Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

January 20, 2013

Forum: Snyder right to invest in early childhood programs

As a former venture capitalist, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder knows how to calculate return on investment. Today, we applaud him for seeing the ROI in young children.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Snyder acknowledged Michigan has 29,000 4-year-olds eligible for public pre-school who are not enrolled because there are not enough slots, and he pledged to close, and eventually eliminate, that gap.

He said: "It's important for us to make a major budget commitment to get as many kids as possible ... in Great Start and early childhood programs." We completely agree.

Gov. Snyder has a quick opportunity to reinforce those courageous words with the state budget proposal he will unveil in early February.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn has proposed increasing state investment in the public preschool program by $130 millions.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger have also called for more investment in early childhood.

We are eager to see the governor's response in his budget. We think early childhood is one of the very best investments this jobs-focused governor can make in our great state. Four reasons why:

1. "You can't get there" without it. More than half of Michigan's fourth-graders are not proficient readers. Solving this problem is the governor's top goal for elementary education. You can't get there without expanding high-quality preschool programs, Flanagan declares. Research shows big gains in reading and math proficiency for at-risk students who attend the state's Great Start Readiness (GSRP) preschool program.

2. "The Forgotten Four Year Olds." Nearly 30,000 eligible 4-year-olds are shut out of GSRP because there are not enough spaces for all the children in need. The $130 million proposed by Flanagan and Kahn can go a long way toward solving this problem.

3. That Giant Flushing Sound. Michigan taxpayers are spending $100 million per year for more than 13,000 students who flunk kindergarten and must repeat it. The quickest way to solve this unspeakable waste of money and young brains is to assure all children arrive at kindergarten healthy and ready to learn. Maximizing the public pre-school enrollment for at-risk students is a key step.

4. The Business Mandate. More than 120 statewide business executives have worked through the Children's Leadership Council of Michigan, which we co-chair, to call attention to the urgent and crucial need for a more comprehensive pre-school and early learning strategy in Michigan. Business voices across our state are pushing for comprehensive early childhood strategies because early childhood is the best way to give at-risk children a fighting chance to ascend the steep path to success in today's global economy.

A $130 million expansion of public preschool programs in Michigan will change lives.

As columnist David Brooks puts it, "By age 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won't."

Gov. Snyder can literally improve statistical probabilities for young children with his next budget. That's power. We urge him to exercise it.

About the authors: Doug Luciani and Debbie Dingell are co-chairs of the Children's Leadership Council of Michigan. Luciani is President & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce; Dingell is President of d2 Strategies

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

Editor's note: For more, read Bridge Magazine's report on the "Forgotten Four Year Olds" at www.bridgemi.com/michigans-forgotten-4-year-olds/.

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