Early Childhood Education has hit crisis point

   Communities all over the United States are facing the same problem: shortages in staffing and funding for early childhood education and childcare. So, what’s being done about it? Who is working to remedy this situation that has now reached what many are calling the “crisis point?” To put it simply, this is an everyone problem and it’s going to take collaboration and communication to move forward.

   In Midland, the Childcare Innovation Team has set out to find solutions to the long waitlists and high costs that are associated with providing our children with the best possible start in life. “Until we take an approach that really looks at all of the systems involved in childcare, we are not going to move where we want to move with it. We know that the business voice is a really important one, the childcare provider voice – both group centers and in-home – and those that work at a higher level within the space; those are all important voices to have at the table and it all goes back to the collective impact model. This work cannot be done in silos. You really need to bring a multi-sector group together to tackle tough social issues,” says Sharon Mortensen, committee member and Midland Area Community Foundation President and CEO.

Musical fun out on the playground   Nearly $20 billion is allocated each year in Michigan for K-12 education; that’s roughly just over $1 billion per grade level across the state. Unfortunately, children that have not yet reached the kindergarten level are not receiving the same funding, despite evidence showing that high quality preschool is crucial to their success. “The lifetime benefits of good, high-quality preschool going into kindergarten makes a substantial difference, both in the life of kids and the financial aspects for kids as they become adults,” adds State Senator Kristen McDonald Rivet (Democrat)-Bay City. McDonald Rivet believes that social-emotional development, kindergarten readiness and educational growth start at the very beginning. McDonald Rivet knows that collaboration is one of the keys to success when exploring options for parents with young children. “One of the things that I believe to be really important is that the childcare providers that are actually in the classroom, as we speak, caring for kids have a significant voice in the development of any legislation that we do. I believe in the power of the people that are living the experience helping shape the policy, so, throughout the summer I will be working with a work group that includes childcare professionals and parents to bring forward new legislation in the Fall,” McDonald Rivet continues.

   State Representative Bill G. Schuette (Republican) of Midland  is also committed to finding a solution to this growing problem. “I’m personally concerned with increasing access while we still have a shortage of workers, so we need to make sure we are addressing both ends of the spectrum, making it easier for people to enroll their children in pre-k programs, but also making sure we are attracting, retaining and developing the type of educators and professional staff to provide those services,” states Schuette. “We are very fortunate to have in Midland our great local partners whether that’s the resources that are provided at Greater Midland, ESA, Midland Public Schools systems – those are going to be how we really have that force multiplier to provide these services in an environment where we have such staffing shortages and difficulties. I think the current mechanism that they are looking at in Lansing is expanding Great Start and Great Start is a great program, but let’s see if we can use some of the infrastructure that we have in our local communities and people that know how to do these things – that’s the best way to accomplish that.”One of the goals is to attract educators and professional staff to early childhood education.
When asked how the Childcare Innovation Team plans to work with Michigan’s elected officials, Mortensen says, “We are very blessed to have two local legislators that are very much connected to our community, willing to listen and of course, Kristen worked in the childcare space. She has such a knowledge and expertise, but both of them are very willing to listen to concerns and are very willing to advocate so we just need to communicate with them. We are just very blessed to have people in this community, both at the State House and the State Senate, that are devoted to the community and have a great awareness and understanding and again, both are just so receptive to feedback from their constituents. You don’t have to look very far to know that childcare is a huge issue, and they are both very aware of this.” Mortensen acknowledges that this issue is an overwhelming one and that everyone working toward the same goal needs to tackle it chunk by chunk. This problem will not be solved overnight, but we must start somewhere.

As committees and teams gather to look at potential solutions, finding and keeping funding is at the forefront. “We need more childcare consultants that are expediting inspections to open new facilities. Additionally, when you start to think about childcare which is a very different space than formalized preschool – most private childcare will offer preschool for three- and four-year-olds, but what we have to be really careful about when we fund preschool only is that it puts child care serving only infants and toddlers in jeopardy because you are pulling four year olds out of their businesses and putting them into public schools. So, there are dollars that we are putting together that will provide operational support for childcare that are serving infants and toddlers,” McDonald Rivet shares.

Mortensen says, “Early childcare needs more appreciation because these educators and caregivers are in the business of brain development. This is a hard job, and we need to elevate the importance of this work while increasing capacity and affordability.” Community members are encouraged to communicate with school administrators and elected officials to see how they can help and get involved. The 2023-24 recommended education budget for the state of Michigan can be viewed here. To learn more, check out the Governor’s FY24 Budget Proposal: Key Wins and Missed Opportunities for Children, Youth, and Families. 

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and held positions at Dow, Northwood University, Midland Area Community Foundation, Shelterhouse and Youth For Understanding. Currently, Carly is working as the Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Relationships at Holy Cross Services while completing her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at carlylillard@gmail.com.