News Story

State Dems Want Public Education To Do And Spend More

Universal preschool programs could cost taxpayers $826.5 million

On the campaign trail, Gretchen Whitmer, now the governor-elect, made expanding public education in Michigan one of her main priorities. In the final weeks of the current legislative session, Democrats have begun putting some of these proposals into bill form.

On Nov. 8, Democratic Sens. Hoon-Yung Hopgood of Taylor and Vincent Gregory of Southfield introduced a bill that would add $140 million to the current school funding budget to cover the cost of preschool for all 4-year-olds whose household income makes them eligible for the state’s programs. The bill then adds another $182 million to expand eligibility to 3-year-olds.

Expanding preschool is just one of a number of changes to education Democrats in the Michigan Legislature will likely pursue in the next two years, including more career training programs and adding more nonteaching staff in schools.

One of Whitmer’s main proposals, and also one of the most expensive, is expanding the current state preschool program called the “Great Start Readiness Program” to all Michigan 4-year-olds over a four-year period.

In early October, then-candidate Whitmer’s campaign suggested to Bridge Magazine that a universal preschool program could cost $600 million annually. Whitmer’s transition team did not respond to emails and a phone call seeking to confirm this figure. The state’s education department also declined to offer an estimate on the program’s cost.

Calculations by Michigan Capitol Confidential suggest that Whitmer’s campaign estimates were low. Providing $7,250 in funding for each of the roughly 114,000 4-year-olds in the state would cost Michigan residents $826.5 million, or roughly $582.9 million more than is currently budgeted for taxpayer-funded preschool.

Some universal preschool advocates have called for increasing the dollar amount per child, which would further increase these numbers.

The $826.5 million estimate is probably high because it assumes that all Michigan parents would choose to enroll their 4-year-olds in the program. Other states have offered universal public preschool, and the enrollment rate of resident 4-year-olds in those states has not exceeded 77 percent, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. If a Michigan program enrolled 80 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds, that would cost $661.2 million, which is closer to the Whitmer campaign’s estimate.

In 2018, about 47 percent of Michigan 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are enrolled in some sort of preschool program, according to data from the Michigan League for Public Policy.