The Kent County Board of Commissioners pro/con discussion of placing an early childhood development services millage on the November ballot is worthy of note, but the Business Journal advocates for the opportunity to allow county residents to do the same and decide the worthiness of a fundamental building block for children — and future workforce.
First Steps Kent, a public-private partnership that works to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services in Kent County, is requesting the millage for 2018-24 to help fund a gap in prevention and early intervention services. Those gaps affect approximately 22,000 Kent County children who are eligible for early childhood development services but are not receiving them, largely because parents are often working more than one job outside the home.
Michigan’s dismal and shocking 2018 State of Michigan Education Report by Education Trust-Midwest shows Michigan third-graders now are the “lowest-performing students in the U.S. among peers based on the state’s assessment.”
Regional business leaders have long recognized the importance of their support and voice in early education. Doug DeVos, Amway president, and Kate Pew Wolters, chair of the Steelcase Foundation, were just two among the business leaders who lined up early in support for the First Steps program.
Kent County commissioners Tom Antor and Roger Morgan appear to be confusing Michigan school funding formulas with teaching toddlers. Antor commented, “They always bring up third-grade readings levels, but they never fix it.” In fact, Kent County programs have shown children engaged in early childhood services have outperformed peers in third-grade reading scores. The First Steps initiative does not include preschool or child care because of current state discussions and other collaboration.
Kent County commissioners were the first to recognize its importance. It was the first county in the state in 2000 to commit general fund resources to services for children and families. The reason for First Steps was abundantly clear after former Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor focused on the issue of children unprepared for kindergarten — he estimated 83 percent of GRPS 5-year-olds — and the corresponding impact of their likely long-term economic failure.
The millage request proposal was cut in half, from 0.5 mills over seven years, to .25, citing possible federal and state funding shift developments and a possible shifting of local priorities. The Legislative and Human Resources Committee must approve the proposal at its June 26 meeting before a board vote currently scheduled June 28. The proposal is carefully crafted and supported by First Steps’ cited reporting and outcomes reports. Pritzker Children’s Initiative in May announced its funding support of First Steps’ work and cited its expertise in data mapping and metrics for success, making it a national example. At the least, the proposal deserves affirmation for the fall ballot.