Governor’s State of the State includes boost to early childhood investment

After the requisite kudos and thanks to his supporters, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address had plenty of valuable information for supporters of early childhood investment.

The second term Republican governor shared his pride in the expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program that improves access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children by offering dentists a reimbursement rate. The program, he said “makes a huge difference” in the lives of children, particularly with the recent expansion to 10 additional counties.

“We now have over 440,000 people in Michigan in this program, but we have a long way to go,” Snyder said.

Proponents of early childhood also were happy to hear the governor pledge his continued support for early childhood programs to help prepare children for school, and his pointed remark to the Legislature and the state to make early childhood a priority.

Snyder noted that while 29,000 Michigan students are eligible for the Great Start Readiness Program, there is not enough funding to admit them.

“I think it is important we make a major budget commitment to get as many kids in as possible, and get us on a path to getting all those kids in a Great Start and early childhood programs,” he said.

Susan Broman, deputy superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education Office of Great Start, said the fact that the governor is talking about this is “fantastic.”

“We haven’t had a governor talking about more resources for early childhood,” Broman said. “I’m thrilled that early childhood is part of the conversation.”

The call for making early childhood a budget priority in Michigan has the backing of the business community, according to a recent article from the Center for Michigan, which said 68 percent of employers polled support an expansion of early childhood education.

“Along with the business community from across the state, I am thrilled that the governor is making the expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program for all eligible children a priority,” Broman said. “Clearly the governor recognizes that investing in high-quality preschool is a proven strategy that levels the playing field for all children and provides a solid foundation for academic success.”

Not everyone agreed with the governor when it came to making preschool a budget priority. Some of the education groups involved in delivering these services oppose the idea.

The Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators and the Michigan Association of Secondary Principals released the following statement:

“We appreciate Governor Snyder’s focus on expanding investment in Michigan’s Great Start Readiness program. This program is a crucial part of Michigan’s public school system and deserves to be expanded. But the education community will not support funding early childhood programs at the expense of Michigan’s other school students, in light of the major cuts that K-12 education has borne over the past two years. “

In an article in the Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District said he would like to see a dedicated revenue stream to support early childhood education so that it is not competing with K-12 for money.

Media reports following the governor’s address reported the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators among the educational associations with the previous statement, but the MAISA issued a separate statement a few days later. It read: “MAISA applauds the governor’s commitment to increase the number of slots available to students for early childhood education. Early childhood education is a critical component of the educational process and can have a dramatic impact on our economy as well as our community. We look forward to working with the governor on this project as well as taking a serious look at a permanent revenue source for early childhood education.”

The governor is expected to offer more detail on the funding in his February 7 budget address.