Good start preparation program, Michigan’s free preschool program for low-income 4-year-olds, is nationally renowned for its high-quality education.
But it has some shortcomings. Classes are only held four days a week, forcing working parents to find daycare on the fifth day.
Some advocates say Michigan officials could improve the GSRP and strengthen the state’s entire early childhood education system by allowing licensed home providers to deliver the program. These providers use a range of funding sources and typically keep long hours.
So far the answer is no. State leaders are questioning whether home providers can meet GSRP quality standards, especially for teacher credentials and child-to-staff ratios.
“These particular benchmarks tend to be challenges for home providers trying to offer publicly funded preschool services,” said Martin Ackley, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education.
Some home providers disagree. More than 1,200 licensed home child care programs in Michigan – about a third of the total – have received a quality rating of at least 3 out of 5 stars from the state.
“Quality care doesn’t stop at a center,” said Kai Young, a licensed provider who operates Squiggles & Giggles Child Care from her home in Detroit.
Young has been in business for 29 years and his program is highly rated 5 stars by the state. She says she would appreciate GSRP funding: most of her students leave for GSRP programs when they are 4 years old.
The GSRP was created in 1985 with a budget of $ 1 million and less than 700 slots for students. It has grown into one of the state’s largest early childhood programs. the last extension came with the help of federal COVID funds, which increased this year’s budget by 67% from last year, to $ 418 million. The program enrolled approximately 37,000 children in approximately 2,300 classrooms in 2019-2020.
From the start, the GSRP intentionally excluded door-to-door providers. It followed the preschool classroom model, which is the basis for a wide range of early childhood research: 16 students per classroom, highly qualified teachers and a carefully selected curriculum.
This approach has worked, state officials say. Indeed, decades of research document the program’s positive effects on the development and readiness of children for kindergarten, and it regularly receives top marks for the quality of national child development groups.
But critics argue that there are loopholes in the current system that cannot be fixed unless the state adds some flexibility to the GSRP. Many families send their 4-year-olds to a GSRP classroom four days a week, then to a home provider on the fifth day and during non-school hours.
Allowing home providers to offer GSRP programs would make things easier for parents, said Denise Smith, director of implementation for Hope Starts Here, a Detroit-based early years initiative. The change would also benefit home care providers like Young, who lose many 4-year-olds to free GSRP programs and end up with younger children whose care costs more.
(Hope Starts Here is supported by the Kresge Foundation and the WK Kellogg Foundation. Both are also finance Chalkbeat.)
“It would stabilize the whole system, not just the GSRP programs that aren’t giving families everything they need,” Smith said.
Smith recognizes that the change would not be easy. GSRP providers need special training and additional administrative support to meet reporting requirements. Smith and other advocates suggest using federal COVID grants to pilot a network of providers in Detroit, which could provide the support home providers need to deliver GSRP.
State officials also warn that the cost of providing GSRP to smaller groups could be higher, which they say has not been investigated.
And then there is the question of quality. Without research to safeguard the quality of home preschool, officials say, it is too early to invest in it.
“Only a handful of states … allow home providers to provide publicly funded preschool services and to date there is no data on the effectiveness of these in determining success,” said Ackley.
Some experts say it is unfair to assume that the state should sacrifice quality to allow home providers to participate in GSRP.
Juliet Bromer, a researcher at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused on early childhood, said the lack of research on home providers reflects cultural biases against childcare work. Studies have generally focused on preschools that function as K-12 classrooms, not at home.
“We have these ideas of what quality is, and they’re all about a classroom with 16 kids,” she said. “And yet we know, from all of the research on early brain development, that what’s good for children is these strong relationships with adult children. And it can happen anywhere. It can happen in someone’s kitchen and in a school.
Home-based programs are more likely to be used by children from low-income families, children of color, and children in rural areas. This is one of the reasons federal policymakers have focused on these programs: Home care is explicitly included in the universal child care system proposed by the Biden administration.
“We know kids are already in these parameters,” Katie Hamm, senior early childhood official in the Biden administration, said at a conference in October. online seminar on including home child care in state preschool programs. “We want to extend, enhance and improve early learning where it is already happening, and that includes home child care.
Experts say home child care programs are particularly strong to build close relationships with children and families, which are the cornerstone of learning.
Neighborhood relationships drew Tiara LaMar to Jill’s Creative Learning.
LaMar was working at the counter at Sherwin Williams when Jill Bostic, the program’s executive director, came to buy paint. As they spoke through the colors, LaMar mentioned that she was looking for daycare for her son AJ. Bostic invited her to visit Jill’s Creative Learning, a few miles away.
When LaMar stopped, she immediately felt at ease. In the small space – there is no room for more than 12 children – it was clear that the adults and the children knew each other well. Bostic has been in business for 25 years, and many of her students come to see her as newborns and stay there until they reach kindergarten.
“He comes home and says ‘Mom, we talked about this at daycare’ and he wants to keep learning,” LaMar said. “They treat everyone there like family.”