Underfunding early child care has far-reaching impacts

This article is part of Early Education Matters, a series about how Michigan parents, childcare providers, and early childhood educators are working together to implement Pre-K for All. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Detroit-area child care provider Makese Taylor does what many home-based child care programs do: She makes sure that the children are fed, she helps prepare them for their school career, and provides peace of mind to parents that their children are safe while they are working. Taylor does all of this for free for her family and friends because she knows the people she serves could not afford to pay her.

“It does impact me financially, but thank God for the family that I have, because I have a team behind me,” she says. “My twin sister, my niece, my oldest niece, they can provide certain things like food and everything that feeds the children. 

“It does impact a lot and it’s a lot on them too, as well, but we just try to keep hope because we know people have financial difficulties. If we didn't help them, they wouldn't be able to pay their rent and they'd be put out or homeless or something and we don't want that.”

Access to affordable child care plays a critical role in families finding secure employment so caregivers and parents can provide housing, food and other essentials, according to the 2023 Kids Count Data Report, an annual publication of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that analyzes how children and families are faring.

The report shows that 14 percent of Michigan children 5 and under live in families in which someone quit, changed, or refused a job because of problems with child care. This is only slightly above the national average of 13 precent. The national report also showed that 17 percent of Black children younger than five live with a family member who quit, changed jobs, or refused one due to child care. That number was 16 percent for Latino children in the same situation and only 10 percent for white children.

Analyzing trends from 2016-2021, the Kids Count Data Book provides a state-by-state comparison on how all 50 states are doing when it comes to children’s overall well-being based on four indicators: health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. Those indicators are broken down into 16 areas. For Michigan, the report, released in June 2023, showed the state had improved in several key areas. Much of the data came out during the height of the pandemic when families were receiving significant but temporary support. 
Rachel Richards, fiscal policy director, Michigan League for Public Policy.
“We know even before the pandemic, childcare wasn't accessible or affordable for most families,” says Rachel Richards, fiscal policy director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, which partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and focuses on child wellbeing in Michigan. “We also know that the number of providers as well as the number of workers in the sector still really hasn't caught up to those pre-pandemic levels.”

Some of the positive statewide trends included declines in rates of child and young adult poverty and teen births. However, Michigan’s overall child-wellbeing ranking remained the same, 32 out of 50, with its worst ranking being education with a rank of 42. One of its worst education marks was that only 55 percent — 130,000 — children ages 3 and 4 were not in school.

“The league recognizes the importance of childcare,” Richards says. “It's been an issue, a key issue, that we've worked on for a very long time.”

COVID pandemic funding, such as the $1.9 million dedicated to early childhood care from the American Rescue Plan Act, not only demonstrated how funding early childhood care helped stabilize it but also raised awareness of the need to take a look at the entire zero-to-five system, Richards adds. Much of that funding ended on Sept. 30, 2023. 

Access to affordable child care plays a critical role in families finding secure employment.
Lucky to find affordable childcare

Michigan does use the Child Care and Community Block Grant (CCCBG), a 30-year-old program that allows states to help low-income, working families afford child care while supporting children’s learning and development through age 12. According to the bipartisan early learning advocacy group First Five Years Fund, an average of 37% of the 682,854 children in Michigan age 6 and under are eligible for CCCBG subsidy under federal rules each month; however, 90% of those children are not served due to a lack of sufficient funding.  

Detroit resident Sparkle Berry feels that she was pretty lucky to have all three of her children attend Matrix Heart StartHead Start is another federally funded program that focuses on families who are 100% below the poverty line — for a family of four that poverty line is an annual income of $30,000. Berry notes that because Head Start is free, the waitlist is long. Berry was persistent in getting her children in because without Head Start, she was not sure what she would have done.

“Not having daycare would impact me tremendously because I wouldn't be able to provide for my family,” Berry says. “I work full-time, and I'm a full-time student. I don't get out of school until six o'clock. Without aftercare, I wouldn't be able to take my classes, and without school in general or daycare, I wouldn't be able to go to work because a lot of these employers don't care about childcare.”

The Kids Count Data Book reported that the U.S economy loses an estimated $122 billion a year through lost earnings, productivity, and tax revenue because of the challenge parents have in finding early child care. 

James Ribbron, executive director, Detroit Champions for HOPE.
Taking a step in the right direction

In January, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced her plan to provide free preschool to all four-year-olds by 2027. The current budget includes $254.6 million to expand free pre-K for up to 5,600 children with a focus on lowering costs for families, supporting early learning, and investing in the growth and retention of early childhood professionals. 

Over the past several months, Policy Equity Group hosted several community input sessions and is compiling its findings for recommendations to the governor’s office in December. 

“That pre-k program is an excellent start,” says James Ribbron, executive director, Detroit Champions for Hope, an initiative of Hope Starts Here. “I would say that Governor Whitmer is probably one of the governors in this country that is taking the lead on the preschool issue. We definitely appreciate that, but there's always room for more when it comes to children and families.”

Ribbron describes the PreK for All plan as a step but says that both the state and federal government need to use that beginning step to continue building a platform that provides significant funding and support for the entire zero-to-eight care landscape. 

“The specific issues that the providers are dealing with are, because of that lack of funding, they have to shut down, they can't pay staff, and the staff can get better paying jobs in other industries,” Ribbron says.

According to the Kids County Data Book, labor accounts for 80% of childcare costs with these facilities often surviving on less than a 1% profit margin. However, childcare workers make less than 98% than all other professions, and 94% of childcare professionals are women. The median national pay for a childcare worker is about $14 an hour, according to ZipRecuter. Michigan’s average wage for a childcare worker is $12 an hour or $24,960 a year. That’s less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Focusing on policy makers

Detroit Champions for Hope and Hope Starts Here define early child care and education as zero to eight with a focus on zero to three, which has been documented as the most pivotal time in child development

Current funding only supports a K-12 model, Ribbron notes, but from a funding standpoint, the state is dealing with zero to eight. The bottom line, funding for early childhood care and support for providers is not there. 

“We have to educate the decision makers on what’s happening on the ground,” Ribbron says. “There is a big disparity between what Makese is doing, what Sparkle is experiencing, and what the policy decisions are actually doing to solve the problem.” 

Organizations like Detroit Champions for Hope and Hope Starts Here are working with providers to get a plan in place to discuss and present early childcare needs in preparation for the 2024 state budget discussions. The goal is not only to work toward making zero-to-12 education free for everyone but also to ensure that all parents and children receive the same quality programs with educators and providers receiving the support they need, whether that is in Detroit, or Grand Rapids, or Marquette.

Ribbron concludes, “One of the things that we would do is to celebrate (Pre-K for All) as a success, and then continue working on every committee, from city council to the federal government, that deals with early childhood to encourage them to look at a more holistic approach to policy decisions around early childhood.” 

Joanne Bailey-Boorsma has 30-plus years of writing experience having served as a reporter and editor for several West Michigan publications, covering a variety of topics from local news to arts and entertainment. 

Photos by Stephen Smith, Doug Coombe, and Isabel Media Studio.

Early Education Matters is a series of stories about the implementation of Pre-K for All throughout the State of Michigan. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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