Detroit isn’t devoting its COVID dollars to early education – Chalkbeat Detroit | Team Cansler

The city of Detroit is not allocating any of its $826 million in federal COVID relief funds to local childcare providers — a missed opportunity, advocates say, to support an important service to children, families and the local economy.

While other major cities set aside COVID funds specifically for child care facilities and early childhood educators, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration shelved a planned $6 million investment in child care infrastructure to make more room for investment in home repairs, internet access and job training .

Officials plan to send some of the federal aid to the childcare sector — about $775,000, or 0.09% of the total — through economic development programs, which will support childcare programs along with other businesses.

The $6 million plan is still in effect, but the city will be reaching out to philanthropists and businesses to help cover costs, said Adrian Monge, director of the city’s Office of Early Education, whose position is also funded by philanthropic contributions .

Critics say the decision is a sign that the city is not putting skin on the line to support a childcare sector battered by the pandemic. They are urging city officials to back up their talk of supporting early education and using the city’s federal funds to fund the plan.

“It’s inconceivable that the city government would not use available funds to offset challenges like living wages for early childhood educators and more,” said Denise Smith, director of Hope Starts Here, a Detroit-based early childhood education initiative run by some of the same nonprofit organizations will fund the Monges position. She noted that the city has a “deficit of 22,000 licensed quality options for families who need childcare.”

“The Office of Early Learning has proposed a solid plan that has had the support of early childhood stakeholders,” she added. “It is untenable that funding to support this plan has not been approved.”

Duggan has said for years that he wants to expand the city’s early childhood offerings. However, its recent efforts to expand the city’s role in preschool fell through in this year’s state budget negotiations, and the city’s other early education initiatives, such as the Bureau of Early Education, are supported by third-party funding.

Childcare workers say the city could make a big difference with the COVID relief funds.

“With this funding, help us give the kids a cleaner, safer place to play and we can beautify the city,” said Denise Lomax, owner of Child Star Development Center, a highly rated two-site day care center in Detroit. “Please help us financially to hire more people so we can pay them a decent wage.”

Lomax added that she filed an application nearly a year ago to buy and clean up Detroit Land Bank vacant lots near one of her centers, but she said officials have not responded to the application.

Monge said the city is focused on using its existing resources to support child care programs.

“City departments are constantly developing plans, strategies and blueprints to determine how to best allocate resources to Detroiters to best serve our city,” she said. “These things are always in progress and subject to change.”

Other major cities have allocated COVID funds to invest directly in educators and childcare facilities, according to April data collected by the National League of Cities. Milwaukee plans to improve its educator pipeline by paying black male high school students to earn childcare credentials. Baltimore will provide direct assistance to providers adversely affected by the pandemic. Phoenix plans to build a day care center for airport workers. Boston will pay vendors to hire new staff.

Detroit received $826 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, the largest of several relief packages approved by Congress during the pandemic. The city has only spent about 5% of that so far, mostly on community health workers, foreclosure prevention programs, and administrative costs.

Although Detroit’s allocation has been among the largest of any US city, there is a wide range of urgent investment needs arising from the deterioration of its industrial and fiscal fundamentals over several decades.

“There are so many competing priorities, and there are many needs,” said Tonja Rucker, director of early childhood success for the National League of Cities, which tracks ARPA spending.

“But on the early childhood side, we have clear evidence that the return on investment is real,” Rucker said.

Certainly, the city’s shelved $6 million in childcare investment and workforce for early childhood educators represents a tiny fraction of the $1.4 billion in COVID relief the state is spending on childcare. That money is distributed through grants and other programs to child care programs across the state — including Detroit.

But advocates and providers said the state’s spending doesn’t relieve the city of its responsibility to make its own investments. Even with the recent COVID relief, the current childcare funding model — a mix of public dollars and private parent payments — does not allow providers to pay early childhood educators a living wage, resulting in extremely high attrition that makes it very difficult for the Quality maintain programs.

“This is unacceptable,” said Jametta Lilly, CEO of Detroit Parent Network, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Our children need and deserve our best. I would hope that our mayor, like our governor, will listen and say, ‘Okay, let’s make sure this budget is heavily weighted toward building childcare infrastructure.'”

Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering K-12 schools and early childhood education. Contact Koby at klevin@chalkbeat.org.

Leave a Comment