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Rapson: New Michigan budget makes a bold investment in children

Detroit, From the President

The State of Michigan’s support for its youngest citizens took a quantum step forward with the adoption this week of a visionary and bold budget by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Legislature. The state’s $70 billion budget provides millions of new dollars for long under-resourced childcare providers and moves us closer to the goal of universal childcare. The best analysis we have, from our friends at Bridge, states that the budget allocates $1.4 billion of federal COVID funds to help support childcare providers, reduce costs, and expand subsidies to another 105,000 Michigan families. The result is that not only will thousands of parents be able to re-enter the workforce after the disruptions of COVID, but the State is laying the foundation for a more equitable and sustainable long-term base of support for early childhood in Michigan.

Two little girls hug outdoors at a childcare center.Across administrations and party lines, the State of Michigan has long been an important partner to nonprofits, foundations, and private providers who have invested in better preparing young people to enter kindergarten ready to learn. But the State’s efforts have been sporadic and dramatically under-capitalized. This budget starts the process of rectifying that. By centering the voices of childcare providers, practitioners, and families, it is a watershed public policy moment.

Foundations like ours – together with others like the Kellogg, Fisher, Wilson, Balmer, Mott, and Southeast Michigan Community Foundations and PNC Bank – have sought for a decade to create a true early childhood “system” in Southeast Michigan, one that encompasses providers of all kinds, is focused on expanding access to developmental care to families with low-incomes, and  is resourced adequately to ensure providers receive a living wage and can provide facilities of the highest quality. We are collectively committed to moving beyond the rhetoric of how much we value children to making deep, long-term financial and political investments in those imperatives.

Posters announcing the launch of Hope Starts Here
Hope Starts Here launched in 2016 to mobilize a citywide commitment to support our youngest children and families,

That is the intent of the unprecedented multi-sector collaborative Hope Starts Here, started by Kellogg and Kresge some five years ago. Through Hope Starts Here’s family engagement and advocacy network, the “Detroit Champions of Hope,” we hear from thousands of families about the challenges they face and the opportunities they want for their children. That input has translated into a spectrum of priorities, including facilities upgrades, improvements in provider compensation, heightened quality standards, and deepened parental engagement – all in service of making sure that we get some 30,000 Detroit children who are not yet in high quality early childhood programs into those kinds of seats.

The good news coming out of Lansing carries with it the substantial challenge of ensuring that the State’s investments reach those providers, families, and children who are in greatest need. For that to happen, the flow of dollars will require deep on-the-ground partnerships – with community-based providers, nonprofits, and philanthropy.

The infrastructure is ready to activate. Not just Hope Starts Here, but other nonprofit entities throughout the state, can offer technical assistance, parental outreach, capacity building and other supports. We have every expectation that the resulting partnership with the State of Michigan will be robust, expansive, and effective.

Lawn sign reads "Welcome First Day Marygrove Starfishers." Parents and children walk by to childcare center on sunny day.As I wrote last recently, Kresge joined with a number of partners — including Starfish Family Services, the Marygrove Conservancy, and IFF — to open the $22 million state-of-the-art Marygrove Early Education Center on the campus of the former Marygrove College in northwest Detroit. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II joined us via video for the ribbon-cutting and noted that we need more centers like this across the state, underscoring why the budget agreement carries such great significance as we think further into the future.

The lieutenant governor’s remarks reinforced the governor’s powerful articulation of the importance of early childhood development:  the importance of bright, active spaces to support child development . . .  the role welcoming educational facilities can play as community hubs for families and neighbors . . . the need for innovative financing that brings together public and private capital to reimagine our possibilities . . . and the imperative of a holistic, trauma-informed program that focuses on health, wellbeing and mobility for children and their families.

All of those qualities are front and center at Marygrove.

And, importantly, this center for 144 children from birth to age 5 is not — and never was — intended as a one-off showpiece. It offers an exciting opportunity to migrate some of what we and our partners have learned and achieved at Marygrove to other circumstances, breathing life into Lt. Gov. Gilchrist’s vision.

It is inspiring to think that enlightened leadership from federal and state government can start in motion the flywheel of ideas, investments, and on-the-ground reforms that will enable us to lay claim to being a state, and a city, that truly puts children first. Michigan and Detroit families deserve no less.