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Duggan’s focus the next 3 months: Get pre-K programs expanded

Mayor Mike Duggan’s big focus over the next several months is helping secure pre-K education for every young Detroiter, he said Tuesday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual city policy confab.

In a riverfront conversation with moderator Roop Raj, a reporter for Fox 2 Detroit, at the Detroit Policy Conference at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, Duggan spoke generally about breaking cycles of poverty.

Other speakers at the conference included Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist; Matt Cullen, chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy; Jared Fleisher, vice president of government affairs and economic development for Dan Gilbert’s Rock Central; and Anika Goss, CEO of nonprofit Detroit Future City.

The mayor, running for a third term and endorsed by the chamber, said one of the main things he wants from the Biden administration’s potentially transformative federal aid package comes not from the city but from the state.

“I want every 4-year-old in this city to have a full day of quality pre-K,” Duggan said.

Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed expanding taxpayer-funded preschool to add around 20,000 more 4-year-old Michigan residents. The plan would take $250 million from federal aid to the state and $150 million in state tax revenue. Duggan has said the governor’s proposal would make access to publicly funded preschool universal in Michigan’s largest city, an issue on which he has previously lobbied lawmakers. The state Legislature would need to approve the spending.

Duggan said Tuesday that Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has told him he’s for it.

The three-year plan aimed at closing a gap in education is backed by Business Leaders for Michigan, but there’s been resistance among Michigan’s for-profit and not-for-profit preschool operators to maintaining the same program they believe gives public schools an unfair advantage, as reported in a recent in-depth Crain’s Forum package.

Also in his interview, Duggan said he is hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the city’s recent economic rise. The pandemic-induced recession had a short-term impact on restaurants and offices but “long-term activity didn’t stop.”

Regardless, the city will face a tough climb: Unemployment isn’t expected to return even to pre-pandemic levels until 2025. Its $827 million in federal aid through the federal American Rescue Plan will pay to fill the city’s own budget’s holes but how the economy recovers still depends on a lot of moving factors.

Like a lot of events over the last year and a half, conversations at the Detroit Policy Conference centered on equity and diversity.

Dennis Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group and son of former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, spoke with Gilchrist early in Tuesday’s schedule about the lieutenant governor’s history and his thoughts on diversity problems.

“We’ve been aware of inequity for generations,” but made little progress, Gilchrist said. He centered on equitable access to resources for entrepreneurs, regardless of who they are.

Michigan needs to create conditions for growth that “put poverty in our past,” he said.

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