Kids Count: First eight years

Contact: Judy Putnam or Jane Zehnder-Merrell at (517) 487-5436

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Critical investments needed to help children succeed
1 million Michigan kids ages 0-8 need cohesive early ed system

LANSING, Mich. – Only one in every three children has the necessary cognitive skills by third grade to become a successful adult, according to a new policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success. The report calls for critical investments to ensure that every child gets the right support to grow into a thriving adult. Michigan’s 1 million children from ages 0 to 8 benefit from some of the recommended supports during those critical early years, but a cohesive system with well-funded programs is not fully in place.

“Sadly, too many children, especially those in high-poverty neighborhoods, lack access to opportunities to ensure their healthy development,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the Kids Count in Michigan project at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“It’s so critical for our future that we make sure kids have what they need in these extremely important early years. Our policymakers must rethink the loss of support for very low-income families, while pushing ahead with other initiatives, in light of the compelling data in this report.’’

The report looks at a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten that tracked 13,000 children who were in kindergarten in 1998-99. By third grade, only 36 percent of children were on track in the cognitive knowledge and skills area. Fewer children in low-income families – only 19 percent – were on track by third grade, and only 14 percent of African American children and 19 percent of Hispanic children were on track.

Children who do not meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school, graduate on time and become economically stable adults.

The study of 13,000 children did not have Michigan-specific numbers but other areas examined showed Michigan at about the national average. For example:

*Half (50 percent) of Michigan’s children up to age 8 live in households with income at or below 200 percent of poverty ($46,466 a year or less for a family of two adults and two children). That compares with 48 percent nationally.
*Three of every five (61 percent) of Michigan’s low-income 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool, compared with 63 percent nationally.

The report concludes that for children to succeed, classroom learning must be integrated with other aspects of child development. Many states and communities are in the process of building a cohesive system, including Michigan, where the Office of Great Start was created in 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder to ensure children from birth to 8 “have access to high-quality early learning and development programs and enter kindergarten prepared for success.”

The report has three broad policy recommendations:

  • Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children. Michigan is losing ground in this area with diminished support for low-income parents in terms of cash assistance, food assistance and child care reimbursements. At the same time the state has secured several grants to implement voluntary proven home visiting programs in high-risk neighborhoods in 11 counties and to invest in coordinating programs and training staff at the state and community levels.
  • Increase access to high-quality birth through age 8 programs, targeting low-income children. Michigan took a big step with the additional investment of $65 million (from $109 million to $174 million) this fiscal year to expand the Great Start Readiness Program for preschool for disadvantaged 4-year-olds. Funding for 0 to 3 programs, however, remains weak. Unfortunately child care reimbursement rates have not been adjusted for inflation in almost two decades. They are well below the level to maintain a skilled child-care workforce and age-appropriate ratios.
  • Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of a child’s development and support their transition to elementary school. The state has developed and begun the implementation of a Quality Rating System to improve early care and education programs and provide information for parents. In addition, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded a $400,000 grant to the Michigan Department of Education to begin work on a pre-K database that includes publicly funded programs to connect early childhood information to elementary schools.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private national philanthropy that creates better futures for the nation’s children by strengthening families, building economic opportunities and transforming neighborhoods into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy and research organization dedicated to economic opportunity for all. It convenes the Prosperity Coalition.