child care

Child Care Tax Credits Part 2 – Supporting Child Care Providers

July 31, 2014 – This is the second in a series of blogs about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s child care tax credits for child care providers and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, for-profit and non-profit child care centers who serve children in the foster care system or children who participate in the child care subsidy program are eligible for a refundable tax credit.  The credit is based on the average monthly number of children served and the quality rating of the child care center and ranges from $750 per eligible child for a 2-star rated program to $1,500 per child for a 5-star rated program.

Here in Michigan, our Quality Rating and Improvement System known as Great Start to Quality has two levels – the five-star rating for licensed programs and the three-tier rating for unlicensed family, friend and neighbor care.  Michigan could structure its child care credits similar to the Louisiana model for licensed programs.  And, to ensure that families can maintain choice in their child care provider, we could also provide a tax credit for families who choose family, friend, or neighbor care at the second or third tier.  This type of tax credit would incentivize child care providers to increase the quality of their care by allowing providers to target some of the investment from this refundable tax credit towards ongoing quality improvement needs, which we know to be expensive.  Quality improvements costs go towards things like employing credentialed staff, ongoing professional development, maintaining optimal teacher-to-child ratios, etc. – costs that are typically ongoing.  And, this tax credit would incentivize providers to move up the quality rating scale so that they can receive larger credits.

Michigan should also consider aligning the eligibility requirement for this tax credit with our early childhood system already in place – specifically, with eligibility for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program.  This way, we can bolster our state’s significant investment in high quality preschool by increasing the quality of other settings that serve those children and others.  Michigan legislators have already identified that children who have factors that place them at-risk – children living in families with low- and moderately low-income, children in foster care, children who are homeless, and children in special education – benefit the most from access to high quality early care and education.  Similarly, a tax credit should go to providers who serve those same populations from birth all the way through age 12.  Aligning the tax credit eligibility with GSRP would incentivize the highest quality child care programs to serve Michigan’s most challenged families to ensure the best possible outcomes for kids.

A note about school-aged care.  School-aged child care (i.e. before- and after-school and summer care) currently isn’t included in Great Start to Quality, but efforts to infuse those programs into the system are underway.  Any child care tax credit system must include those programs so that school-aged children could also benefit from high quality child care settings that keep them academically on-track and engaged in their education.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Child Care Tax Credits Part 1 – Supporting Michigan’s Working Families

July 24, 2014 — Last week, I blogged about the concept of tax credits to support the quality of Michigan’s child care system.  The next series of child care tax credit blogs that I’ll write will break down each of Louisiana’s four tax credits so that we can better understand how their model if replicated in Michigan could assist families, child care providers, child care teachers and directors, and businesses here in our own state.  First, I’ll focus on direct assistance for families.

As I laid out last week, the family child care tax credit allows families to receive a refundable credit for children enrolled in a child care program that has a rating of at least two out of five stars in the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.  This credit increases in value as families access higher-rated child care programs, and is dependent on the number of children in the family in a two-star rated program or higher.  Being refundable allows the lowest-income families – those making $25,000 a year or less in Louisiana – to receive a check in the mail for the amount of their credit.  Families making more than $25,000 can apply their credit to their tax liability.

Here in Michigan, we know that child care costs vary significantly with multiple factors influencing cost including the age of the child, the type of care (i.e. a child care center, family-run group home, or someone caring for a family member), and the quality of care.  For Michigan’s Children, ensuring that children have access to high quality child care is paramount – regardless of the child’s age or whether they are in a child care center or being watched by grandma.  We know that high quality child care is more costly for multiple factors including the ongoing training needed by child care teachers and directors, curricula that may be used, personnel costs as it relates to staffing with appropriate credentials or exceeding minimum licensing requirements as it relates to teacher-child ratios, appropriately engaging and partnering with parents and communities, etc.

