Michigan’s preschool program ranked 15th nationally for student access

LASNING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan’s public preschool program received high marks in a new national report, ranking 15th nationally in student access and meeting nine of 10 quality standards, including limits on class size and providing a comprehensive curriculum.

“Early childhood is a great investment,” said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which published the report. “We see Michigan making progress on quality standards, enrollment and funding.”

According to our media partners at Mlive.com, Gov. Rick Snyder approved a $65 million increase in Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program in 2013, a move that significantly expanded the number of 4-year-olds able to attend public preschool. Preschool is seen as an important way to prepare students for kindergarten and academic success.

Thirty-four percent of Michigan’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in the great start program in 2016, up from a low of 16 percent in 2010, according to the report. The program serves children from low- and moderate-income families.

Another 6 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds received funding through the federal Head Start program, which serves low-income families.

In a statement, state Superintendent Brian Whiston praised Snyder and the Michigan Legislature for investing in early childhood education.

“We all recognize that we need to serve more preschoolers in Michigan, to better prepare them for success when they enter elementary school,” he said. “This is an important down payment on helping Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.”

Despite the increased investment, Michigan remains one of 15 states whose preschool program does not serve 3-year-olds, the report says. Forty-three states, as well as Washington D.C., have public preschool programs.

Eighty-six percent of the Michigan’s 3-year-old received either no preschool or received the service through a private provider. Eleven percent were served by the federal Head Start program.

The Michigan Department of Education has a goal of providing “universal access to high quality publicly-funded preschool for 3-year-olds by 2025,” said spokesman Bill DiSessa.

“We are beginning to work on developing a state program model for 3-year-olds under our Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant and that work should be completed by fall 2018,” he said. “It demonstrates State Superintendent Whiston’s bold commitment to preschool for all three- and four-year-olds.”

As Michigan seeks to expand service to 3-year-olds, it’s important that the state find the right approach and doesn’t provide the same curriculum and service to both age groups, said Barnett, of NIEER, the group that released the report.

“Because you don’t just want to give kids the same thing twice,” he said. “One of the things the report shows is that that’s not likely to lead to the kinds of gains you want for kids.”

Michigan met all but one of the 10 quality standards established in the report: A requirement for at least 15 hours per-year of professional development for preschool instructors. The other standards, which Michigan met, include curriculum supports, a maximum class size of 20 and structured classroom observations.

Pat Sorenson, senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said the state’s investment in early childhood education has been a “model for other states.”

“We think we’ve been making strides in creating a high-quality program,” she said.

This article was first reported by our media partners at Mlive.com.

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