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Detroit isn’t spending its COVID dollars on early education. The lawyers are unhappy.

The city of Detroit does not dedicate any of its $826 million in federal COVID relief funds to local child care providers — a missed opportunity, advocates say, to support an essential service for children, families and the local economy.

While other major cities have set aside COVID funds specifically for child care centers and early childhood educators, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration has suspended a planned $6 million investment in child care infrastructure. children 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 child care sector — about $775,000, or 0.09% of the total — through economic development programs that will support child care programs. children as well as other businesses.

The $6 million plan is still in place, but the city will look to philanthropies and corporations to cover the costs, said Adrian Monge, director of the city’s Office of Early Learning, whose position is also funded by philanthropic contributions.

Critics say the decision is a sign the city is not stepping up to support a pandemic-battered child care sector. They’re asking city officials to back up their rhetoric about supporting early education and use federal city funds to pay for the plan.

“It is inconceivable that the city’s governance is not devoting available funds to offset challenges such as living wages for early educators and more,” said Denise Smith, director of Hope Starts Here, an early childhood initiative. based in Detroit backed by some of the same nonprofits. who finance Monge’s position. She noted that the city has a “deficit of 22,000 licensed quality options for families in need of child care.”

“The Office of Early Learning has come up with a solid plan that has been endorsed by early childhood stakeholders,” she added. “It seems untenable that the funding to support this plan has not been forthcoming.”

Duggan has said for years that he wants to expand the city’s early childhood offerings. But his latest efforts to expand the city’s role in preschool failed in budget negotiations this year, and the city’s other early education initiatives, like the Office of Early Learning, are supported by funding. exteriors.

Child care providers say the city could make a big difference with COVID relief dollars.

“Help us with this funding so that children have a cleaner, safer environment for children, and we can beautify the city,” said Denise Lomax, owner of Child Star Development Center, a popular daycare center with two locations. . in Detroit. “Help us with funds to employ more people, so we can give them a living wage.”

Lomax added that it applied nearly a year ago to purchase and clean up vacant land owned by the Detroit Land Bank near one of its centers, but said officials had no did not respond to the request.

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 get the most funding possible for Detroit residents and best serve our city,” she said. “These things are still ongoing and subject to change.”

Other major cities have set aside 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 network of educators by paying for black high school students to earn child care credentials. Baltimore will provide direct assistance to providers negatively impacted by the pandemic. Phoenix plans to build a daycare 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 Congress-approved relief programs during the pandemic. The city has so far only spent about 5% of thatmainly on community health workers, seizure prevention programs and administrative costs.

While Detroit’s allocation was among the largest of any US city, it has a wide range of pressing investment needs resulting from the deterioration of its industrial and fiscal foundations over decades.

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

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

Admittedly, the city’s $6 million investment in child care centers and the early childhood educator workforce is only a tiny fraction of the investment. $1.4 billion in COVID relief state support for childcare. That money is distributed to child care programs across the state — including Detroit — through grants and other programs.

But advocates and providers said state spending does not absolve the city of the responsibility to make its own investments. Even with recent COVID assistance, the current funding model for child care – a mix of public funds and private payments to parents – does not allow providers to pay early educators a living wage, resulting in extremely high turnover which makes it very difficult to maintain program quality.

“This is unacceptable,” said Jametta Lilly, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Our children need and deserve our best. I hope our mayor, just like our governor, will listen and say, “OK, let’s make sure this budget is significantly allocated to building child care infrastructure.”

Koby Levin is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit, covering K-12 schools and early childhood education. Contact Koby at [email protected].

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