Archived Story

Great Start concerned about cuts

Published 10:04am Thursday, February 4, 2010

By AARON MUELLER

Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Heather Merrill, coordinator of the Cass Great Start Collaborative, doesn’t like the recent statistics she has seen regarding child well-being in the county.

The 2009 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book was released last month and revealed some alarming trends in Cass County. Possibly most concerning, Cass County ranks 77th out of 78 counties surveyed in high school dropout percentage at 21.3 percent.

The state average is 14.2 percent.

Infant mortality and infants receiving less than adequate prenatal care are also on the rise and well above the state average. Merrill says the Great Start Collaborative is spearheading its own study to gather more data.

“We have numerous concerns about the data for our county,” she said. “We are going out into the community to meet with groups of people to talk about the data itself. What we’re looking at is why. What has contributed? What types of support could help?”
Merrill believes there is not enough focus on early child development.

“Research shows the child who starts school ill-equipped will struggle throughout,” Merrill said. “We have to consider the end product, and that is our communities – the economic prosperity of our communities and the well being of our neighborhoods.”

Merrill is worried about further state cuts for early childhood development programs. The Cass County Great Start Readiness Program was nearly cut last year but was reinstated in the final hour. Merrill is concerned it could be on the chopping block again soon.

“It’s not a fight against our local school system,” she said. “It’s a fight at the legislative level. We need to be proactive and heard before it’s cut.”
To get involved, contact her at 445-6217.

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