Proposed state budget cuts put Perry Nursery School in Ann Arbor in jeopardy
As Perry Nursery School gears up to celebrate 75 years of providing affordable preschool to at-risk children, proposed state budget cuts are threatening the program's future.
This week House Democrats agreed to adopt all $1.4 billion in cuts included in Senate GOP budget bills. The bills, among other things, would eliminate funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, which provides Perry with 40 percent of its funding.
"For us, if the Senate budget goes through as planned ... that would cripple us," said Perry Executive Director Sandy Hilton. "And it definitely will critically affect the families in need in this county."
Hilton said Perry is currently the only program in Washtenaw County that provides full-time, year-round, high-quality care on a sliding scale. The school - on Packard Street in Ann Arbor - is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and its teachers will all be High Scope certified by mid-October.
To qualify for Perry, children must have at least two of 25 identified factors that put them "at-risk" of school failure, such as having low income, low birth weight or single parents. Hilton said 50 percent of Perry families make less than $16,600 per year.
Perry's cost of educating a child is about $11,000 per year; with the sliding scale, the average parent pays about $3,700 per year.
The other 60 percent of Perry's funding comes from grants and donations. But Hilton said those have been drying up in recent years, too.
"We've doubled our efforts, but we're getting less," Hilton said. "There's less out there."
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's spokesman, Matt Marsden, said education is a top priority for Bishop, but essential services like public safety and corrections come first.
"Nobody relishes having to make these choices, but we don't have any money to pay for these programs," Marsden said. "Once we get the state back on its feet, we can come back and revisit these programs."
But state Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township, who is speaker pro tempore, said she thinks the GSRP funding will be reinstated.
"My gut feeling is that it's going to get protected, but to what extent I don't know," Byrnes said. "They can't delete that, they just can't. I wouldn't vote for anything that deletes that, and I have to believe the majority of my caucus feels the same way."
Byrnes pointed to studies that show school readiness programs work, such as the well-known — and local — High Scope study.Â It found that adults at age 40 who as children had attended Perry Preschool (not affiliated with Perry Nursery School) in the Ypsilanti School District had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.
Melissa Pinsky, co-director of the Washtenaw Great Start Collaborative, a task force that supports local early childhood education and is not part of the GSRP, said the proposed budget cuts would be felt across the community. Funds for preschool teacher training, the 0-3 secondary prevention programs (which work to prevent child abuse), and the parent education packets given to new parents at local hospitals would all be cut.
But Pinsky said elimination of the GSRP would be the "biggest, most devastating" local effect of the budget cuts.
If the cuts go through, Pinsky said her team will work with Perry and other impacted programs to seek outside sources of revenue, such as additional grants, and examine ways to restructure to pool resources.
The bills will be taken up in conference committees next week, and House and Senate leaders will try to agree on specific programs to cut. Byrnes said the four areas Democrats are hoping to spare are: early childhood education, the Michigan Promise Grant college scholarship, revenue sharing for public safety, and Medicaid.
If approved,Â Hilton said,Â the cuts would force the program to rethink its mission.
"Our mission would be to be here for the next 75 years," Hilton said, "and our honest concern is, will we be here next year?"
Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit her at the first floor office at 301 East Liberty.