A version of this column appeared in Michigan Advance
After years of restrictive policies that prevented most families from receiving any assistance with their child care costs, coupled with very low wages for child care workers, COVID-19 lifted the veil on the underlying reality that without child care, businesses can’t attract and keep talent, and Michiganders can’t get back to work to support their families.
It is quite starkly a matter of gender and racial justice. Across the country, the pandemic disproportionately forced women out of the workforce—including 136,000 women in Michigan between February and December of 2020, with the lack of child care being a major factor. Child care professionals, who are largely women, and disproportionately Black and brown women, were among the women whose livelihoods were threatened.
More is at stake than our current economy, as important as that is. A growing body of indisputable evidence from brain scientists, educators and economists has confirmed that much of the architecture of the brain is developed in children during the first three years of life, and children who receive a high-quality early education are more equipped for both school and later success in life. There is no dispute that learning begins at birth, and is most rapid during the first 1,000 days of life.
But with strong community, business, and bipartisan legislative support, and the infusion of approximately $1.4 billion in federal funds, state policymakers now have a historic opportunity to better support Michigan kids, parents and businesses. By investing in high-quality child care and top-notch early education for all young children regardless of race, place or income, our leaders can alleviate the challenges caused by the pandemic and eliminate long-standing barriers for generations to come.
In just the last few weeks, we have seen bold proposals to greatly increase investments in child care and preschool, expand the supply of high-quality care, and make it easier for small child care providers to launch their businesses and stay open:
- A proposal by the governor to invest $1.4 billion in child care by making many more families eligible for state assistance with their child care costs by raising the income cutoff to 200% of poverty or $53,000 for a family of four; an increase in payments to child care providers by 20%; the waiving of family copays; contracts to help increase the supply of scarce child care for infants and toddlers; premium pay for child care professionals; and grants to child care providers to stabilize and support their businesses.
- A bipartisan bill package spearheaded by Rep. Jack O’Malley that increases the capacity of child care businesses by: establishing contracts for infant/toddler care in areas where supply is low; supporting family child care providers through networks that can help them manage their businesses while caring for young children; and proposing targeted regulatory reforms.
- A proposal by the governor to ensure that all children who are eligible for the Great Start Readiness preschool program (GSRP) have the opportunity to enroll. Currently 4-year-old children from families with incomes up to 250% of poverty are eligible for the GSRP. Together the GSRP and the federally-funded Head Start program serve approximately two-thirds of eligible children, and this expansion will allow the remainder to enroll.
It took a worldwide pandemic to bring us to this point, but now we must grab the opportunity to reimagine child care and early education to better support kids, parents, and child care businesses and their staff. This historic moment demands equally historic cooperation. We were pleased to see that cooperation result in a School Aid budget that included parity in payments and expansions in the state-funded preschool program, but disappointed to see legislators leave Lansing without finishing the job on child care. There are 1.4 billion reasons for the Legislature and the governor to quickly adopt a budget bill that provides much-needed help to families and child care businesses alike, and continue to work together to ensure that these investments and improvements are sustained into the future.
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