A child care tax credit for families will reduce some of the financial burden associated with accessing higher quality care, and may be just the incentive that parents need to opt for higher quality care that will better support their children’s learning and development.  While there is a federal tax credit in place for child care that is not refundable, the State of Michigan currently provides no tax relief to families who need child care, so a model similar to Louisiana’s would be welcomed.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Supporting Michigan’s Working Families

July 18, 2014 — Child care is expensive.  Hands down, if you are a parent, you know that one of the most significant costs that you will bare right from the get-go is the cost of child care.  And yet parents want and need access to high quality child care that supports their children’s learning and development while they earn money to support their families.  For Michigan’s struggling families, high quality child care can help their kids start kindergarten with the skill set they need to succeed in school.  As for the child care industry, they struggle to pay for costly quality improvements since many quality indicators require ongoing costs to maintain.

One strategy to increase the quality of and access to child care is through tax credits.  Louisiana provides a fabulous tax credit model built upon its Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that provides financial incentives that help families access higher quality child care and encourages providers to increase the quality of their programs.  Called the School Readiness Tax Credit, the Louisiana model supports and bolsters the child care system by providing refundable tax credits, which allows taxpayers to receive a check for the amount of the credit if they have no tax obligation.  This is particularly important for nonprofit child care providers and for low-income families who benefit the most from these credits.

Louisiana’s School Readiness Tax credits are as follows:

  1. Families can receive a tax credit for kids enrolled in a child care program that has a rating of at least two out of five stars in the QRIS.  The tax credit increases in value as families access higher-rated child care programs.
  2. Child care providers who participate in the QRIS are eligible for a tax credit based on the number of stars they earn and the number of children they serve who are subsidized by their state’s child care subsidy system or are in foster care.
  3. Child care teachers and directors are eligible to receive a tax credit if they teach in a child care program that participates in the QRIS, and is based on the level of education the individual has attained.
  4. Businesses that provide financial support to child care programs that participate in the QRIS – either through donations to support their infrastructure or to support their employees’ child care – are eligible for a credit with its value based on the star rating of the child care program.  Businesses can also receive a credit for donations made to child care resource and referral agencies.

Michigan is well-poised to implement a child care tax credit system similar to the Louisiana model, with our QRIS known as Great Start to Quality already in place.  Each four of these pieces would provide significant benefits to families, child care providers, child care teachers and directors, and our local businesses to support families while ensuring our economy can continue to rebuild.  Keep your eyes out for a series of blogs focused on each component of Louisiana’s School Readiness Tax Credit and how a similar system could benefit Michigan children and families.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Mother’s Day Reflections

May 12, 2014 – Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mom.  While I’ve been a mom for just under six months, there are so many supports that I am grateful to access that have helped my family.  Some of these same supports, unfortunately, too many moms in Michigan cannot access because our public policies and budget-making do not prioritize them.

First, I was able to access family-planning services prior to getting pregnant that allowed me to plan for my pregnancy; and when I did become pregnant, I was able to access comprehensive prenatal care.  A healthy start in life begins well before babies are born – with women being healthy prior to conception, having the appropriate support to plan for their families, and then to access comprehensive prenatal care when they do become pregnant.  Passing the Healthy Michigan Plan last year was an excellent first step for our state to ensure that more low-income adults can access health care.  And we know that more investments are needed to support family planning and prenatal care outreach, particularly for Michigan’s most challenged women.

Additionally, and I’ve talked about this before, three days after my son was born, I received a home visit by a registered nurse.  Fortunately, our policymakers recognize the value of evidence-based home visiting services, particularly for the challenged families who benefit the most from these programs.  Congress provided funds supporting evidence-based home visiting services in Michigan’s most challenged urban communities; and the State Legislature is set to provide a $2.5 million expansion of home visiting services to rural Northern Michigan and the U.P.  However, even with this investment and already existing funds for voluntary evidence-based home visiting, we continue to serve only a fraction of eligible families.

And finally, upon my return to work, we’ve been utilizing a combination of high quality child care – with my son spending a couple days a week at a five-star rated child care center and several days a week with his grandmother, who also happens to be a former early childhood educator.  Unfortunately, too many families cannot access high quality child care that promotes early learning and development.  Michigan is making steps in the right direction to improve its child care subsidy program for very low-income families.  First, the state has been awarded the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant that has a focus on improving quality among home-based child care providers.  Like me, this is an option chosen by many families.  And the Legislature and the Governor support  child care subsidy program improvements to better serve Michigan’s lowest-income families.  Supporting high quality child care will ensure that more kids are kindergarten-ready and can reduce the academic achievement gap.

