June 26, 2015

It’s About Opportunity

Getting Off to a Great Start: 

Scholarships for high-quality preschool benefit children in the Great Lakes Bay Region


W_RatingsKen and Phyllis have been married five years and live in Saginaw. They have two children, ages 1 and 3. The family rents a small home in the city and despite Ken’s job working in a manufacturing facility, there are times when the family struggles financially. They have no savings and are left vulnerable to unexpected expenses. Ken and Phyllis are an ALICE family.

While the family named above is fictitious, the situation is all too real for ALICE individuals and families in Saginaw County. ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, are households that earn more that the U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. In Saginaw County, 43% of all households fall into a poverty or ALICE category. In the City of Saginaw, the number rises to 62%. An expense that does not fit into the budgets of these families is high-quality preschool.

Research has demonstrated that children of low-income families that attend a high-quality preschool greatly increase the rate of success in school and also later in life. A study conducted in Michigan, the High Scope Perry Preschool Project, began tracking 3- and 4-year old’s enrolled in high-quality preschool from 1962-67 and compared them to children not enrolled in a preschool program. The results are encouraging.

In the most recent phase of the study, 97% of the participants still living were interviewed at age 40. The study found that participants receiving high-quality preschool at age 3 or 4 had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have completed high school than those who did not attend preschool. For young children living in poverty situations, the study has shown that high-quality preschool improves educational performance, contributes to their own economic development, helps prevent them from committing crimes and provides a higher return on taxpayer investment over the child’s lifetime.

The study results also showed that the upfront costs of high-quality preschool lead to long-term savings for taxpayers. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education, society saves $13 in the cost of special education, public assistance, unemployment benefits, and crime and incarceration. The data is clear and we are left asking, what’s next?



A Priority Focus Area

One of our priority focus areas – areas where we feel that as a community foundation, we can have the greatest impact in helping improve the community – is early education.

“The first five years of a child’s life are the most significant for their development. Early childhood education holds great potential to improve our community and that’s why SCF is seated at the table with Great Start Collaborative Saginaw County,” said Brian Jackson, director of donor services and special initiatives at SCF.

W-Final-Preschool-pic“The Saginaw County Great Start Collaborative is a partnership,” said Julie Kozan, director of the Great Start Collaborative Saginaw County. “We partner with parents, community agencies, business leaders, educators, health care providers, faith and philanthropic leaders to address factors impacting a child’s readiness for school and life.”

One of the opportunities offered by Great Start Collaborative Saginaw County is a high-quality preschool scholarship for 3-year old children. Established in 2011, the scholarship, made possible by funding granted by the State of Michigan, allowed for 22 full-ride scholarships at five preschool sites in Saginaw County in its first year. Due to reduced funding for the 2014-15 school year, only nine scholarships were awarded. Two of those nine were full-ride and the remaining seven were partial scholarships.

The scholarships are available to preschool centers and are not paid directly to families. Preschool centers identify families that may qualify and encourage them to apply. If a family qualifies for Head Start (at or below 100% of the poverty income threshold), they cannot apply. To qualify for the scholarship, a family of four, for example, must earn less than $47,400.

A preschool center must also qualify to participate. Utilizing a rating system established by the Office of Great Start, centers must rate at least 3-, 4- or 5-star. The rating system, much like an online hotel rating system, helps ensure that children will receive high-quality early learning experiences. To learn more about the rating system, visit greatstarttoquality.org/parents.


A Vision for the Future

Together with Great Start Collaborative Saginaw County, Saginaw Community Foundation looks to a future where families do not need to choose between providing for basic necessities and high-quality preschool education. We are hopeful that individuals and businesses in the region recognize how critical the foundation of high-quality preschool is for 3-year-olds.

“Literally only $1,500 could change the life of a child,” said Kozan. “At many preschool facilities, that amount is all it takes to provide a high-quality preschool experience for a 3-year-old.”

Saginaw Community Foundation is confident that by supporting high-quality preschool scholarships, our community will benefit, as research data has shown, by making Saginaw a stronger and better place to live, work and play. And to ALICE families like Ken and Phyllis, the burden of providing early education experiences for their children will be lifted.

“As a region, we are all in this together,” added Kozan. “The trajectory of our community could be changed by providing and expanding this education opportunity.”


Download the complete comprehensive ALICE report and learn about the challenges in each county in Michigan.