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Early Childhood Success Will Continue With its Transfer to MiLEAP

LANSING – State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice is confident that the exceptional work and success of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Office of Great Start (OGS) over the past 12 years will continue as OGS is transferred today to the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP).

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 2023-6 in mid-July to establish MiLEAP, effective today.

“Whether or not we agree on the formation of a new department, we’re all going to continue to serve kids,” Dr. Rice said. “The Office of Great Start has built strong systems and has growing success serving Michigan children. In child care, early detection and services to children with disabilities, the nation-leading Great Start Readiness Program, expanded before- and after-school programs, and the federal Head Start program, the OGS team will continue the strong work that it has done here for the past 12 years.

“At the end of the day,” Dr. Rice said, “we partner with whom we need to partner to serve children.”

The executive order affects seven departments within state government, four of which are related to the new department: MDE, Treasury, Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). The new department will have three offices: early childhood education, higher education, and educational partnerships. Through this move, the staff and functions of MDE’s Office of Great Start (OGS) are transitioning to the new MiLEAP.

Dr. Rice shared that MDE has worked with the governor’s office to help facilitate, to the extent possible, the quick transition, for the sake of our students, staff, schools, and other partners with and for whom we work on a day-to-day basis.

The individual offices within the Office of Great Start have done remarkable work while at MDE, Dr. Rice noted.

Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP)

Since the beginning of OGS, GSRP has seen tremendous support from both within and outside of MDE, from both sides of the political aisle.  From the FY21 budget of $249.6 million to the FY24 budget of $522.7 million, the state legislature increased GSRP funding 109 percent.  

Intermediate school districts have requested funding to serve 52,254 children this school year, an increase over levels both before and during the pandemic. In the NIEER Annual Yearbook rating, Michigan’s GSRP pre-school continues to be tied for first in the nation in quality and has moved from 17th to 6th in funding.

“Our office has benefited from building a network over the years and creating partnerships that benefit our children and youth,” said Richard Lower, director of the Office of Preschool and Out-of-School Time Learning. “There’s been a lot of hard work at MDE and by stakeholders across the state to change the trajectory of children’s lives. We’ve made pre-school a part of the education community by creating an early childhood connection to K-12 schools.

We’ve accomplished so much over the years in these partnerships, including universal meals for GSRP children, development of age-appropriate early childhood Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports, the State Board of Education adoption of early childhood and lower elementary endorsement teacher standards, the establishment of a Grow Your Own pathway to credentials initiative named Future Proud MI Educator LAUNCH, and a state budget line item for after-school and summer learning that has grown from $5 million to $50 million in two years.”

Child Development and Care

Through the diligent work of staff in the Office of Child Development and Care (CDC) and other state government and external partners as part of the $100M Caring for MI Future program, the state has helped open over 1,000 new child care programs and more than 2,000 home-based child care providers have expanded their programs over the last 18 months.  These efforts have added nearly 37,000 new spots in child care facilities. 

Additional efforts by CDC and internal and external partners to support child care providers included $47 million for child care facility improvements and additional funding awarded to entrepreneurs seeking to open a new child care facility through pre-licensure and start-up grants. Support for existing child care providers included training and efforts to recruit and retain talented early childhood educators. 

“I am very proud of the work that we have done utilizing the $1.4 billion in federal pandemic funding for child care investments that support children, families, and child care providers across the state,” said Lisa Brewer Walraven, CDC director.  “These funds helped to ensure that access to high quality child care was available to those who needed it in order to work and expand their own education.”

Early Childhood Development and Family Education

The Office of Early Childhood Development and Family Education (ECDFE) has contributed to the attainment of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan by expanding and strengthening early childhood systems through collaborative partnerships.

The office oversees the MiFamily Engagement grant supporting the development of MiFamily Engagement Centers. These regional centers will build upon the infrastructure of existing Great Start Collaboratives and Family Coalitions, will serve as a nexus for resource development and capacity-building within a network of those supporting educators, will link families to community resources, and will reach out to families in meaningful ways as partners in their children’s education. 

This team will also continue to expand inclusive learning opportunities through Early On®, Michigan’s early intervention system helping infants and toddlers reach their fullest potential. “Our office’s transition to MiLEAP represents a new opportunity to further build on existing collaborative efforts to serve children and families,” said Jonnie Taton, ECDFE director.

Head Start

For the last few years, the Head Start State Collaboration Office (HSSCO) has focused on activities related to Goal #3 of the state’s Top Ten Strategic Education Plan to improve the health, safety, and wellness of all learners. The HSSCO worked closely with a cross-departmental team to ensure that all children enrolled in Head Start who were eligible received additional food benefits through the federal Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) food program for missed free or reduced price school meals due to COVID-related school closures and/or reduced school hours or attendance.

Cynthia Derby, director of HSSCO, said that she was pleased to attend the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Network meetings conducted by MDE. To help address the SEL and mental health needs of children across Michigan, MDE established an SEL and Children's Mental Health Network of state stakeholders with input from national experts.

“Through listening, interacting, and learning about SEL in the K-12 environment, the HSSCO was able to share knowledge with the early care and education programs in Michigan and work toward strengthening the integration of social, emotional, and mental health services for all children and families,” Derby said.

“I want to thank all those who have worked in OGS over the last 12 years while OGS was a part of the Michigan Department of Education,” Dr. Rice said. “I also want to thank all those who work daily in early childhood education throughout the state in whatever capacity you serve. You make a difference in children’s lives every day.”