Although Michigan had always had numerous programs and services designed to help our youngest children succeed, they were often uncoordinated and difficult to find, and too frequently failed to serve children and families well. Therefore, in 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder took a bold step—he created the Office of Great Start (OGS) in the Michigan Department of Education and charged it with leading the effort to coordinate and fully integrate Michigan’s investments in children from before birth through age eight.
Appointed by the governor to lead the new office, Susan Broman turned to us—Public Sector Consultants—to help the OGS develop a customized plan for improving early childhood that was grounded in sound research and informed by stakeholder input.
After meeting with the OGS staff to more fully understand their needs, we laid out a detailed strategy to help them meet their charge. As part of that strategy, PSC would:
Conduct traditional research to assess the current early childhood landscape in Michigan (particularly for children in low-income families), explain the brain science behind early learning and development, and articulate the value of increasing public investment
Organize and conduct numerous interviews, focus groups, community forums, and an online survey to engage a wide range of stakeholders—including parents—in identifying the most pressing problems facing young children and their families and pinpointing what state government could do to address them
Identify and create an inventory of the nearly 90 public programs that currently help young children, documenting their purpose, eligibility criteria, and the number of children served
Analyze state and federal investments across the programs in the inventory to create a fiscal map that the OGS could use to look at total investment through different lenses
Help develop a list of high-level performance metrics to track progress toward achieving identified early childhood outcomes
Synthesize and analyze the information gathered and craft a comprehensive statewide plan for improving early childhood in Michigan and making coordinated investments
PSC was particularly well suited for this project because we had already conducted considerable research on early childhood issues and had extensive experience with stakeholder engagement, which was very important to the OGS. Susan Broman knew from her previous exposure to PSC through our work with the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (a group of business leaders who advocate for increased, wise investment in early childhood) that we could be counted on to get the right mix of people in the right rooms across Michigan, extract meaningful information from them, and synthesize their input in a way that would be both informative and useful. We could then combine that information with more traditional research to build a case for improving early learning and development across the state.
Figuring out how to redesign a system that serves over one million children and invests $9.4 billion annually was a monumental task, but one PSC was more than able to take on. It was especially challenging—but also more compelling—because it depended, in large part, on gathering input from nearly 1,400 Michigan parents, service providers, policymakers, early childhood experts, and advocates. The result was an extremely thorough plan supported by a significant number of invested Michiganders—a plan that is still being used today, more than three years after its completion, to guide the work of the OGS and others. At a tumultuous time, we and our project partners helped crystalize the thinking around early childhood in Michigan and provided numerous nonpartisan policy options (many of which we continue to pursue to this day) for improving the lives of our young children and their families.
Why It Matters
Too often, plans like the one PSC helped the OGS create land on the shelf and stay there. This one, however, continues to actively serve as a framework for making improvements to Michigan’s early childhood system. For example, since our 2013 plan shined a light on the need for high-quality preschool options, Michigan has more than doubled its investment in the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). Because of that expansion—in which PSC played a critical role—more than 21,000 additional four-year-olds now have access to high-quality pre-K.
We know without a doubt that increased access to high-quality pre-K has enormous benefits.
As a 2012 study showed, children participating in GSRP have lower rates of grade repetition; perform better on statewide assessments; and have higher on-time high school graduation rates—all important keys to future achievement. Our research and stakeholder engagement helped make that possible.
PSC is so proud to have been a part of developing the 2013 plan, but even more so, we’re excited by our continuing efforts—along with the OGS and other key stakeholder groups—to shape early childhood policy and funding in Michigan. We know that the success of our youngest children will, in fact, determine the long-term success of our state.