News Story

State Officials Question Detroit’s Universal Preschool Plans

Is this the best use of that money? Can the city manage the program?

The Michigan Department of Education has raised questions about a city of Detroit plan to provide preschool to 4-year-olds. The concerns, outlined in a document from Lisa Brewer-Walraven, director of the department’s Child Development Division, review the city’s application to the state for federal funds.

The memo, which was prepared for the State Budget Office and labeled “for discussion purposes,” says that some groups of families targeted for assistance may not qualify under federal income standards. It also asks whether Detroit has made the case that the program is needed and whether the city has the necessary facilities.

According to the memo, Detroit’s proposal did not take into account the eligibility requirements of a federal Child Care and Development Block Grant that the city wants to use to pay for 1,000 additional preschool slots. The state would administer the grant.

Even with expanded funding, the memo suggests, some needs could go unaddressed. “Without a statewide assessment on where the need is the greatest ... the children most in need of the child care support would be placed on a waiting list.”

The memo also questions the need for expanded preschool in the city. “Detroit has not presented a clear case for 4-year-old need,” it reads.

The memo also raises concerns about a possible lack of facilities: “Anecdotal reports from various entities in Detroit indicate that there is a shortage of facility space that is adequate and meets licensing standards.”

Eli Savit, a senior advisor to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said that the questions had been communicated to city officials, who have since responded to the department’s concerns.

“We know there is a need for early childhood education in Detroit, and we are confident there is more than enough capacity to fill that need,” Savit said in a written statement.

Currently, 1,455 children in Detroit are enrolled in federally funded Head Start preschool programs. Another 4,248 children are enrolled in a state preschool program called Great Start Readiness, according to the Michigan Department of Education and the Wayne RESA, an intermediate school district.

Detroit’s plans to provide government-funded preschool to all or most 4-year-olds in the city comes as some in Lansing are looking at legislation to expand the Great Start Readiness Program and extend government-funded preschool to every 4-year-old in Michigan.

About 47 percent of Michigan’s 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are enrolled in some sort of preschool program, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.