Budget cuts hit preschool programs for at-risk children

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Recent budget cuts in state funding for public education have focused on elementary and secondary schools, but preschool programs have taken the biggest hit.
The Great Start Readiness Program, which uses state aid to educate4-year-olds who may be at risk, saw two-thirds of participating preschools losing state funding. About $15 million was appropriated for the program last year but the Department of Education announced that the $7.6 million provided for this year will be split among 11 facilities, meaning 21 would lose their expected share.
Many of the children in such facilities come from single parent homes and low-income families.
“Many of the programs that were cut were ‘highly recommended’ for funding by our expert review team,” said Lindy Buch, director of the department’s Office of Early Childhood Education and Family Services.
“We are afraid these programs will close and the staff will be dispersed for jobs in other fields. We are concerned that we will lose these programs and it will take many years to recover,” she said.
Critics of the cuts, such as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization with an office in Lansing, argue that if Michigan cuts funding for preschools now, it will pay for it later in other expenditures, such as imprisonment, health care and welfare.
According to a study by the organization, early learning investment could potentially save $500 million a year on Michigan corrections. Prisons cost nearly $2 billion a year or about $32,000 a prisoner. Preschoolers cost about $3,400 a year to educate.
Three West Michigan programs will lose all funding under the new state budget.  They are the East Main location of the Kalamazoo County’s Learning Village, Branch County Intermediate School District and the Gateway Preschool in Holland, operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Holland.
“It was a devastating blow to these families in the Holland community,” said Lisa Kelly, director of Gateway. “It’s hard to believe that state lawmakers would cut a program that provides kids the foundation for these kids to succeed in school.”
The children can be taught academically at home but they’ll miss out on the basics like playing, following rules, conflict resolution and sharing with other kids, Kelly said. Socially interacting with other children is the big thing, she added.
And Kelly cited a correlation between youngsters not receiving early education and dropping out of high school.
“We might like lower taxes now, but we are going to pay for it later when these kids drop out of school and the state will have to pay,” she said.
An immediate effect of the lost funding is that 15 people from her staff will be unemployed with no jobs available in the early childhood field, she added.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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