By Megan Krueger
Research shows preschool and early childhood education is important to the growth and future success of little ones.
Jenny Paton, who is a Quality Improvement Consultant for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb with United Way for Southeastern Michigan, notes that a child’s brain grows quite a bit in the first 5 years.
“We want to make sure we utilize that opportunity to teach our kids and make sure they are ready – above and beyond ready – for kindergarten,” she says, adding, “It’s important that that’s across the board” – regardless of if a child comes from a disadvantaged background or not.
But tuition for preschool can vary, and these costs may not be affordable for families who are falling close to, at or below poverty level.
For families with a low income, preschool programs are available for free. Two such options for Michigan families are Head Start, a federally funded program, and the Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded option. A subsidy is also available. Read through to explore the options.
What is Head Start preschool?
This program assists families in a number of ways. It includes a preschool option for kids 5 and under, and aside from quality education for tots, federally funded Head Start also offers a number of support services for the whole family – including health and food for little ones and more, the Office of Head Start website notes.
Families of kids under 3 years old and pregnant women can apply for Early Head Start, too, which is another program providing various services to these women, infants and toddlers.
Head Start eligibility is dependent upon income level. Those below poverty level, families receiving public assistance and those who are homeless qualify for the Early Head Start and Head Start programs, the Head Start website says. Even foster children – regardless of the foster family’s income – are eligible for these programs.
For 2016, the federal poverty level for a family of two is $16,020 per year. The Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines chart goes up from there, listing a family of three bringing in $20,160 per year and a family of four at $24,300 per year as the poverty level.
Great Start Readiness Program
Here in Michigan, low-income families also have this option for free preschool. The Great Start Readiness Program is a state program open to 4-year-olds.
Children who fall at 101-250 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for this program, the GSRP Income Eligibility Guidelines document for July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016 shows. That means a family of three would need to be bringing home anywhere from $30,135 to $50,225 per year to qualify.
GSRP is available to families who are low-income but making a bit more than those who qualify for Head Start. As the GSRP income guidelines explain, families at 100 percent poverty level and below would be referred to the Head Start program.
Making a choice
There is also a third option available to struggling families, and that’s the subsidy, Paton notes.
While it’s not a “free” preschool option, it does help make it more affordable. Through Michigan’s Child Development and Care Program, families could qualify for money to aid in paying for quality child care including centers offering preschool. “That’s based on the parents income level,” Paton says.
If choosing between Head Start and GSRP, income level and other qualifications like age will play a factor, but also note, “Head Start is an all-encompassing program. GRSP is just preschool,” Paton says, meaning families won’t receive those same health, food and social support services as is the case with Head Start. Either program could use a number of curricula, Paton says.
Where to find a Head Start or Great Start Readiness Program
There are various locations where parents can find these programs for their child, but the best way to find one and vet that center for quality is by using the Great Start to Quality website, Paton says. Parents can search for preschools, get basic information on each licensed option, as well as their quality rating. Filter out options based on specific criteria.
Parents should check out the Parent Toolkit on the site, too, which includes a list of questions for parents to consider for any program. “Just because someone qualifies for something by income, we still want to make sure it’s a good fit for that child and that family,” she says.
For Head Start, families can apply directly with the program at the location of choice, or with GSRP, contact your county’s Intermediate School District. To apply for the subsidy, complete the application, which can be found here.