Elected officials and childcare workers discuss the state of childcare in Washtenaw County
Michigan Caregivers and Student Parents (MCaSP) sat down with elected officials and childcare providers Friday night to discuss the state of childcare in Washtenaw County. The panel discussed the impact of the pandemic and highlighted differences in the availability of childcare and the need for increased federal and state funding.
MCaSP, a University of Michigan student organization sponsored by the Center for the Education of Women +, is committed to bringing student parents together and supporting their education by advocating equitable resources. LSA Senior Jessica Pelton, MCaSP President and Parent, helped organize the panel, saying the momentum to support funding for childcare through state and district officials is in place and integral to the university’s faculty and student parents.
“(We need to know) what other help we can get so we can incorporate changes at the university level and make a difference,” said Pelton. “Because we’ve heard of different funding sources, like the tri-share model … if the University of Michigan uses that, it could make a difference.”
Since the beginning of the school year, student parents at the university have also had difficulties organizing face-to-face teaching alongside parents. The abolition of the pre and post school program in Ann Arbor has resulted in parents looking for other options, including enrichment programs that are not run by licensed childcare providers and are therefore not subsidized by the university.
In May, AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift announced that the school-age childcare program would not be offered in the 2021-2022 school year due to COVID-related concerns and staff shortages. The decision sparked backlash from AAPS parents, including Liz Lin, local childcare attorney and parent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, and AAPS parent Andrea Huang to co-author a petition to resume the program. The petition currently has more than 1,100 signatures from district parents.
Lin and LSA Senior Catherine Hadley, MCaSP vice president and student parent, co-hosted and also helped organize the panel event. Lin said while the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of childcare infrastructure for working parents, the need for childcare in Washtenaw County is an ongoing concern.
“Daycare centers are so low on money and staff, and families feel more stressed than ever because of the high cost,” Lin said. “So we found it really important to bring providers and families together and vote in the same room and start this conversation about how we can all work together to solve this problem that is currently in full blown crisis mode.”
Hadley said the pandemic resulted in millions of women leaving the workforce. She said funding viable childcare is an important economic tool to encourage and support their return.
“In my opinion, childcare is a public good that we treat as a private good, and that’s why everyone suffers,” Hadley said. “The providers can’t make ends meet, the workers don’t get a living wage, and then we don’t get any childcare.”
Panelist and Alderman Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said the springtime childcare program cancellation had shown the need for childcare for the Ann Arbor workforce. Affected residents and key workers do not have the means to hire nannies or other support, Song said.
“I mean, there are certain realities here in our city,” said Song. “We are the eighth largest (socio-economic) segregated community in the country. We are in a state that refuses to invest in public education. We are in a district where a quarter of our children live at or below the poverty line. And the pandemic has devastated our BIPOC families in particular. ”
Regarding the recovery from the pandemic, Song said the city wants to encourage conversations with residents. Song also said they suggested donating some funds to homelessness-related organizations and schools-related organizations to provide childcare and other support.
“We should also look at how other counties in our county are functioning during the pandemic, and we can learn from and support them too,” Song said. “Ann Arbor is not an island in itself. Sometimes we are, but it’s pretty clear that we need people, especially women, who have dedicated themselves to childcare (and) who have been taking the burden for generations. ”
Laura Stidham, executive director of Community Day Care, said a total of 30 daycare and home care centers were closed in Washtenaw County during the pandemic. She said that starting and running a daycare center involves significant costs, from installing fire doors to creating a parking lot.
“It’s enormously expensive so it won’t be a small loan,” said Stidham. “It’ll be at least between $ 100,000 and a million dollars. The center we built at Towsley Children’s House costs $ 5 million and serves 150 children. “
County Commissioner Andy LaBarre also said childcare workers are underpaid for valuable work. He said workers often worked long hours, between 10 and 12 hours a day for $ 9 to $ 12 an hour. When workers sign contracts, they can also be excluded from the Living Wage Ordinance, which was passed 20 years ago.
“It’s a poverty wage for a vital, in some cases vital, job. It’s awful, ”said LaBarre.
On September 22nd, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a $ 1.4 billion bill to make childcare more affordable and accessible. The bill went into effect on October 1 and aims to care for 105,000 additional children at low cost or free of charge.
Jennie McAlpine, senior director of work-life programs at the university, said the grant could be used for long-term pay increases for childcare providers.
“I think it has to be systemic. It has to be a jack of all trades, ”said McAlpine. “It has to be a normal tax, just like we pay for our schools, and until people start incorporating education from birth, that won’t happen.”
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said he has seen continuous devaluation of education since he started working in the Michigan House of Representatives in 2017. He said the passage of the bill showed that education has started to be a priority across the gang and is an important part of a legislative package that focuses on childcare.
“This package is really focused on helping childcare organizations,” said Rabhi. “To apply for their licenses, streamline that process, and really create networks through which they can collaborate and communicate and share resources, to pretty much strengthen that. So that was a really positive step. “
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said while childcare is a tremendous struggle for most families, it’s especially difficult for families with fewer resources and less flexibility in their work lives. He said he felt it was important to recognize the devaluation of emotional and physical work that parents, especially women, are doing in the country.
“If you look at nursing versus doctors … some of the home nurses who have been on the front lines in recent years – we devalue these jobs, we pay these people criminally low wages,” said Irwin. “And then we ask ourselves why the system isn’t working.”