Michigan’s Caring for MI Future Through Expanded Child Care Access

A group of young students sit in front of their teacher mimicking the teacher's movements while playing a game.
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Written by: Emily Laidlaw
March 26, 2024

This post comes to us from Emily Laidlaw, Deputy Director of Early Education with the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP). All views expressed in this post are those of the author.

Every family deserves access to quality early learning and care — regardless of their zip code, economic status or their children’s ages. But, in Michigan (like nearly every state across the country), far too many families struggle to find care that meets their needs.  

Michigan is making real progress to lower costs and expand access to safe, reliable, high-quality child care options for families.  

Lowering Costs  

Today, nearly 40,000 families have access to low- or no-cost child care through the state’s child care subsidy program called the Child Development and Care program. The program currently serves 15,000 more children than it did in January 2021. 

Michigan is expanding access to high-quality PreK programming and working toward the governor’s PreK for All goal.  

We’re also proud to be home to the first-in-the-nation Tri-Share program, which splits child care costs between employees, employers and the state. Over 175 employers from different industries and regions are already signed up.   

Expanding Access  

We know that affordability doesn’t matter if there aren’t child care options that meet families’ needs. This is why Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set a goal to open 1,000 new child care programs within two years. With a $100 million investment, we created an ambitious strategy called Caring for MI Future to recruit new and expanding child care businesses.  

Together with partners across Michigan, we achieved this goal a full year ahead of schedule. Our strategy stands out because it focuses on:  

  1. Ramping Up Funding and Flexibility for Start-Ups.
    The cost of opening or expanding a facility can be prohibitive for small business owners. To offset these costs, Caring for MI Future launched three grant programs to support child care entrepreneurs in starting the licensing process, purchasing materials and curriculum, and making facility updates. Opportunities for entrepreneurs to refine business skills through training, technical assistance and one-on-one business coaching support are embedded in these programs.The programs deployed dedicated licensing navigators to assist providers through the licensing process, resolve technical questions, and reduce inspection and permitting barriers with local governments. The effort resulted in greatly expanded access to capital and a streamlined, more user-friendly licensing process.
  2. Recruiting and Training Staff for New and Expanding Sites.
    One of the biggest challenges prospective entrepreneurs raised was staffing. Caring for MI Future invested in workforce strategies to recruit and retain talent in the child care sector. Collaborations between the state, higher education institutes and TEACH expanded Child Development Associate (CDA) scholarships and certifications. These collaborations also helped regional workforce development partners start up, scale and sustain registered apprenticeship models.These regional partners engaged licensing officials in variance requests to licensing rules and resolution to fill staffing vacancies immediately while working toward professional development goals. To grow the pipeline into the future, high school students enrolled in a career and technical education program pursuing their CDA are eligible for scholarships and every community college in the state now offers a CDA program.
  3. Building and Sustaining Local Efforts to Identify and Respond to Child Care Needs.
    Understanding that Michigan’s racial, ethnic and geographic diversity requires a local approach to growth and sustainability, regional planning coalitions accelerated community-level efforts around business attraction and retention with ongoing support from partners at the Innovation Fund. Collaborations between economic development organizations and early childhood leaders strengthened awareness of the importance of local investment and strategy and served as incubators for networks of family child care providers.

In 2023, Gov. Whitmer created the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential, or MiLEAP, to lead our statewide work to expand opportunities for Michiganders from preschool to postsecondary. Michigan’s full child care team is now at this new department, and we are setting our next goals to continue making Michigan a great state to raise a family.

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Emily Laidlaw

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