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Pre-K program saved from drastic cuts

These children in Mrs. Dault’s Great Start pre-k classrooms at Cedar Springs are having fun while they learn.

While many state programs face funding cuts, Michigan’s pre-k program is getting some help this year. After seeing its funding cut by 7 percent last year, the Great Start Readiness Program is slated for an increase of 5 percent, for a total budget of almost $99 million. That’s good news for Cedar Springs Public Schools, who offers the grant-funded program to residents of the school district who meet eligibility requirements.
Cedar Springs is eligible for $163,000 to cover the costs of the program, which has enabled more four-year-olds to participate. “We were able to up the number of seats available from 24 to 48,” explained Superintendent Ron McDermed, at the Board of Education meeting Monday evening.
Cedar Trails Elementary has two Great Start pre-k classes, with one that meets all day on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another class that meets all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both are taught by a certified teacher and teacher assistant. The program is designed to provide four-year-old children with the skills they will need to be successful in school when they enter kindergarten.
According to a new study by Pew Center on the States, Michigan is one of 15 states to increase funding for the coming year. Marci Young, Pre-K Now campaign director for Pew, says legislators are listening to research showing that pre-k programs make a big difference, especially for children most at risk of being behind when starting school. She used Detroit Public Schools as an example.
“A study that was done in Detroit preschool programs in 2004-2005 showed achievement growth in cognitive and behavioral skills that was demonstrated by all students who were enrolled in Detroit Public Schools through their pre-k program,” she explained.
Michigan also changed its eligibility criteria for the Great Start Readiness Program to include children from households that are up to 300 percent above poverty level—that’s the highest in the country. Young applauds the state legislature, and says restoring some of last year’s cut is a good investment.
“To ensure a prosperous economic future, states are going to have to make sure that they invest in successful, evidence-based programs that are proven to yield the strongest return on the investment. And pre-k is one of those smart investments,” noted Young.
The additional funding also includes a provision that stops school districts from diverting pre-k money for general education expenses. Twenty-six states managed to either protect or increase their pre-k funding, no matter which political party was in power. Pew calls that a clear message that early learning is seen as a valued strategy for education reform.
The report is available at www.preknow.org/votescount/.

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