These are just a few of the supports that I was particularly thankful for this Mother’s Day – supports that our state is working to expand for Michigan’s most challenged moms.  Unfortunately, in many areas, Michigan continues to fall short.  The policy changes that were made to the Family Independence Program (cash assistance) and Food Assistance Program (food stamps) have made it more challenging for low-income families to provide financially stable homes, and the children are suffering.  Child poverty continues to be on the rise in our state.  And, child abuse and neglect prevention programs have been significantly underfunded as evidenced by the unacceptable rise in child maltreatment over the past decade.  As legislators wrap up the fiscal year 2015 budget and head back to their communities to campaign for the upcoming elections, we must ask them and all candidates to prioritize the needs of Michigan’s struggling children and families.  We must hold them accountable so that all children can have a great start in life.

-Mina Hong

Child Care Realities

February 19, 2014 – This month marked the end of my maternity leave and the start of Lennon’s time in child care.  As a mom whose day job focuses on early childhood public policy issues, I am familiar with the ins and outs of what a high quality child care provider looks like and subsequently, what that means for costs.  As we were shopping around for child care providers; I, of course, was asking about Great Start to Quality ratings, curriculum, whether programs utilized a lower teacher-to-baby ratio than required by state licensing, and other questions that a typical parent searching for child care might not think to ask.  Lennon now spends a couple days a week in a NAEYC accredited, five-star rated program that we all love.  And our monthly finances have taken a significant hit to reflect that.

I say this because at the same time that Lennon was embarking on his child care experiences, Governor Snyder made some recommendations to strengthen Michigan’s public child care subsidy system – the Child Development and Care (CDC) program – in his budget presentation early this month.  One of his recommendations is to provide tiered reimbursement rates such that higher quality child care providers would receive a higher rate.  In theory, this is a step in the right direction since higher quality care is more expensive.  However, if you take a step back and look at the CDC program, you’ll see that this is a positive recommendation built upon a very weak structure.

For Lennon’s child care, we pay a monthly fee for his spot at the center.  In fact, his child care center doesn’t even accept payment on an hourly, daily, or weekly rate because they know that they need to rely on a certain amount of revenue each month to maintain the operations of their quality program.  For families who rely on the state’s child care subsidy, providers are reimbursed on an hourly rate.  Clearly this makes it extremely challenging for child care providers to support their businesses if they have to depend on on a less reliable hourly payment based on attendance.

Additionally, Michigan’s reimbursement rates are pitifully low, making it impossible for a low-income family who relies on the child care subsidy to afford a high quality program.  The current rate for an infant to attend a 5-star rated program in a child care center is $3.75 an hour.  Governor Snyder is proposing to increase that rate to $4.00 an hour for 3-star rated programs, $4.25 an hour for 4-star rated programs, and $4.50 an hour for 5-star rated programs.  Finding a high quality child care provider willing to accept $4.50 an hour to care for an infant is pretty much impossible.  For the very low-income families who are eligible for the CDC program, paying the difference between the subsidy and the true cost of care would be extremely challenging if not impossible.

What does this mean?  While tiered reimbursement is a positive step, Michigan must also restructure its payment system to better support parents and providers.  Not only do we need to address our hourly reimbursement system, but we also need to take a closer look at the reimbursement rates and what the marketplace demands.

Another one of Governor Snyder’s recommended changes to the CDC program is to increase the number of reimbursable hours from 80 to 90 hours in a two-week period.  This is a step in the right direction but continues to fall short.  At Lennon’s child care center – understanding that most full-time individuals work at least 8.5 hours a day once you factor in a lunch break, and that parents need time to travel to and from their workplace to the center – they allow parents to leave their children in care for up to 9.5 hours each day.  At that rate, we could access 95 hours of child care in a two-week period.  If I had to work multiple jobs to support my family, I would clearly need more hours of child care.  So while the Governor’s recommendation moves the state towards better supporting full-time working parents, it continues to fall short of the realities of what parents need.  Michigan should look to what many states have done and have no cap on the maximum number of subsidized child care hours that our state’s lowest-income working families can access.

