Child care has been a common concern among American parents for decades. Originally emerging in the welfare and reform movements of the 19th century, nearly 11 million children under the age of five are enrolled in some form of child care arrangement today. However, in some places, quality child care is becoming more and more difficult to obtain. One of those places is Michigan, where a new report has announced that day care programs are falling far short of what the state needs to support kids, parents and businesses.
On Monday, September 22, the Michigan League for Public Policy released a review of the child care system. Titled “Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy,” the analysis reportedly found that Michigan is lagging behind other states in offering child care reimbursements to help low-income parents, and has lost more than 70% of its state-subsidized childcare funding. In a state where almost two-thirds of preschool children live in families where all parents work, this is likely preventing a number of people from making ends meet, and even keeping others on public assistance.
The cuts in child care, including $343 million from subsidized day care services, might be called unavoidable: for example, many of the reductions can be traced back to the state’s high unemployment rate. However, Michigan’s public policy had a significant role in creating the current state of affairs, especially by choosing to continue the state’s subsidy restrictions, which limit qualification to only the lowest income families. Michigan’s eligibility levels are among the lowest in the country. Moreover, the state has an insufficient number of inspectors to ensure that licensed facilities meet basic health and safety regulations. A federal audit recently showed that Michigan was assigning 150 per inspector, triple the number listed in federal guidelines.
Despite these discouraging factors, however, the League’s report also shows that safe and healthy childcare is a high priority in Michigan. Licensed day care centers have access to a star quality program to improve their quality ratings, which can qualify some for higher reimbursement through the Child Care Development Fund. Unfortunately, more than 80% do not qualify for this increase.
The state of Michigan’s child care system is raising concerns across the United States.
“There are many factors that come into play regarding the importance of high quality care. The lasting impact of a solid early education not only affects the child immediately, it affects their experience in school moving forward,” explains Elaine Errico, Enrollment Specialist at Hildebrandt Learning Centers. “The proven economic impact of a quality early education has astounding positive implications for the economy as well as society as a whole. The Michigan League for Public Policy set forth a comprehensive initial agenda that has the ability to move the state in a positive direction for children, families and all citizens of Michigan.”
Michigan League for Public Policy makes a number of recommendations in the report to improve the state of child care in the state. They suggest increasing child care payment rates, hopefully reaching the 75th percentile of market rates, increasing the number of child care inspectors to meet federal guidelines, and strengthening Michigan’s tax system to support lower-wage families by restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit, among other improvements. However, with few of these changes likely to be accomplished in a timely manner, it seems that children, parents, businesses will be left to navigate a lagging system for the foreseeable future.