From preschool to Flint: Michigan budget details you might have missed

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A $60.2 billion budget has a lot of nooks and crannies.

The Advance has covered Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s overall fiscal year 2020 budget, roads plan, education spending increase, environmental funding, local government spending, GOP criticism, business group’s split reactions and more.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

But not everything gets initial headlines, like a 35 percent increase to Michigan’s state-funded preschool program. Whitmer has recommended $85 million more for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), bringing total funding for GSRP to $328.9 million.

The GSRP began in 1986 and serves 4-year-old children. More than 37,000 Michigan children are served in either half-day or full-day programs.

Business leaders have long supported early childhood education as a way to lay the foundation for K-12 education and the workforce. Former Gov. Rick Snyder increased funding for efforts.

To be eligible for the program under current law, children must reside in a household with an income of 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level, which equates to $64,375 for a family of four.

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Whitmer allots $35 million to raise the eligibility to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which equates to $77,250 for a family of four. Her office estimates that will allow 5,100 more children to be included.

The governor’s recommendation also increases the per-child funding for a full-day preschool student from $7,250 to $8,500 per year. The rate hasn’t been increased since 2014.

Whitmer also wants to expand Michigan’s childcare program with two funding increases effective Jan. 1, 2020:

• $13.6 million to increase the number of children eligible for the program by increasing the income eligibility threshold from 130 percent of the federal poverty level to 140 percent of the federal poverty level.

• $16.4 million to increase rates paid to child care providers to better retain and incentivize providers to join the program, and to increase the quality of care Michigan’s children receive in the program.

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And Whitmer includes another $24.5 million, with total funding of $31.5 million, to triple the number of state-funded literacy coaches, from 93 coaches to 279. These coaches will work with teachers across the state to improve early literacy instruction.

Here are a few aspects of her budget proposal you may not have heard about:

  • $8.1 million is included to continue early interventions, school-level supports and nutrition programs for children in Flint.
  • Promise Zone funding is increased from $5.4 million to $8.4 million.
  • As part of the 3-percent across-the-board increase for Michigan’s 15 public universities, they must limit tuition and fee increases to 3.2 percent, or $427 per student, whichever is greater, to qualify.
  • The governor is recommending a 3.2-precent tuition increase cap for the state’s 28 community colleges to get their 3-percent funding hikes, as well.
  • $1.8 million for new, one-time incentive payments of $1,000 for relative caregivers who become licensed as foster parents within 180 days of a relative child’s initial placement.
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  • $4 million for the Double Up Food Bucks program for fresh fruits and vegetables for those receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Whitmer wants to expand from 65 to all 83 counties by 2022.
  • $2.2 million for the Center for Forensic Psychiatry (CFP) in conducting required forensic evaluations and restoration treatment in a timely manner for adults deemed incompetent to stand trial (IST).
  • Whitmer wants to redirect $946,000 of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseload savings to provide the maximum federally allowable child support pass-through to Family Independence Program (FIP) families. That is estimated to result in $2.6 million for 2,300 eligible families.
  • The Michigan Reconnect grant program is to help students 25 and older obtain certifications or degrees. It has $50 million annual cost and will serve roughly 51,100 students. Whitmer is requesting $110 million in a budget supplemental to cover the program through fiscal year 2021. She wants $60 million in unspent funds for Snyder’s Marshall Plan to be used.
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Susan J. Demas is a 17-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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