Paula Cunningham and Tim Salisbury are co-chairs of the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan.
Your willingness to undergo the rigors of a campaign represents the best of our political system — individuals who invest their time, energy, talent, and ideas to improve the quality of life for future generations of Michigan citizens. Your efforts deserve our recognition and gratitude.
In the weeks and months ahead, you will hear about a variety of issues and will be challenged to sort through each and decide where to assign priority for building a more prosperous Michigan. Many ideas will shine above the others, but you must decide which ones truly matter when it comes to addressing our state’s most pressing challenges and needs.
We suggest you focus on young children. Focus on early education. Focus on child care.
The research is clear — early investments work. When children are young, their brains are developing at a tremendous rate, and high-quality early learning and care programs enrich and accelerate that development, positioning Michigan’s children for lifelong success.
We represent the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, a group of business leaders supporting high-quality early childhood investments proven to make a real difference in young children’s lives. We recognize the invaluable economic benefits of this type of support, and we look for return on investment, what really works and which investments — both private and public — really matter. It is clear to us that early childhood support makes sense for Michigan’s children, families, employers and communities.
Lansing policymakers have also realized the value of these investments in the past several years and have acted on a bipartisan basis to improve early childhood education in our state. Dramatic gains have been made in access to Michigan’s homegrown, state-funded preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), in which 40,000 four-year-olds from low-income families are now enrolled. The benefits of this effort are innumerable and include increased third-grade reading proficiency, fewer repeated grades and increased high school graduation rates, according to a recent report. Michigan’s challenge now is not only to maintain this increase in access to GSRP, but also to expand the program’s excellent results.
Alongside better access to preschool, improving access to high-quality, affordable child care has emerged as a critical issue for young children and their families. Lack of access is a barrier not only to children’s successful development, but also to employment, keeping many parents — particularly women — from entering the workforce. This makes it difficult for employers to find workers they need to grow their businesses and harder for families to escape poverty. Increasing access has been a tougher issue to address, however, in part because of the high cost of child care today; center-based infant care in Michigan costs almost as much as tuition at a four-year public university.
Lansing policymakers again are reaching across the aisle to make progress on this crucial issue. Last year, the state enacted changes to Michigan’s child care subsidy program, making it easier for families to get the child care they need. The income threshold was increased to expand eligibility for families, and the hourly reimbursement rate for providers rose alongside this. If Michigan is to shake off its status as one of the worst states in the nation in terms of helping working families with the high costs of child care, experience tells us that these issues must continue to take precedence.
While acknowledging the importance of child care in today’s economy, some individuals question whether government should be involved.
We believe that not only should government play a role, but that it has an obligation to the taxpayers to do so. The key to getting people out of poverty (and often off public assistance) is employment, but to work, many parents need child care, and paying for this care can be difficult for many—especially those with low incomes. Without the ability to afford consistent coverage, families struggle with reduced or unstable employment. Our nation’s social safety net must include support for parents in need of child care. By not addressing this problem, we shortchange the taxpayers who fund that safety net.
Thank you, again, for your public service. As you engage with your fellow citizens in the weeks and months ahead, you will be asked to share your thoughts about Michigan’s priorities and needs. We urge you to put the issues of early childhood investments at the top of your list. Your efforts will pay enormous dividends down the road in educational achievement, economic growth and more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.