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Education is essential – but expensive – for Michigan’s youngest residents


May 24, 2018
Brian McVicar
M Live

LaQuanda Murphy is counting down the months until September.

That’s when her four-year-old son, Kaycen, will qualify for free preschool through the state’s Great Start Readiness Program. It’s a big deal to the Saginaw area single mother for two reasons: her son will get a high-quality education, and her $500 monthly bill for childcare will disappear.

“I definitely feel it in my pocketbook,” said Murphy, 29, who works for the U.S. Postal Service. “It all just boils down to readjusting, because I have to do it.”

While Michigan provides free, state-funded preschool for 4-year-olds from low-to-moderate-income families, it offers little financial help for families with children ages three and younger.

Research has shown that children’s brains develop rapidly from birth to age three – making early childhood learning an important stepping stone. High-quality childcare promotes strong social, emotional and language development, putting children on the path to success by the time they enter kindergarten.

It’s a lack of investment that hurts families and the economy, experts say.

Often, it means struggling families must settle for lower-quality care – such as a family friend or neighbor down the street – rather than a licensed program. Or parents must cut back on their hours on the job or stay out of the workforce entirely.

“Parents across the economic spectrum in Michigan are challenged with childcare costs,” said Matt Gillard, President and CEO of Michigan’s Children, an advocacy group focusing on the needs of low-income children and families. “Parents want high-quality childcare opportunities for their children when they’re at work. Policy makers need to do a better job of prioritizing that.”

A significant expense

High-quality childcare can be one of the most significant expenses families face.

In Michigan, the cost of care for an infant – typically the most expensive age – averages $10,281 per-year at a childcare center and $7,179 at a private, home-based provider, according to Childcare Aware of America, an advocacy group.

If you’re looking for help footing the bill, chances are you don’t qualify. The state of Michigan provides assistance, but only for some of the poorest families.

Currently, that’s families at 130 percent or less of the federal poverty rate. For a family of three, that translates into an annual income of roughly $26,600.

It’s one of the most restrictive income eligibility requirements in the nation.

Fourteen other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Maryland and Alabama, don’t provide help to a family of three with an annual income above $30,630, according to a 2017 study from the National Women’s Law Center.