MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. - Investing in quality early childhood education is critical to making sure all of Michigan’s children have a great start.
That was the message from national and state education leaders during a panel discussion hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) on Thursday, May 30, at the Detroit Regional Chamber 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference, a three-day conference on Michigan’s historic Mackinac Island aimed at sparking a comprehensive dialogue on culture, education and the 21st century global market.
The early childhood education panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference comes on the heels of a budget agreement reached by Michigan's legislative leaders to increase funding for the Great Start Readiness Program by $65 million for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
"At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we see the expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program as an investment in the success of our youngest children that will determine the future economic and social health of our state" said panelist Carla D. Thompson, WKKF's vice president for program strategy. "While there is more work to be done on behalf of Michigan's children, we look forward to continuing our partnership with communities, parents, policymakers and business leaders to make sure our next generation is prepared to reach its full potential and to be happy and productive members of our society."
Moderated by Michigan Radio's Jennifer White, the panel also featured Rob Grunewald, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Bob Harbison, board member at Smart Start Oklahoma, who shared best practices and innovative early childhood education models that can be adopted in Michigan.
Harbison, a retired corporate executive and long-time early child care advocate, said his home state is making great strides in educating its youngest children with 74 percent of 4-year-olds - more than any other state - in high-quality preschool programs. He recommended three things Michigan should do to improve access to early childhood education:
- Expand full-day kindergarten to all who want it;
- Expand preschool programs for 4-year-olds to enroll a greater portion of eligible children and increase number of children enrolled in full-day preschool; and
- Enhance the child care subsidy system to serve more children with higher quality capacity by establishing a co-pay system and reimbursement rates for providers.
Grunewald said Michigan should do more to promote public-private partnerships that support state and local initiatives that engage the business community.
"Business leaders bring expertise in business planning, marketing and finance to issues that early learning programs wrestle with daily, and they are also key advocates for moving early childhood investments forward at the community, state and federal level,” Grunewald said. “In Minnesota, business leaders have played a key role in developing models for investing in vulnerable children and marketing Minnesota's quality rating system, Parent Aware."
To view the panel discussion in its entirety, please visit MiVote.org.