In a nutshell, I’m glad to see the Governor begin to take a closer look at the CDC program and to move Michigan towards better supporting low income families.  These small steps are steps in the right direction.  However, to truly support families, we must consider more significant shifts to the structure of the CDC program.  While I feel fortunate to be able to send Lennon to a high quality child care program that provides a nurturing environment that promotes healthy development and early learning, I know that the children who could benefit the most from his program are the ones who likely can’t access it.  Michigan must do more to ensure that our state’s most challenged young children can benefit from high quality child care experiences – the quality experiences that can ensure all children have a great start in life.

-Mina Hong

Resolve to Better Serve Michigan’s Youngest

January 8, 2014 – As gym membership purchases skyrocket and cookie sales take a hit, there’s nothing like the start to a new year to have folks think about all the hopes and wishes they have for a new year.  While I’m not a new year’s resolution kind of gal, I do have some hopes and wishes for young children in Michigan.  And 2014 is a year where much progress can be made with the help of your advocacy efforts as well as Michigan’s recently awarded Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.

At Michigan’s Children, we’ve long been advocates for the state’s young people who face the greatest barriers to opportunities that promote education and life success – children who are disproportionately disadvantaged like children of color and children from low-income families.  And we know the greatest avenue to success is to focus on prevention efforts to mitigate the disparities that emerge early and can persist over a lifetime.  As a state, we’ve clearly made great progress in this arena as evidenced by the significant expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program.  However, we know we have to start before preschool since disparities in cognitive development – which leads to the achievement gap – can emerge as young as nine months of age.  When we provide services for young children prenatally through age three coupled with a high quality preschool program like the Great Start Readiness Program, we can make significant strides towards ensuring all children are prepared for kindergarten while preventing the achievement gap.

As we ramp up preschool services for four-year-olds, Michigan must expand services to families with very young children prenatally through age three. Two key opportunities for bolstering services for this population are to strengthen the subsidized child care system and to expand evidence-based home visiting services.  In essence, ensuring that very young children have the best environments for their learning and development in the two places where they spend their days – at home and in child care while their parents work.  At the same time that the federal government has improved access to home visiting by increasing available funding, Michigan has bolstered the quality of home visiting services by mandating that publicly funded programs be evidence-based or promising programs.  Now, the state must also take responsibility for expanding access to these services since they still reach only a small fraction of the families who are eligible.

Additionally, our subsidized child care system continues to be one of the worst in the nation with woefully low reimbursement rates that are paid on an hourly basis.  And, with infant and toddler care being the most expensive, accessing high quality (read: 5-star rated programs in Great Start to Quality) is next to impossible with the current subsidy structure.  But opportunities to strengthen the child care system exist – especially with Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grant award.  With our RTT-ELC grant, Michigan will focus on bolstering child care services to the most challenged families.  For infants and toddlers, a scholarship will be available to families in high needs communities, which will allow more young children access to the highest quality care that promotes healthy development and eliminates the school readiness gap.  While these scholarships are a great model that Michigan can replicate across the state, the RTT-ELC grant will only provide scholarships to a small fraction of the thousands of infants and toddlers who currently receive subsidized care.

More broadly, Michigan will use its RTT-ELC grant funding to provide incentives for more child care providers to participate in Great Start to Quality so that parents can be better informed about the quality of care they select for their children.  And, Michigan will make a concerted effort to support both licensed and unlicensed home-based child care providers to increase the quality of their care.  This is a significant step in the right direction since we know that many families – particularly families with very young children – opt for home-based care for many reasons including affordability, trust, cultural alignment, and convenience.  These opportunities will support parental choice so that parents can make the best possible decision about the care they purchase for their children.

While we have a ways to go to better serve Michigan’s youngest children, I am encouraged by the efforts we have already made and the plans we have laid out in our RTT-ELC grant.  While it would be overly optimistic to say that I hope the state’s “new year’s resolution” is to provide all young children prenatally through age five with the high quality services they need to be prepared for kindergarten, 2014 will prove to be a year where we can make great strides towards this goal.  Won’t you join us in these efforts?  The Governor will be unveiling his state budget proposal for the next fiscal year in February and shortly thereafter, the Legislature will be building the state’s budget.  Now is the time to talk to your legislators about how we can better support Michigan’s struggling children even before they reach preschool – by increasing access to evidence-based home visiting services and expanding and embedding opportunities available through the RTT-ELC into state policy.  2014 must be the year that we make significant strides so that all of Michigan’s most challenged young children can have access to opportunities that will help them thrive.

