LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to announce a plan during her State of the State speech Wednesday to provide prekindergarten education for all 4-year-olds in Michigan in an attempt to help families with rising costs.
The plan, which Whitmer has pushed since she first ran for governor in 2018, could become a reality with Democrats in full control of the state government for the first time in decades.
Building on the state’s Great Start Readiness Program covering at-risk children of low-income families, the proposal would ensure all 110,000 of the state’s 4-year-olds can attend prekindergarten. The plan would save families on average about $10,000 in childcare costs, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
"Every parent knows an early start is critical to their child’s future," Whitmer said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The governor’s office said the plan would be implemented over the next four years. While the cost of the plan was not provided, Whitmer is expected to deliver a proposed budget in the coming weeks.
Michigan’s budget surplus is projected to reach $9.2 billion by next fall, with $4.1 billion in the school aid fund.
Former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is now president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said in a statement that Whitmer’s plan "will ensure that every 4-year-old in Michigan can get a free preschool education by the end of her second term."
President Joe Biden and other Democrats attempted, and failed, in 2021 to include universal preschool — one of Biden’s campaign promises — for all states in the $3.5 trillion "Build Back Better" proposal.
The full "Lowering MI Costs" proposal Whitmer plans to unveil during her State of the State speech in the Michigan House chambers — Whitmer’s first in person since the 2020 pandemic outbreak — also will include a previously announced rollback of the retirement tax and a significant increase of the state’s earned income tax credit.
While Whitmer and other Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced tax cut plans during a news conference Jan. 12, the extent of the relief is still being negotiated in the Legislature. The Senate Housing and Human Services Committee moved a bill Tuesday that would raise the Earned Income Tax Credit from a 6% match of the federal credit to 30% and would be retroactive to the 2022 tax year.
House Republicans also appear to be on board with the increased tax credit. State Rep. Bill G. Schuette of Midland said in a statement that he is "pleased" Senate Democrats amended the bill to be retroactive to the 2022 tax year.
Whitmer didn’t specifically address the Senate Democrat’s plan in her statement, but she said boosting the tax credit would "deliver an average combined refund of $3,000 to over 700,000 working families across Michigan."
Following an event Tuesday in Lansing, Whitmer told reporters that her "first and foremost goal" was to undo the tax on retirees, but said there is "a lot of discussion and negotiation" still needed.
Whitmer sat with Michigan residents at the event to discuss ways inflation is impacting them. Salina Montes, a mother of a 1-year-old, broke down in tears as she described having to stay home because she can’t afford daycare.