Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 1, 2013

Phil Power: Reaching out to poor, vulnerable kids

BY PHIL POWER
Columnist

---- — OK, here’s what we know about how to get poor and vulnerable kids started on the path to success: Get ‘em enrolled in GSRP (Great Start Readiness Program) the state’s pre-K program aimed at 4-year-olds from low-income families and designed to get them ready to succeed when they start kindergarten.

Compelling research conducted by the High Scope Educational Research Foundation shows clearly that poor kids who participate in GSRP are far more likely to graduate from high school than those who don’t.

This is, therefore, a great program that actually works. Too bad, though, that over the years thousands of eligible 4-year-olds haven’t been able to go to GSRP classes because there weren’t enough open seats. According to research conducted by the Center for Michigan’s online Bridge Magazine, nearly 30,000 eligible children were not enrolled in GSRP last year.

That’s why it’s so great that the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder agreed this year to increase state support for GSRP by $65 million. This should allow the program to add nearly 19,000 slots beginning in September. As of now, this is the largest preschool expansion in the nation this year.

Trouble is, it’s not all that easy to get the attention of poor and vulnerable parents, who are more than overwhelmed with getting and keeping jobs, managing a household, putting food on the table, keeping track of their kids and worrying about their futures.

That’s why The Center for Michigan, together with the Michigan Department of Education and United Way of Michigan, has started a special recruitment program to get the word out about this preschool opportunity. By calling 2-1-1, the United Way’s hotline for help, interested parents will be directed straight to their local GSRP enrollment offices to sign up.

And beginning this week, The Center will hand-distribute thousands of GSRP recruitment flyers featuring the 2-1-1 phone number in high-traffic locations throughout the 14 counties where unmet needs for GSRP slots are highest and where major preschool expansion is scheduled for this fall: Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Ottawa, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.

“Our goal is to do everything we can to help local schools, intermediate school districts, United Way agencies, food pantries, Michigan Works sites and other preschool providers reach out to parents of kids who especially need the kind of lift GSRP pre-K can provide for them,” said A. J. Jones, operations manager for the Center for Michigan and a key driver behind the program.

Jones will be careening around the state this week with stacks of flyers designed to catch the eyes of parents and show them the easy way to enroll their kid in GSRP. (For copies of the flyer, contact The Center for Michigan) If you’d like to help in this effort, just feel free to make copies and get them out to people who might be interested.

The Center for Michigan’s mission is to help make our state a better place. This can’t be done by only one group. It requires taking initiative by figuring out new ways to collaborate with state government, local human service agencies and well-meaning citizens. Putting out the word to help thousands of our children who desperately need a good start to succeed in school may make all the difference in their lives - and is certainly a great place to start.

Phil Power is a former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent. He is founder and president of The Center for Michigan, a centrist think-and-do tank. The opinions expressed here are his own. By email at: ppower@thecenterformichigan. net.