Home Career Duggan’s plan is to expand Detroit’s role in the preschool

Duggan’s plan is to expand Detroit’s role in the preschool

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Mayor Mike Dagan wants to expand City Hall’s role in Detroit’s preschool system.

If state lawmakers approve his plan for next year’s budget, city officials will select Detroit child care providers to receive grants from the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s high-quality preschool program for 4-year-olds from low-income families. The GSRP is one of the largest sources of public funding for early childhood education in Michigan.

City officials say they plan to use Detroit’s resources, communications and workforce to help state-wide efforts expand GSRP and put more 4-year-olds in high-quality preschool programs.

But skeptics say they are worried that the changes could cause confusion and conflict. The GSRP program in Detroit is currently funded through Wayne RESA, the county’s educational agency. Some vendors say they may want to move to Detroit if the city starts offering GSRP grants, although the city says it only wants to fund new programs.

“Everyone needs to be very careful and transparent,” said Denise Smith, director of the Early Children Initiative, “Hope Starts Here.” “It’s a breeding ground for competition and confusion.”

Duggan’s last proposal in early childhood was in line with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s plan increase sharply enrollment in the GSRP nationwide using federal COVID assistance.

Wayne Resa has increased the number of preschools in Detroit by 854 children this year, bringing citywide education to 4,345, said Lena Montgomery, executive director of the agency’s preschool programs. She said that next year the agency plans to continue expanding the coverage of preschools in the city.

A budget bill the Michigan Senate will make technical changes to the GSRP that will allow Detroit to allocate funds under the program. Under current law, only county agencies can manage GSRP funding.

It is unclear when – or whether – the bill could be passed amid a tug of war due to tax cuts between Republican leaders and Whitmer.

“There’s no reason they can’t do that,” said Matt Gillard, president of the Children of Michigan, an early childhood advocacy group and a former state MP. “On the other hand, everything Detroit says is often controversial politically.”

However, city officials look optimistic. Earlier this month, they issued an official statement request suggestions from childcare providers – although the bill has not yet been passed. They say they are going to start recruiting students in the fall.

If the law is passed, city officials have promised that their preschool programs will complement rather than replace those funded by Wayne RESA.

“The goal here is to add space to the GSRP landscape to expand access to more children and families, not just transfer them from one GSRP recipient to another,” city spokesman John Roach said in an email. He said the city’s legislative proposal includes a clause that ensures Wayne Resa doesn’t lose seats.

Citywide marketing and recruitment efforts, supported by Duggan and contributions from the Cresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, could help get more Detroit children enrolled in high-quality preschools, Roach added.

(Helped by the Kresge and Kellogg foundations fund Chalk.)

Said Duggan for many years that he wants to bring to Detroit a universal preschool. Roach said the new proposal would bring the city closer to that goal.

But even if every Detroit child eligible for GSRP was enrolled, the city would still not have universal prior education, at least not as defined by other major U.S. cities. For example, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., offer preschools for 3- and 4-year-olds with no income restrictions.

Last week, more than a dozen providers joined a telephone conversation with city officials to learn more about the possibility of receiving GSRP dollars from the city. Some are already working with GSRP programs through Wayne RESA.

“I like to keep my options open,” said Nina Hodge, owner of the Above and Beyond Training Center, a childcare program in Detroit.

She noted that the mayor may waive the fees associated with GSRP coaches who, along with teachers, improve their craft. This would make the city program cheaper for vendors than the Wayne RESA program.

Some vendors say they plan to join the GSRP if the city joins.

“For me, it’s very changing,” said Pagent Atherbury, owner of New Beginnings Child Care, which operates four centers across Detroit that can serve 365 children. She said she had already submitted a proposal for GSRP funding from the city, estimating that she could enroll 70 4-year-old children.

While she has heard from other vendors that GSRP dollars come with more strings, she said she feels she will have more control if the funds are run by the city.

“There’s another set of eyes acting on it,” she said. “They come in and ask the vendors, ‘What do you like or dislike?’

Government officials set strict requirements for GSRP programs, which they believe are an integral part of their quality, including a list of approved curricula and minimum requirements for teacher certificates. Even if a city is allowed to distribute GSRP dollars, it cannot unilaterally change these requirements.

Kobe Levin is a Detroit Chalkbeat reporter who covers K-12 schools and preschool education. Contact Kobe at klevin@chalkbeat.org.

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