An important letter to Governor Rick Snyder as he prepares his message to the Legislature on education in April 2011, urging him to incorporate critical investments in infant and early childhood services.

March 9, 2011

To: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Re: Learning Begins at Birth – Early Childhood as a Critical Piece of a Prenatal to Age 20 Education System
 

The undersigned organizations applaud your call in the State of the State Address for a P-20 education system, and especially for the recognition that a P-20 system must begin prenatally (not just with pre-school) to help ensure that children begin life as healthy as possible.  In preparation for your message to the Legislature on education in April 2011, and in planning for long-term educational reform, we urge you to incorporate critical investments in early childhood services.

 

The research is clear: learning begins at birth.  Scientists have documented that children’s experiences during the earliest years of life alter the very architecture of their brains in ways that permanently affect their health, learning, and development.  In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of the “wiring” of the brain takes place in the first three years of life.    To ensure long-term educational success for Michigan citizens, it is critical to begin by ensuring that parents have the supports in place to be their child’s first and best teachers, and that young children have access to health care, and stable, nurturing and stimulating relationships throughout their first five years of life.

 

Evidence confirms that high quality preschool programs, like the Michigan Great Start Readiness Program, improve school readiness and educational achievement, and set the stage for lifelong learning and economic success.  We believe however, that the most aggressive educational reform efforts will fail if investments don’t begin in the earliest years of life.  While preschool programs for four-year-olds are a critical link in the birth to work pipeline, alone they will not produce the outcomes Michigan needs to develop a world class educational system and revitalize its economy. 

 

Evidence is also clear that investments made in the first 2,000 days of life reap the greatest returns.  According to a 2009 report by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Michigan saved an estimated $1.1 billion in 2009 alone from investments in early education programs over the last 25 years.  The benefits accrue in part from better school achievement and lower costs related to child abuse and neglect, crime, and public assistance.

 

We strongly believe that to be successful, educational reforms must include investments in high quality, evidence-based services for very young children and families, and engage parents and communities.  We must begin with a focus on the most vulnerable children for whom research has shown the greatest return on tax payer dollars.  In addition, reforms should move Michigan toward a vision of a comprehensive system of early childhood services that is linked to a high quality public K-12 education system – a system that is supported with adequate, stable funding.   The economic recession and budget deficits have resulted in deep cuts to school districts, putting high quality education for Michigan children at risk.  Yet without a stable high quality K-12 system, a comprehensive early childhood system would be futile. 

 

Michigan is fortunate to have a base upon which to build, including the interagency work of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and the leadership of Intermediate School Districts as the fiduciary agents for the Great Start Collaboratives (which are responsible for the coordination and streamlining of early learning services throughout the state).   And more importantly, thanks to the efforts of the 70 Great Start Parent Coalitions across the state, Michigan’s early childhood efforts are guided by the customers of early childhood services.

 

Specifically, we urge you to include in your April message on education the importance of early childhood investments, beginning at birth, in four critical areas:

 

·       Public health services that result in healthy mothers and babies, including access to preventive and other health and mental health services for young children.

·       Home visiting and family support programs that strengthen families and help support and engage parents and other caregivers in positive, nurturing relationships with their children.

·       High quality child care that can help parents support their children while they are at work or in education and training programs, and provide children with the social and cognitive skills they need to make a successful transition to school.

·       High quality preschool programs that will result in more children who are prepared and ready to learn for a lifetime.

We agree with your belief that “true success is based on achieving real results for real people” through “tough, hard measurements.”  We strongly support the use of the Michigan Dashboard to measure our state’s success and applaud the inclusion of key measurements in child well-being and educational success, including child poverty, infant mortality, and third-grade reading levels.  Progress in each of these areas depends on supports to families and young children in the earliest years of life.  The path to reading at grade level in third grade does not begin in the kindergarten classroom, or even in the preschool classroom.  Mothers must have access to health care even before they conceive and certainly during pregnancy so their children are born healthy.  To remain healthy, infants and young children must have access to well-baby care in their first years of life.   To ensure young children have the cognitive, social and emotional skills to succeed in school, parents must have access to the supports needed to foster the healthy growth and development of their infants and toddlers.  Other primary caregivers must also have the training and support needed to provide stable, nurturing and stimulating environments for the infants and young children in their care.   

 

We therefore urge you to consider including additional critical early childhood indicators in the Michigan Dashboard, ones that will measure the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children from birth to kindergarten entry   These indicators should take into account the primary environments where young children spend their time before age five: in the home, and in child care and early education settings.  Such measurements would include, among others:  access to prenatal and well baby care; access to developmental screening, early intervention and mental health services; and access to high quality child care and early education settings.

 

Again, we appreciate your focus on a prenatal to age 20 education continuum and stand ready to work with you to build a public education system that places Michigan back on the path to economic prosperity.
 

Sincerely,

 

American Academy of Pediatrics – Michigan Chapter

Child Star Development Center – Detroit, MI

 

Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan

 

Early Childhood Investment Corporation

 

First Children’s Finance

 

First Steps of Kent County

 

HighScope Educational Research Foundation

 

Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation

 

Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children 

Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health

 

Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators

 

Michigan Association of United Ways

Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health

 

Michigan League for Human Services

 

Michigan Primary Care Association

 

Michigan’s Children