Learn more about Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant on the Michigan Office of Great Start website.

-Mina Hong

Michigan’s Child Care System Continues to Struggle

Today, the National Women’s Law Center released its annual state-by-state report on the status of child care. This year’s report, Pivot Point: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2013, examines five critical factors that determine the affordability, accessibility, and quality of assistance in each state: income eligibility, waiting lists for assistance, co-payments required of parents receiving assistance, reimbursement rates for child care providers, and eligibility for parents searching for a job. What the report shows us is that Michigan continues to fall behind other states in these critical areas and must make policy changes to bolster its child care system to truly embed it within our P-20 education system. Here are a few critical pieces of the report.

One area where Michigan has gotten progressively worse is in the area of eligibility. The original intent of the child care subsidy is to support low-income working parents who struggle to afford child care while maintaining their employment. Between 2012 and 2013, nearly half of the states increased their income eligibility limits to keep pace with or exceed inflation; and forty-six states increased their income eligibility limits as a dollar amount between 2001 and 2013. However, Michigan did none of these.  Between 2012 and 2013, our state did not adjust its income eligibility limits for families to access the child care subsidy, maintaining eligibility at an annual income of $23,380 for a family of three. Since no adjustments were made for inflation, this means that families now living at 122% of the federal poverty level (FPL) could access the subsidy. Moreover in 2001, Michigan allowed families of three making $26,064 annually (178% FPL) to access the subsidy. In essence, Michigan has shifted its eligibility such that working families need to be poorer to access this critical support.

Beyond the fact that the subsidy is supposed to help parents maintain family-supporting employment, the reimbursement rates in Michigan make it extremely challenging for parents to afford quality care. Federal regulations recommend that rates be set at the 75th percentile of current market rates – a rate that is designed to allow families access to 75 percent of the providers in their communities. However, Michigan does not come close to meeting this recommendation. In fact, for a four-year-old in center-based child care, a family can receive up to $433 in subsidy per month, though the 75th percentile averages $974 per month. For a one-year-old in center-based care, families can receive up to $650 in subsidy though the 75th percentile of the market rate is $1,000 per month. Clearly, the reimbursement provided is insufficient to ensure families can access high quality care, and families can be charged co-pays to make-up the difference between the true cost of care and the subsidy amount. This is a significant financial stretch for Michigan’s poorest working families who are served by the child care subsidy system.

Beyond the low reimbursement rate, Michigan is one of three states that provides child care subsidies on an hourly basis that’s dependent on a child’s attendance. Most other states provide child care subsidies on a daily, weekly, or monthly rate, which we know is aligned with what high quality child care programs need and charge private-paying families. This consistency in payment, that’s not dependent on attendance, is critical for programs to maintain their business model to provide high quality care and is the way that the child care market operates. Providing an hourly reimbursement makes it challenging for providers to anticipate continued revenue from subsidized families, making it difficult for providers to support quality improvement efforts – efforts that are critical to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Finally, Michigan fails to promote continuity of care, which we know to be critical to the healthy development and learning of young children. Michigan is one of only five states that does not allow families to maintain their child care assistance while looking for a job if they become unemployed while receiving the subsidy. We know this to be problematic not only because families need to be able to access child care to attend job interviews but it also allows parents to start working sooner if they already have child care available when they secure a new job. For children, having consistent care from a high quality provider ensures the best outcomes for their learning and development.

Michigan has a long way to go towards ensuring a robust child care subsidy system that truly supports working parents while promoting the learning and developmental needs of our most challenged children. Other states have shifted their child care subsidy systems to promote school readiness for young children through high quality early childhood settings, promote school success for school-aged children through high quality after-school programming, and support low-income working families to access these quality programs. As a state, we must ask ourselves what is our ultimate vision for children and families served by our child care subsidy system and how can we transform our policies and procedures to achieve that?

