LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist visited Ferry Elementary School on May 24 as part of a statewide tour to promote Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $159 million proposal to implement universal pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) for all 4-year-olds in Michigan. 

Whitmer’s proposal promises to revolutionize early childhood education across the state. Key components of the plan include:

  • $63.5 million to serve an additional 6,800 preschoolers.
  • $42.8 million to increase per-child funding to $10,342.
  • $35 million to open new classrooms in underserved areas.
  • $18 million to enhance transportation for students.

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The plan also aims to eliminate income requirements, making pre-K universally accessible.

At present, programs like the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), Head Start, and other blended classrooms serve around 49,000 preschoolers, covering just 41% of eligible children. The new initiative aims to boost this to 75%, reaching approximately 88,500 kids by 2026.

Despite the anticipated benefits, the road to universal pre-K is not without challenges. Securing adequate funding and space are immediate concerns. For instance, Ferry Elementary is an example of a school that has creatively repurposed space to accommodate more preschoolers. Additionally, finding enough qualified teachers to meet the demand is crucial, as highlighted by educators at Wayne Metro, the nonprofit running GSRP at Ferry.

“The biggest barrier we face is the shortage of qualified teachers,” Jessica Mays, an executive director at Wayne Metro, said to The Detroit News. “We have the kids and the demand, but we need the teachers to ensure high-quality education.” 

Part of the appeal of universal pre-K is its potential to deliver economic and social benefits, alongside its primary educational goals.

According to officials, providing free pre-K could save Michigan families up to $10,000 per child annually, easing the financial burden on working parents and potentially stimulating the economy. Moreover, early education has been linked to better long-term outcomes, including higher graduation rates and improved social skills. 

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While Gov. Whitmer is pushing for universal preschool, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate have excluded funding for it from their initial budget plans, opting instead to raise income thresholds for free participation in the Great Start Readiness Program. These budget plans will be negotiated with Gov. Whitmer, with the goal of finalizing the education budget by July 1, the start of the school districts’ fiscal year.

As Michigan races towards its 2026 goal, the new Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP) is at the forefront, forging partnerships and finding solutions to expand classroom capacity.