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Whitmer proposes expansion of Great Start preschool program

Teacher surrounded by pre-k students working at a table.
John W. Poole
Governor Gretchen Whitmer Tuesday called for expanding the publicly funded Great Start Readiness pre-school program to all eligible four-year-old children.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called for a dramatic expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program.

She rolled out a proposal Tuesday to use $405 million in state and federal funds to make the program available to every eligible four-year-old in Michigan.

“We have a unique opportunity right now to make the type of investments in early education and preschool that will pay massive dividends by improving health, educational, and social outcomes for our children decades down the line,” Whitmer said in a statement released by her office. “… As we put Michigan back to work, parents can go about their work day knowing that their children are learning in a safe and productive environment.”

That was welcome news to Tami Mannes, the director of early childhood programs with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

“I have in Ottawa County approximately 3 thousand kids who would potentially be eligible for the Great Start Readiness Program,” she said. “Right now, I’m serving half of those kids.”

Statewide, about two-thirds of eligible kids are able to access Great Start.

There could be bipartisan support for this in the budget, which has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“We are grateful for the governor’s thoughtful proposal on this issue and we will be considering it in the budget process,” said Abi Walls, the press secretary for state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

The Whitmer administration and the Legislature are in the process of bargaining over the state budget.

For the first three years, the cost of the expansion would be paid with a combination of state and federal funds. After that, it would have to be entirely funded by the state.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.