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Michigan will see a new source of revenue soon in accordance with the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision. As of Oct. 1, over $200 million in new revenue will be generated annually through the collection of sales tax from online stores located outside the state.

Current law directs much of this sales tax revenue to education; however, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed spending the money on roads instead. We agree that our roads are a clear priority, but not at the expense of education. 

According to National Assessment of Educational Progress data from 2014 to 2016, Michigan saw the biggest decline in third-grade English language arts proficiency; a decline of 50 percent to 44.1 percent. In 2017, more than half of Michigan third-graders did not pass the state reading assessments. If those assessments aren’t dramatically improved, students who are at least a year behind grade level in reading skills will have to repeat third grade in the 2019-20 school year. Armed with these data points, additional disinvestment is unwise and shortsighted.  What’s more, without strategic investment in the foundational and earliest years of development and learning, birth to five years-old, Michigan is unlikely to circumvent this trend.  

Research shows that early education is particularly valuable. According to the Perry Preschool Study, there is a return on investment of $7 to $12 for every $1 invested in high quality early childhood programs.

The Flint Early Childhood Collaborate, a diverse group of motivated partners instigating opportunity for Flint’s youngest children and families, has identified three main areas of focus for its policy agenda: appropriate investments to sustain high-quality early childhood programs, increased early childhood subsidies for more families, and aligned professional development for early learning educators, birth to age 8.

Michigan ranks at the bottom in its early childhood investments compared to other states, which comes as no surprise given we have the lowest reimbursement rates for early childhood providers in the Midwest. This is well below the federal benchmark and an increased total investment of $3,000 per child for high-quality licensed programs is a good start to put us back in line with federal standards.

A contributing factor for Michigan’s low ranking from above is the number of families that qualify for subsidies based on the federal poverty level. Michigan’s current eligibility threshold is set at 130 percent of the poverty level. Many providers don’t even accept the subsidy due to the low reimbursement rate! In concurrence with the Michigan League for Public Policy recommendations, Michigan should raise the eligibility to 150 percent of the poverty level and increase the subsidy. Just a 15 percent increase would help at least 12,000 children! A substantial increase in access to high-quality care for young children would allow many parents to increase their employment and earnings, especially those with lower incomes.

Moreover, a critical bridge to elementary school success - joint professional development of early childhood educators and elementary teachers, is virtually non-existent. In lieu of a birth to eight certification, Michigan’s minimal address should be vertically aligned professional development that will increase early educators’ capacity to both prepare children for their next development and learning milestones and mitigate any readiness delays.

Indeed, the professional development of practicing early childhood educators is considered critical to the quality of experiences afforded to children. Numerous studies emphasize the need to invest in early childhood education, parents of young children and those providing early learning experiences. If Michigan is to truly regain its place on the map as a top 10 state, we must find a way to fix our roads and make education a priority.

Denise Smith is executive director of the Flint Early Childhood Collaborative.

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