More efficient early childhood services

May 16, 2011

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to create a more focused approach to getting young children ready for school.  The Governor says Michigan’s publicly and privately funded early childhood programs are fragmented, segmented; there’s not a coherent effort. 

Studies have shown that kids who are healthy, get early training and are ready for kindergarten not only do better in that first year, but do better throughout their lives.  In Michigan, though, too many children are not getting the kind of early childhood support they need to be good students.

Judy Samelson is the CEO of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.  It’s a public/private organization that was established to bridge between public and private efforts as well as between state and local programs.  She says anywhere between one-third and one-half of young kids are not prepared for kindergarten.

“You start behind and you stay behind.  And there are enough of them now who are not ready who are really impacting the children who are ready.   So, it’s a double-whammy for Michigan’s education system because if we don’t get it right when they come in the door, all of those issues move right into K-12 education and beyond.”

In Governor Snyder’s recent special address on education, he called for a more comprehensive approach.  He says things are just too scatter-shot.

“Right now, when we did the analysis, we have 84 different funding streams for early childhood programs.  That’s not a rational act.  That’s not a good way to do things.  Eighty-four different funding streams.”

It’s that many programs spread out among different agencies, health programs, pre-natal care, food assistance, day care, pre-school.  Judy Samelson with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation says it’s confusing.

“You make it impossible for parents to understand what resources are out there for them to help their children.  And once they figure it out, they’re running from office to office to office to department to department, trying to get those services.”

So there's a need to  streamline early childhood services.  Governor Snyder told a gathering of non-profit groups from across the state  that’s his plan.

“I’m going to issue and executive order to create a more focused approach to say let’s have one clearinghouse that can look at all those streams and figure out to best partner with you because you’re the best people to be doing that work in many cases.”

The Governor will combine different state programs into a new Michigan Office of Great Start-Early Childhood.  He wants it to work more closely with private foundations to coordinate Michigan’s efforts to prepare children for those first years of school.

So the new office will consolidate some services.  The Early Childhood Investment Corporation will work with it, continuing to restructure the programs and services both public and private.  And it’ll study to see if some of these services can be more effective and efficient  --especially from a parents perspective.

But, the Corporation has more immediate concerns.  Some of its funding has been blocked.  Senator Bruce Caswell says he’s got some questions about the Corporation’s budget.

“I felt that there was a considerable amount of money going to administration as opposed to going to services for the kids.”

The Early Childhood Investment Corporation says only five-percent of its budget goes to administrative expenses.  Ninety-percent goes to the local collaboratives to use to help the little kids.  Another five-percent is used for research to see if those many programs are working for parents and kids.  Sometimes that research is required by private and federal grants.

In Senator Caswell’s view, that’s just more administrative cost.

“There might be an honest difference of opinion as to what constitutes administration, what doesn’t and I think that’s an issue that’s worthy of talking about an discussing.”

Senator Caswell says it’s still an open issue.  It’s not been decided yet.

If the Early Childhood Investment Corporation’s funding is held up or eliminated in the legislature’s final budget law, it could endanger some of the private grants the Corporation has worked to bring in… and that would make the job of Governor Snyder’s new Office of Great Start-Early Childhood that much more difficult.