GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds in the state.
Whitmer said the plan would cover 110,000 kids and would roll out over the next four years. The governor has not explained how much it would cost, but she is expected to do so next month.
The governor said the effort is necessary to help families deal with rising costs and because affordable pre-school is hard to find.
News 8 spoke with several Michigan Democrats after the governor’s State of the State address on Wednesday night. They were enthused by the governor’s pre-K for all plan.
“I stood up and clapped about a hundred times,” Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, said. “That’s unprecedented. And I can’t tell you as a teacher of 20 years, before I was a senator, how big of an impact that’s going to have on student academic achievement way into the future and beyond. So it’s important that we get that done.”
“Isn’t that exciting?” Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, said. “Early education is so critical. It is the foundation of a child’s ability to learn. When we invest in our kids and preschool, we make sure they’re reading by third grade. When they’re reading by third grade, they’re ready to read to learn for the rest of their life.”
Polehanki told News 8 she thinks Democrats have the votes to pass Whitmer’s plan. Because Democrats control the House and Senate, they don’t need any Republican votes to pass the plan as long as they don’t lose more than one Democrat vote.
Still, Republicans told News 8 they’re open to listening.
“I think one of the things we can always invest is in our children,” Sen. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, said. “Education is great. It’s absolutely critical we have this. I think the data is very clear. I think again this is where we take a data-driven approach to show that education’s important. Starting early has a very strong return on investment for our state.”
But Republicans also want to see the fine print.
“The devil’s always in the details,” Rep. Bryan Posthumus, R-Cannon Township, said. “I’ve been vocal about looking at different ways to help support early childhood education and early childhood development. I’m a little nervous about the governor’s policy without seeing any of the details of it. But we need to do whatever we can to help early development of children.”
When Crystal Morse, the executive director of the Early Childhood Center with Jenison Public Schools, heard the announcement, she was thrilled.
“Joy,” Morse described her emotions. “Elation. Wanted to jump for joy for sure.”
Morse has seen the childcare shortage firsthand. Last year, she said the childhood center had 50 3-year-olds on a waiting list. They decided to expand to meet the need.
“These are our future leaders,” Morse said. “These are the people that are going to be taking care of us when we’re older and we need them to. So we need to give them the absolute strongest start ever.”
Her concern with Whitmer’s plan is whether there’s enough space available to meet the higher demand. Still, she said she’ll look for new ways to get it done while keeping a one to eight teacher student ratio.
“We have outdoor preschool, traditional inside preschool, and we’ll just continue to get super creative about being able to use all the spaces we have to make sure little people are not sitting at home,” she said. “And we can relieve that financial strain on families as much as possible.”
Morse also said she wants to be a part of the conversation on how to make the rollout of the plan as smooth as possible.
Dan Behm, the superintendent of Forest Hills Public Schools, called Whitmer’s plan “a great idea.” He also said there’s a childcare crisis with huge demand.
“I think it’s the right time as we see this crisis affecting employers, workers and families and education all at the same time,” Behm said.
Behm said investing in pre-school care can make a huge difference down the line.
“Early childhood has a huge return on investment,” Behm said. “We’ve seen that in education and kids that have quality early childhood programs do very well not only coming into elementary school but all through their K-12 career and the research shows beyond as well.”
Still, Behm is concerned whether there’s enough staff to meet the demand.
“Early childhood positions haven’t been paid on parity with a K-12 teacher,” Behm said. “Those are things that we need to address. It’s really finding people that love children and want to work in that early childhood space to come into these programs.”