Expert: Pre-K Spending Pays Dividends

 
MIRS, March 13, 2009

Given Michigan's economic problems, the state can't afford to keep stiffing early childhood education, an expert told the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Bill MILLETT, president of a Charlotte, N.C.-based consulting firm, said Michigan is taking the wrong approach in tackling its fiscal situation and "acting on yesterday's logic," as economist Peter DRUCKER says. Millet argued that although many effects of investing in pre-K education aren't felt for 20 years, it's critical.

"Early education has to be considered not as a 'nice-to' but has a 'have-to,'" said Millett of Scope View Strategic Advantage.

"You have to ask yourselves what the cost of doing nothing is," Millett added. "America isn't No. 1 in anything at any education level."

He said that Americans rank eighth in the world in young people with college degrees, 11th in high school diplomas, 21st in 15-year-olds' science proficiency and 25th in 15-year-old's math proficiency.

"Those statistics wouldn't bother me so much if they were soccer rankings," Millet quipped.

Millett argued that early childhood education is the key to turning those stats around, noting that China and India are eating our lunch. For every $1 of early childhood education spending, Millett said there's a $7 to $17 return. He said that the perception of preschool needs to change in the United States.

"We tend to think of early childhood education as a nap, warm milk and a graham cracker," he said.

Millett praised the Great Start program introduced by Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM in 2005, which he said was based largely on North Carolina's Smart Start. That program debuted in 1993 and had the strong backing of the business community, which is one difference with Michigan's program. He said the states have many similarities, as both struggle with big poverty areas and a declining manufacturing industry.

Smart Start costs $200 million per year and reaches 450,000 kids. It is integrated with Head Start. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, Michigan is spending $103.6 million on Great Start, down $20,900 from FY 2009 with less for longitudinal evaluation. There are also other early childhood education programs that bring the total to $110.3 million, which is $7.1 million less than last fiscal year. The Governor zeroed out funding for Great Parents, Great Start grants and interagency 0-3 prevention services grants.

Sen. John GLEASON (D-Flushing) said he's "always thought we had things backwards" in funding education, agreeing that investing on the front end brought more of a return. He also took a dig at Senate Republicans, who pushed through about $400 million in tax breaks on Thursday (See "Senate OKs $400M in Biz, Car And Property Tax Cuts," 3/12/09).

"We can't fund important responsibilities this year," he said. "But we keep slashing revenues and keep rolling back taxes."

But Sen. Nancy CASSIS (R-Novi) argued that North Carolina is ahead of Michigan as the state with the lowest tax burden and has a more business-friendly climate. She also noted it's a right-to-work state. Cassis said that early childhood education spending had its limits, arguing that kids need reinforcement in higher grades or else they'll backslide.

Committee Chair Wayne KUIPERS (R-Holland) said there was some concern by parents that early education programs are too intrusive and there's a strong sentiment of "keep your hands off my kids."

Millett responded that the Smart Start program was voluntary.