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By Teri Banas
State Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn’s proposal to pursue a $140 million increase in early childhood funding is being hailed as great news – a major investment in the state’s youngest children and in Michigan’s future.
It’s also a sign of growing understanding throughout Michigan that children need intensive nurturing and support as babies, toddlers and young children in order to be healthy, ready to learn and successful in kindergarten and beyond. And that’s even bigger news, said Joan Blough, a vice president of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.
“In the past six years there’s been a concerted effort to really build public awareness and education on the part of the Great Start Collaboratives and Coalitions, the Investment Corporation and its partners. And it’s starting to pay off,” said Blough, who leads Great Start System Planning and Evaluation.
“This shows that people are getting how critical these early years are for school readiness and the impact we can have on them by investing in quality early learning and development programs and services,” she added.
The new funding should roughly double state aid for early childhood education, including the state’s Great Start Readiness Program for 4-year-olds. But, Kahn said, he wants some of the money to be used for other early childhood efforts. While he has not yet specified which additional efforts he wants funded, advocates such as the Investment Corporation have made clear in recent years that many factors influence school readiness beyond preschool programs.
“It’s about making sure that the whole child is prepared and able to learn,” Blough said. “That includes ensuring prenatal health, reducing infant mortality, and providing high quality care and learning opportunities for all children under 5, as well as access to developmental services to make sure they’re on track for healthy development. This is especially important for children at high risk.”
In an interview with Gongwer News Service, Kahn said that investing in the early years improves children’s educational outcomes and helps them grow up able to work, pay taxes, while reducing the likelihood of them relying on costly social services or committing crimes.
“When you add all that up, I personally think that’s better spent than putting money in, for example, our university system,” Kahn, a Republican from Saginaw Township, said.
The additional funding is an excellent start, if approved by the Legislature, Blough said. But, she cautioned that it “will not close the school readiness gap for children in Michigan.”
Also, when comparing public spending on early childhood programs to public spending on K-12 programs, Blough said that Michigan spends $1 billion per grade level by the time kids go from kindergarten through high school. Spending to prepare children to learn doesn’t even come close, even though studies show early childhood investments pay off the most.
“Before kids are 5 years old and in school, they’re 4. These are the same kids. And we’re not spending nearly that much in resources in these critical, foundation-setting early years,” Blough said. “The upside is we’ll be able to do some very good things with this funding. And we’re going to need to continue to build capacity and additional funding. People do need to know that serving young children is not cheap, but it pays huge dividends.”
The Early Childhood Investment Corporation is an independent, publicly-owned nonprofit helping Michigan rebuild its economy by delivering better education, health and economic outcomes through effective early childhood development.