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These foundations have poured millions into Detroit childcare. They’re ready to ‘accelerate’.

Bridge Michigan
Urban Affairs
These foundations have poured millions into Detroit childcare. They’re ready to ‘accelerate’.

A philanthropic initiative that has promised to spend $50 million on early childhood education in Detroit is moving closer to that goal, announcing another multi-million grant to improve childcare in the city.

At the same time, the foundations’ early childhood effort, called Hope Starts Here, is hiring a new director, a sign that it is preparing for further investments in the education of children from birth to age 8 in Detroit.

The leaders of the Kresge Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the philanthropies behind this push, announced a new $2.5 million donation on Wednesday at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference. The job posting for its planned hire has been online for several weeks.

“It clearly accelerates the work,” said Rip Rapson, president of the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation, of the director position. “Right now we’ve relied on a third-party consultant to convene the meetings, undertake the research — herd the cats. We need someone who wakes up every morning” and works on Hope Starts Here.

The Kresge and the W.K. Kellogg foundations joined forces in 2017 to launch this initiative — pledging a combined $50 million to the cause. (Both foundations also fund Chalkbeat.)

From the outset, the program’s goal was to improve life outcomes for children in Detroit, where an estimated 28,000 children don’t have access to quality childcare and a staggering 60 percent live in poverty.

The new hire will be tasked with keeping Hope Starts Here in sync with the hundreds of community organizations who help provide early education in Detroit. Jonathan Hui, a program officer at the Kresge Foundation, said in an email that the new “implementation director” will be a  “connector, facilitator and project manager.”

The foundations ultimately hope to build new childcare options, starting with an early childhood center that will complement a new district school. But the first few years of the initiatives have largely been dedicated to improving the numerous existing childcare centers in Detroit, many of which are operated out of homes.

“We have so many people providing services in Detroit, that our whole business in the first phase will be to upgrade quality and provide greater support,” Rapson said.

The strength of Michigan’s early childhood system is a well-regarded free preschool program for four-year-olds, but it has far less to offer children between ages 0-3.

That’s where Hope Starts Here comes in, said Matt Gillard, president and CEO of Michigan’s Children, an advocacy group that backs the initiative.

“People seem to have a good handle on pre-K,” he said, adding: “Where we’re struggling is childcare for infants and toddlers. The Hope Starts Here initiative will be a great help towards solving some of those issues in Detroit.”

So far, the foundations’ money has put mental health, healthy eating, and arts programs in some existing Detroit preschools. Another portion will support the an early childhood center set to open in 2020 at a new “cradle-to-career” school on the campus of Marygrove College in northwest Detroit.

The newest $2.5 million donation will go to improving childcare facilities in Detroit. The money  includes a $1 million contribution from the PNC Foundation.

Over the next eight years, the new director will help spend the tens of millions of dollars that remain. While the initiative has so far focused mostly on existing programs, it could also play an important role in Mayor Mike Duggan’s goal of offering free preschool to every 4-year-old in Detroit.

It’s unclear whether universal pre-K in Detroit is politically feasible. It would require Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to emphasize that policy amid political fights over K-12 education, and funding to repair Michigan’s roads.

If it happens, the director of Hope Starts Here would become an important player. In that case, Rapson said Hope Starts Here would underwrite a new city office to back early childhood programs.

“We believe that the implementation director will play a key role in working with city leaders, including the Mayor’s Office and other partners,” Hui added.

The job description is here.

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