-Mina Hong

Supporting Michigan’s Poorest Families with Young Children from Birth to Age Three

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2012 data on poverty rates across the country and the data was bleak for Michigan.  While our child poverty rate did not increase from the previous year, it remained stagnant, demonstrating that children and families continue to struggle during Michigan’s economic “recovery”.  One out of four Michigan children continue to live in poverty and we know that even higher shares of our young children from birth to age three are more likely to be living in poverty than older children.  What’s even more dire are that young children of color are still more likely to be living in poverty than white children.  The consequences of childhood poverty – particularly in the first few years of life – have long been established and we know that the outcomes are not acceptable.  With racial and economic disparities in cognitive achievement (aka the beginnings of the achievement gap) emerging as young as nine months of age, focusing on prevention efforts that mitigate the harmful effects of poverty are essential to ensuring that children are ready for school and life.

Business leaders and economists have become particularly effective advocates for high quality early childhood programming.  The Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan played a vital role in securing Michigan’s $65 million expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program (GSRP).  Nationally, a group of business leaders organized by ReadyNation is carrying a similar message in Washington, DC.  And earlier this week at the ReadyNation Summit, Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman presented on the return on investment from high quality early childhood programming and reiterated that the greatest returns are seen from programs that start the earliest – programs that are targeted prenatally and during the infant and toddler stages.

Michigan is well poised to support its lowest-income young learners.  We can do so by maximizing our GSRP investment to reap the greatest return by bolstering our efforts that begin before four years of age.  We already have the infrastructure in place to expand voluntary home visiting services, thanks to the federal Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting program and Public Act 291 which requires the state to only support evidence-based or promising home visiting programs that are backed by research.  Now, we must focus on expanding home visiting services to reach more of Michigan’s very challenged families, since we know that home visiting programs not only provide significant benefits for young children in terms of their healthy development and learning but also supports parents on a path towards economic stability.  Furthermore, we have the infrastructure to bolster our child care program through Great Start to Quality – the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.  Continued efforts to strengthen the child care subsidy system can ensure that parents can maintain stable employment to support their families while supporting children’s learning and development in high quality child care settings.  These are two clear tools that Michigan can better utilize to mitigate the harmful consequences of poverty that, as James Heckman has said, provide the greatest return on taxpayer dollar.  So what are we waiting for?

-Mina Hong

Federal Child Care Changes Will Benefit Michigan Children

Last week was the final week to submit comments to the federal Administration for Children and Families – Office of Child Care regarding proposed rule changes to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).  The CCDF is a federal program that provides a subsidy to child care providers to allow low-income parents work or attend training/education.  In Michigan, 27,700 families benefit from the child care subsidy to support care for their young children and before- and after-school care for children through age 12.  The CCDF currently gives states the flexibility to design subsidy systems that take into account local market dynamics, budgetary limitations and other factors unique to the local child care landscape which has resulted in significant differences in the child care subsidy system across states.  Many of the proposed rule changes would tighten up some of this flexibility based on research and data on what children and families need through a child care subsidy system.  The proposed rule changes would increase quality and access to child care for Michigan’s lowest-income families and would assist us in moving towards a more family-friendly child care system.

One of the proposed changes is to require rather than allow a period of job search for families receiving child care assistance who lose their jobs.  Michigan is only one of four states where families who receive the child care subsidy immediately lose this benefit if they lose their job.  In Michigan, where we’re continuing to rebuild our economy and struggle with unemployment rates higher than the national average, the lowest income earners are often the ones who have the least stability in their employment.  Thus, allowing some period for job searching can ensure that families retain their subsidy and that children can have some consistency in their care.

Another proposed change would require states to include a description of how their payment practices take into account the quality of child care and support high quality.  While the CCDF was set-up primarily as a work support, it does require states to spend at least four percent of their CCDF funds on activities designed to improve the quality of child care to promote healthy child development.  In Michigan, this has supported efforts to boost quality in child care settings for young children, but no efforts have been made to reform the payment structure to support higher quality settings.  This rule change would be a struggle for Michigan, since we’re one of three states that reimburse providers on an hourly schedule, with the vast majority of states providing daily, weekly, or even monthly payment structures that are more aligned with the current child care market.  Providing an hourly rate makes it more difficult for child care providers to provide quality care if they’re not receiving payment for times when a subsidized child is absent – times when private paying families would consistently be paying for their child care slot.  This inconsistency in payment makes it difficult for providers to rely on a consistent source of revenue to support their quality programming.

