budget
expands free preschool options for 4-year-olds
through the Great Start Readiness Program
(GSRP) by more than $72 million. Up to 5,600 more 4-year-olds will be able to build a stronger foundation for academic success — and their families will find relief from the high cost of quality childcare. The expansion raises income qualification from 250% of the Federal Poverty Level
to 300%. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s vision is to extend free pre-K to all Michigan 4-year-olds by the end of her second term.
The State of Michigan's funds GSRP in all of its 56 intermediate school districts (ISDs). One of those ISDs, Northwest Education Services
(North Ed), administers GSRP in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties.
Tracy Spincich, North Ed’s birth-to-five early childhood coordinator talked with Early Education Matters about how free pre-K for 4-year-olds will benefit the children, families, and economy in the North Ed region.
Q. How will the GSRP expansion benefit families and children in your region?
A. Providing access to expanded services is really going to help not only students, but families, right? Students will have the ability to be in classrooms for longer, which in the end is helpful for families because they'll have more access to different employment opportunities. This is then a direct connection back to the economy, as well.
There are two different expansions that are being talked about for North Ed. One expansion will increase eligibility for families. The hope is that they're just going to keep bumping this income bracket up to allow universal programming. The other expansion is the extended year. This is an opportunity for GSRP partners to choose to do an extended year, which would mean 36 weeks and five-days-a-week programming. It currently is a 30-week minimum for a partner who's running full-day programming.
Q. Gov. Whitmer hopes to make pre-K available for all Michigan 4-year-olds. How would that benefit your region?
A. The benefit we are really excited about is the potential for that five-day-a-week programming. It really would support children to ensure that they're reaching their maximum potential and trajectory. As part of GSRP, there are home visits, parent-teacher conferences, and family participation groups. And it would support families being able to go back to work. This would give families increased access to employment and work opportunities as well as opportunities for child development as a whole.
Northwest Ed has strong early childhood partnerships across the region.
Q. Early discussion about Pre-K for All has brought up the need for flexibility in settings, i.e., a combination of home-based, nonprofit, private-school, and public-school settings. Do you believe a mix of settings would work well for your region?
A. Quality can really exist in any environment under any childcare license type. A multitude of settings provides families choices to be able to meet their individual needs. We know that families choose different placement for care because it meets their needs in different ways. We would hope that having the mix of settings would be continued.
Michigan has always been a proud supporter of a mixed delivery system that blends private and public opportunities and gives parents that choice. Parent choice truly is imperative to helping parents feel confident as to where their kids are placed during the day while they're away.
Q. The Pre-K for All implementation is kicking off with listening sessions
in all 10 of Michigan’s prosperity regions. How will you get parents in your region involved?
A. We're pretty fortunate to have a lot of strong early childhood partnerships across the region, both at the community level and the local district level. We will really lean on our partners to help us to spread the word and ensure that we have parent voice at those listening sessions. Counting on our partners who work alongside families that they have strong relationships with will be crucial. We also have a strong communications and marketing department here that we have worked closely alongside for early childhood outreach and communication. So, we will look to them to help us spread the word.
GSRP is Michigan’s preschool program that's funded in all of the state’s 56 intermediate school districts.
Q. What concerns or questions do you think parents might raise at the listening sessions?
A. I think one of the questions that parents will likely ask is, “How do we apply?” As we move towards this universal opportunity, it's a gradual rollout. So, a big question will be, “How do I know if I'm eligible?” We'll also continue to get questions, even with expanded-year GSRP, around summer care opportunities for those younger kiddos.
Q. What do you like best about being part of the expansion of early childhood education?
A. I have been an early childhood for a good amount of time. The recent spotlight on the value of early childhood is truly showcasing the importance of these early years for kiddos and families, this idea that we continue to have buy-in at both a local and state level. We know the first five years of brain development are super critical. It's just a really exciting time in early childhood. It's exciting knowing that everybody else is on board and feeling and knowing the importance of this. Being a part of the work in this region locally with the many, many incredible early childhood stakeholders and partners is really the reason that I love the work I get to do.
Estelle Slootmaker is project editor for Early Education Matters. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Constellations.biz.
Photos courtesy Northwest Education Services and First Steps Kent/Isabel Media Services.
Early Education Matters is a series of stories about the implementation of Pre-K for All throughout the State of Michigan. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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