Genesee County, MI— Governor Gretchen Whitmer released her Executive Budget Recommendation for fiscal year 2022 last month which includes $32.2 million to increase payments for the Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded preschool program that provides free schooling for 4-year-olds across the state. 

Though the budget has not been approved by the Michigan Legislature, if passed, GSRP programs in Genesee County would see an additional $1.8 million, said Steven Tunnicliff, associate superintendent for the Genesee Intermediate School District. 

The GISD, which is responsible for doling out GSRP dollars, hopes to use the extra funds to recruit and retain high quality early education teachers, Tunnicliff said.

Whitmer’s proposed budget raises the state’s yearly payment for a full day preschooler from $7,250 to $8,275, which is the same amount as the proposed K-12 minimum foundation allowance. This would be the first payment increase since 2014.

“The proposal is really about increasing the amount of money per slot allocation. The reason that that’s significant is because, statewide, right now we see a significant turnover in early childhood educators. Statewide, GSRP [teachers] earn close to 38% less than K-12 teachers,” he said. 

As a result, when there’s K-12 job opportunity, an early education teacher is more likely to leave their position to earn more money, Tunnicliff said.

“There is a shortage of teachers in general…and if you have a high turnover rate, or you have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers in these programs, then the fidelity and the quality of the program is significantly impacted. And so that’s why this is really important for the GSRP program,” he said. 

Miss. Megan Earley reads Dr. Seuss to her class at the Pumpkin Patch Early Childhood Preschool in the Genesee Charter Township. The Pumpkin Patch is part of the Great Start Readiness Program that provides free schooling for 4 year olds in Michigan. March 4, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

In Genesee County, there are 2,474 GSRP slots available. To be eligible for the program, a family’s income must be below 250% of the federal poverty guidelines.

As an example, the federal poverty level for a family of four is an annual income of $26,500. So, for household of four, 250% of the federal poverty would be an income less than $66,250 (2.5 x $26,500). 

However, four-year-old children in Flint affected by the Flint Water Crisis receive Universal GSRP Preschool regardless of their family income level. Children must have resided in the City of Flint between April 2014 and Aug. 14, 2016 to qualify. 

There are many GSRP programs throughout the county. Most are located in local school districts, public academies, and daycare centers that are certified to provide GSRP programing. A complete list of the GSRP programs can be found at greatstarttoquality.org.

Other school aid highlights of Whitmer’s proposed budget include: 

  • $200 million for enrollment stability supports: A one-time funding to help Michigan school districts that have experienced enrollment loss due to the pandemic. 
  • $145.4 million for teacher retirement obligations: State support for retirement contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System which helps provide fiscal stability to districts and libraries.
  • $217.1 million to continue building a weighted funding model: $203 million will be used to increase the per-pupil rate to $8,275 (a $164 increase) which is aimed at reducing the gaps between the highest and lowest funded districts. The remaining $14.1 million will go towards “economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, special education students, and students in rural and isolated districts.” 

The Michigan Legislature must develop an official FY 2022 budget no later than July 1. 

Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...