Furthermore, Michigan’s subsidy payments are sorely inadequate to ensure access to high quality child care.  Current CCDF rules require states to survey child care providers’ market rates every two years and recommend that rates be set so that families would be able to access 75 percent of the child care providers in their community (the 75th percentile).  However, this is currently a suggestion rather than a mandate.  In Michigan, payment rates vary between $1.35 an hour to a maximum of $3.75 an hour, depending on the age of the child and the setting for which s/he receives care – falling significantly short of the recommended 75th percentile.  For example, for a Michigan family to send their four-year-old to a child care center would cost, on average, $974 per month but with the child care subsidy, would only receive $433 per month.  Clearly these reimbursements are inadequate for parents to purchase high quality care.  If Michigan truly wants to provide a quality experience for low income children, providing a more robust reimbursement rate that aligns with the market would ensure that families can access the types of out-of-home learning environments they seek for their children.

Overall, the proposed rule changes to the CCDF are welcomed here in Michigan as we continue to build a comprehensive P-20 education system that also supports children in child care settings.  Access to high quality care can ensure that young children are better prepared for kindergarten and that students in elementary and middle school can access quality before- and after-school programming that promotes their learning.  Critical steps include: allowing families to maintain their subsidy when they lose their jobs and are seeking new employment; shifting the payment structure to daily, weekly, or monthly rates; and increasing the subsidy payment.  Regardless of the eventual rule changes, Michigan needs to work more proactively to provide a more family-friendly system that would allow families to access consistent, quality child care.

-Mina Hong

Secretary Duncan, You Missed An Awesome Opportunity

Monday afternoon, early childhood advocates and fans filled a room at the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti to hear from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, Governor Rick Snyder on his efforts to expand preschool, and other experts on the value of early childhood education.  While Washtenaw County residents made-up a significant portion of the folks in the room, early childhood advocates from Detroit, Lansing and other communities also were in attendance to learn more about what Secretary Duncan had to say about the President’s historic effort to expand early learning opportunities across the prenatal through age five spectrum.

While the excitement around preschool is much deserved and grounded in solid research, I can’t help but feel that Secretary Duncan missed an opportunity to promote the comprehensive nature of the President’s Early Learning Plan.  For starters, the President’s plan doesn’t focus purely on four-year-old preschool, but rather encompasses the entire early learning experiences that are needed prenatally through age five.  Specifically, Obama’s plan calls for investments to expand evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, investments in high quality Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships that serve young children from birth through age three, high quality preschool for four-year-olds, and full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds.  This is what a comprehensive early learning plan looks like.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation yesterday revolved around preschool with only one mention to home visiting.

When Secretary Duncan was sitting next to Governor Snyder, I wish he had emphasized these other critical components to the early learning plan.  Preschool is a critical component and one that we know helps reduce disparities in school readiness.  We also know that for the children and families who are struggling the most in Michigan, more comprehensive services beginning prenatally that connect to a high quality preschool program ensures that more children will be better prepared for kindergarten.

And while we’re at it, there was quite a bit of discussion about universal preschool, with talk by Washtenaw residents who volunteered to pilot a universal preschool model in their county.  I would argue that this is antithetical to the early childhood system, which was created to serve the most challenged children and families.  In fact, all of the research supporting the return on investment for high quality early learning experiences is based on programs that serve very low-income children whose families often faced multiple challenges.  Rather than jumping to four-year-old preschool for all children, Michigan should first build a comprehensive early childhood system similar to the President’s proposal so that more kids are ready to succeed at kindergarten and beyond.  In Michigan, we need to expand access to voluntary home visiting and other services prenatally through age three, bolster our child care system (which is one of the worst in the nation), at the same time that we expand access to preschool for low-income children.   This is how we prevent the school readiness gap, prevent the achievement gap that we see in K-12, and ensure that we get the greatest return on our taxpayers’ investment – not by providing preschool for all children.

As Secretary Duncan continues to travel the country to promote Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, I would urge him not to shy away from discussing the details of the President’s plan.  He had a great opportunity this week in a room full of early childhood advocates who understand that the early childhood system doesn’t begin with preschool – he can help us move the public discourse towards a more comprehensive early childhood system.

-Mina Hong

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