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Preschool enrollment gets a boost at Great Start Readiness

Some programs will include a Friday session 

Kent ISD — An increase in classrooms and an expansion of eligibility has led to more flexibility and additional openings for the state-funded Great Start Readiness Program.

While GSRP classes started on Sept. 11, the Kent ISD preschool program has announced that enrollment will be open as long as there are classes available.

“Enrollment in affordable, high-quality preschool is one of the best ways to prepare children for success in school and life,” said Kent ISD Director of Early Childhood Ashley Karsten. “We are excited to be able to offer the Great Start Readiness Program preschool to more families than ever this year and to expand this program to five full days a week in many areas.” 

With the signing of the state’s educational budget on July 20 by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the state has allocated $254.6 million to expand free preschool for up to 5,600 students. In a statement about the budget, the governor’s office acknowledged this is to help the state toward the PreK for All initiative of offering free preschool to all 4-year-olds in the state by 2027. 

The new state budget allows for GSRP providers, such as the one operated by Kent ISD, to expand their programs from four instructional days a week to five per week, and from 30 instructional weeks a year to 36 weeks. The budget also expands the eligibility requirements to 300 percent of the poverty line, which for a family of four would be about $90,000 or less. Last year, to qualify, a family of four had to earn less than $80,000.

A boost in the state school budget creates more openings for preschoolers in the D Great Start Readiness Program.
Helping students open packages and asking questions makes lunch a busy learning time for Nancy Sullivan and her students (photo by Carol Lautenbach)

Making Families Aware of Their Options

“Our goal has always been to support families and with this budget we are able to offer more flexibility with different times, more days to more families in Kent County,”  Karsten said. 

For Kent ISD, that means an additional 20 classrooms have been opened up, with GSRP now offering 225 classrooms, Karsten said. This means an additional 320 spots, with the program serving up to 3,600 students for the 2023-2024 school year. Per state guidelines, there are only 16 students per class.

Traditionally, GSRP has offered Monday-Thursday programs but this year several locations will have five-day programs, Monday-Friday. Also, some programs will be offered earlier and later times to help meet family needs, she said.

The biggest hurdle has been letting families know about the expanded program as the changes were only implemented a little over a month ago when the budget was signed.

“We encourage all families to sign up whether they think they qualify or not,” Karsten said.

To sign up for this year’s preschool program, a child must be turning 4 by Dec. 1. There are several factors for qualification, such as income, special needs, foster care, and high risk, but the program is allowed to have up to 15% of its openings for families who are over the income requirements.

There are GSRP classrooms throughout the county. The Kent ISD program operates 88 of them directly, with the remaining offered through a variety of community partners such as the YMCA, AppleTree, Early Learning Center, Langley Child Care, Creative Technologies Academy, and the Village Child Development Center. 

Karsten said that those who have enrolled are usually placed within a week.

Families interested in learning more about GSRP should call 616-447-2409 or visit https://www.kentisd.org/early-childhood/great-start-readiness-preschool/.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio

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