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Closing Opportunity Gaps

The existing early care and education (ECE) system does a disservice to the educators — largely women and often women of color — who nurture and facilitate learning for millions of the nation’s youngest children every day. Despite their important, complex labor, early educators’ working conditions undermine their well-being and create devastating financial insecurity well into retirement age. These conditions also jeopardize their ability to work effectively with children. As we find ourselves [yet in a] global pandemic, child care has been hailed as essential, yet policy responses to COVID-19 have mostly ignored educators themselves, leaving most to choose between their livelihood and their health.  Early Childhood Workforce Index 2020        

The current financing system throughout the country and for Michigan, in particular, simply does not work for providers and parents alike. Early childhood educators and caregivers have consistently been underpaid, undervalued, disrespected, and misrepresented as “just babysitters”. Yet contrary to what has been publicized, we know that these adults along with parents are instrumental in providing fundamental and first experiences that serve as foundation to how children learn and engage throughout their lives. The first eight years of a child’s life have a huge impact on their development. During this period, many changes occur as the child grows and develops in relation to being physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally sound, socially competent, and ready to learn.

Babies and young children grow, learn, and develop rapidly and best when they receive love and affection, attention, encouragement, and mental stimulation, as well as nutritious meals and good health care. The ages and stages of development from infancy through age 8, which include the important transition from home to school, shape children’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievement at school, in the family and community, and in life.

Despite these facts, early child care and education in Michigan continues to be a critical need. High costs and low availability persist throughout the state, with families with low and middling incomes having the fewest options for care. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a typical low wage earner would need to work 40 hours consistently for 29 weeks to cover the child care expense for a single infant. “Supply is concentrated in areas with high median incomes and housing values, where residents can more often afford to pay fees. Communities made vulnerable by lower incomes and disinvestment, often due to racial segregation or geographic isolation, tend to have lower supply.” – Think Babies Michigan. In Detroit pre-COVID, a 28,000-seat gap in service existed and quickly escalated to nearly 43,000 seats as the doors of early childhood programs closed at the height of the pandemic.

Hope Starts Here like its Think Babies Michigan partners and other early childhood advocates believes very strategic addresses to gaping holes in our early childhood system should include:

Sustained Increase in MI Child Care Subsidy Income Eligibility Threshold

  • Michigan’s Child Development and Care (CDC) subsidy program is meant to help reduce the cost of child care for families with low wages who are working or in school.
  • The average cost of childcare in Michigan is $10,000 per infant child. For a family of four to receive assistance with these costs using Michigan’s subsidy, the earnings of the family cannot exceed $39,750 annually.
  • Governor Whitmer has recommended $139.2 million through FY 2022 to raise the eligibility threshold from 150% to 200% of the federal poverty level, which will increase the income limit to $52,400 for a family of four and will make 150,000 more low-income Michigan children eligible for the subsidy.
  • For FY 2023 the Governor recommends lowering the eligibility threshold from 200% to 160% FPL. We believe it should be sustained at 185%.

Move to Monthly Subsidy Contracts for Providers

  • Subsidy payments based on a set contract rate (rather than hourly reimbursements) provide more predictable income (living wage) for providers that facilitates quality improvements and reduces administrative costs to incentivize provider participation in the subsidy program.
  • The current financing system for child care is not sustainable. The market rate approach—which is more reflective of the incomes of families in an area than the actual cost of running a child care program—has created disincentives for providers to accept subsidy payments especially for infants and toddlers because the cost of their care is higher. Michigan needs to undertake an analysis of the true cost of care and adjust its payment rates to ensure an adequate supply of high-quality care.
  • For lower wage-earning parents and their children, contracts ensure more equitable access to higher quality child care services.
  • Governor Whitmer has recommended $44 million through FY 2022 in a move toward contracts with subsidy payments based on enrollment v. attendance and $79.6 million through FY 2023 for a 10% increase in the rates for Michigan’s subsidy providers. We believe a stronger address is needed to ensure adequate supply for the anticipated increased demand based on raising family eligibility threshold

Support home-based child care providers through family child care networks

  • Home-based child care providers have struggled in Michigan and their numbers have declined. Many home-based providers work alone and are caring for children for long hours each day and week, with little time and few resources to manage a home-based business.
  • Staffed family child care networks can link these small businesses together to reduce isolation and strengthen business practices.
  • Home-based options are often a preferred choice for families with infants.

Michigan has an opportune moment to make bold changes in public funding of our early childhood system with a. $1.1 billion dollar infusion from the Federal American Rescue Plan. Here, we’ve offered a few next best steps. Our choices must be transformative. Equity in early childhood is about shifting the conditions that are holding current inequities in place. It is also about creating conditions and spaces that provide equitable opportunities for children, their families, and non-familial educators. Hope Starts Here and its partners are committed to advancing an early childhood system that ensures equitable opportunities for children and their families and recognizing and promoting educator rights:

  • The right to be recognized and respected for the skilled and foundational work they do.
  • The right to a livable wage and benefits.
  • The right to work environments that support their health, well-being, and development. 

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today – Malcolm X

Posted on March 18th, 2021 | View All Posts