Whitmer: Free preschool gives kids ‘shot at a great life’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spends some time with students at Burton Elementary School in Grand Rapids on Feb. 5. (Michigan Advance/Anna Liz Nichols)

By Michigan Advance

February 6, 2024

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—After helping students build toothpick houses and finish a dinosaur puzzle, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer  on Monday met with educational leaders in Grand Rapids to talk about her vision for delivering free pre-K education for every 4-year-old in the state in the next state budget.

Whitmer announced her intention of funding free preschool for all 4-year-olds about a year ago, but bumped up the timeline during this year’s State of the State address from the end of 2026 to the end of 2024.

Teachers and other faculty from Grand Rapids Public Schools offered their thanks for the expedited timeline Whitmer will be proposing on Wednesday in her Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 state budget while Whitmer visited Burton Elementary School.

“We know that access to early childhood education is one of the best ways to lift people up and improve our long-term outcomes,” Whitmer said. “Kids who go to pre-K arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, better prepared to read and do math. They go on to earn higher test scores and are more likely to graduate and land a good-paying job.” 

Burton Elementary School plays a role in preparing Grand Rapids area children for the rest of their academic careers as one of the district’s cultural centers where staff offer bilingual support to students learning English as a second language and to parents to keep them involved in their childrens’ learning.

As well as better preparing students academically, Whitmer said free pre-K for all would allow parents to keep their current jobs without worrying about childcare costs averaging about $10,000 per child each year.

“Getting this done helps us give all of our kids a real shot at a great life regardless of where they come from, how much money is in the household budget, etc. This is the kind of thing that can make a real difference,” Whitmer said.

The governor was joined by area lawmakers at the school, including US Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), state Rep. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming) and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids).

Pre-K shouldn’t be something that is only reserved for families with financial means, Brinks said. No child in Michigan should miss out on foundational learning because it costs too much.

“We know that investing in a child’s education early can translate into successes throughout their lives, including better outcomes in high school, better graduation rates, better college readiness and even higher career success,” Brinks said. “We know that exposing kids to high-quality early childhood programming boosts their confidence, that creative exploration fuels curiosity and growth and exposure to language and interactive play.”

Increased access to education before kindergarten creates equity in education and will have long-term positive impacts in students’ lives, Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent of Leadriane Roby said.

“Preschool does change the lives and the trajectory of our young people. It sets our scholars up for success for the love of school [and] a love of learning,” Roby said.

Early education prepares kids to communicate with each other and engage with the community around them, Fitzgerald said.

“I think that there’s a lot of smiling faces over here because we know that when we go to school, we make friends; we make connections,” Fitzgerald said.

Whitmer will be presenting her proposal for the next state budget on Wednesday, which she told the Advance will also include investments into Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) to increase access to community mental health care and substance use disorder services.

READ MORE: Whitmer to prioritize mental health care in budget proposal

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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