The pandemic has put a strain on Michigan’s early care and education system. Incomes have declined due to social distancing rules and parents’ reluctance to put children back in place. Many child care and preschool programs have closed for good, while others have run into debt.
In addition, low wages for workers have long been a problem, but have now become an acute crisis. Michigan’s ratio of pre-kindergarten teacher pay to kindergarten teacher pay is penultimate among US states, at 59% in Michigan, compared to an average of 88% nationally.
With workers concerned about the health risks of in-person and close contact work, daycares and preschools have difficulty attracting and retaining staff. Without adequate staff, many child care and preschool programs may not be able to meet the needs of a growing economy. Staff turnover threatens the quality of our early childhood education and care system.
For Michigan to experience a full economic recovery, the state must stabilize and develop the early childhood care and education sector. We need to prevent child care and preschool programs from going bankrupt or contracting, and allowing providers to hire the staff they need to grow.
Stabilizing the child care and preschool sector requires three steps: (1) allocating federal funds to Michigan for child care; (2) help child care providers qualify for the state preschool program; and (3) provide bonuses for recruiting and retaining day care and preschool teachers.
The state should start by appropriating $ 1.4 billion in federal funding sitting in Lansing and dedicated to the child care sector. Some of that funding was earmarked by Congress in December and has still not reached suppliers in Michigan. The funding includes a $ 700 million child care stabilization fund, intended for early release.
The state should increase private providers’ access to Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state’s preschool program. Many child care providers rely on preschool funding to subsidize more expensive child care services. Michigan’s school aid bill included $ 168 million that increased per-student funding for the GSRP. If the state funds technical assistance, more community providers can access these funds and provide both quality childcare and early childhood education.
The state plan must also address the workforce. According to the Michigan Early Care and Education Workforce Study, more than 90 percent of workers in this industry are not paid enough to meet the living wage threshold for a family with an adult and one child.
The long-term solution is to provide sufficient funding so that childcare programs and preschools can pay decent wages. But in the short term, stimulus funds provided by the federal government can be used to provide hiring and retention bonuses to daycare and preschool teachers during the critical next few years. This will allow the programs to grow rapidly, supporting Michigan’s economic recovery.
The child care and preschool industry is a vital part of Michigan’s business community. It is time for the state to meet the child care needs of working families and the business community while promoting better educational outcomes for the next generation of working people. If we quickly provide the funding needed to stabilize the industry and enable it to hire staff for expansion, we will accelerate the pace and depth of Michigan’s economic recovery.