GSRP expansion may help some Head Starts

Posted on June 20, 2013

Michigan’s expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program may help ease the pain of federal spending cuts for some Head Start programs.

Various programs that already combine GSRP and Head Start slots plan to do so at a greater level. Directors say the increase in GSRP slots will allow them to serve children who otherwise might have lost their spot in Head Start because of the 5.27 percent sequestration budget cut.

The expansion is a benefit even to Head Start programs that do not plan to add GSRP slots to their classrooms. Head Start and GSRP are working together to ensure that eligible students who lose their place in Head Start are at the top of the list to receive a preschool education at a GSRP center.

Linda McGillis, MHSA Board President and Head Start Director of Northeast Michigan Community Services Agency, said the additional GSRP dollars will not make up for the sequester cuts. However, at her program, those dollars will help to alleviate some of the burden.

“To me, it’s a life-saver,” she said.

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law a bill that boosts GSRP funding by $65 million, creating an estimated 16,000 more slots for 4-year-olds. The expansion also increases the amount of money programs get for each slot from $3,400 to $3,625.

These dollars affect the federally-funded Head Start because of blended classrooms. “Blended” is a term used to define a child who is a half-day Head Start student and a half-day GSRP student. Programs that implement blended classrooms combine a GSRP slot and a Head Start slot to create a full school-day slot.

Mary Cunningham DeLuca, Community Action Agency Director of Children Services, said the blended model allows programs to extend the school day as well as weeks of services. Children in blended slots are also provided with comprehensive services of health, nutrition, dental and family support, she said.

Blended classrooms are a key component of McGillis’ plan to cut NMCSA’s budget by 5.27 percent. She has asked the state for a significant increase in GSRP slots for the coming school year, allowing her to turn several half-day classrooms into full school-day rooms. The state dollars would also help her to avoid making even deeper cuts to the 21-county program.

“We’re able to serve more children than we would have been able to without the state expansion,” McGillis said.

Rich Van Tol, Early Childhood and Parenting Director at Saginaw ISD Head Start, agreed.

“The new GSRP dollars will assist our state in mitigating the federal sequester cuts, while building a more robust, high quality preschool system,” he said. “Moreover, Michigan has a great opportunity to integrate and align the public funding streams for early learning programs, paving the way for improved outcomes in school readiness.”

The expansion will also help to ensure that 4-year-olds who lose their Head Start slot can still receive a preschool education. Ramona Borowicz, Director of Tri-County Head Start, does not offer blended classrooms and does not plan to do so, but the expansion played a role in her budget cuts.

When she cut slots from her program, she made most of her cuts in Cass County, where she knew those children could attend GSRP instead. She also limited cuts in areas where there were no alternatives to Head Start.

“It was a great collaborative effort,” she said.

Though no Head Start program will be affected in exactly the same way, the Michigan Head Start community is thrilled that more children will receive a preschool education. Head Start will continue to offer its expertise in serving the low-income population.