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Michigan Governor Whitmer calls for pre-K for all 4-year-olds

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to announce a plan during her State of the State address Wednesday to provide kindergarten education to all 4-year-olds in Michigan in an effort to help families with rising costs.

The plan, which Whitmer has been pushing since she first ran for governor in 2018, could become a reality with Democrats in full control of state government for the first time in decades.

Based on the state’s Great Start Readiness program, which covers vulnerable children from low-income families, the proposal will ensure that all 110,000 of the state’s 4-year-olds can go to kindergarten. The plan will save families an average of about $10,000 in child care costs, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“Every parent knows that 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. Although the cost of the plan was not provided, Whitmer is expected to provide a proposed budget in the coming weeks.

Michigan’s budget surplus is expected to reach $9.2 billion 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 tried 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.

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The full “Lower MI Costs” proposal, which Whitmer plans to unveil during his State of the State address in the Michigan House chambers — Whitmer’s first in person since the 2020 pandemic outbreak — will also include a previously announced rollback of the pension tax and a significant increase in the state’s earned income tax deduction.

While Whitmer and other Democratic leaders in the Legislature announced plans for tax cuts during a Jan. 12 press conference, the extent of the relief is still being negotiated in the Legislature. The Senate Housing and Human Services Committee on Tuesday introduced a bill that would raise the 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 Representative Bill G. Schuette of Midland said in a statement that he is “pleased” that Senate Democrats amended the bill to be retroactive to the 2022 tax year.

Whitmer did not specifically address the Senate Democrat’s plan in her statement, but she said increasing the tax credit would “deliver an average total refund of $3,000 to over 700,000 working families across Michigan.”

After an event Tuesday in Lansing, Whitmer told reporters her “first and foremost goal” was to repeal the tax on retirees, but said there is still “a lot of discussion and negotiation” required.

Whitmer sat down with Michigan residents at the event to discuss how inflation affects them. Salina Montes, mother of a 1-year-old, broke down in tears as she described having to stay home because she can’t afford daycare.