Legislative Leaders in Michigan,
My name is Tyler Huntey. I am the owner of a childcare operation that holds 9 licenses, employs 150 team members, and has capacity to care for up to 700 children each day. Our business focus is to provide high-quality, center-based care in rural communities. 30 years ago, my mother began caring for children in her home. We continue her legacy by focusing our efforts on providing a quality childcare option for our communities.
Affordable, reliable, quality childcare is the backbone of our society, and we are at a point where decisions are being made that have a profound long-term impact on the industry.
I speak for many in my position when I say that we are grateful for the increased focus on childcare in Michigan. For far too long, the investment in childcare has been lacking, and we have let down the most vulnerable citizens in our state.
Finding a balance between providing a quality service, clean and up to date facilities, fair pay for our team, and a tuition rate that families can afford is a challenging endeavor. Corners cannot be cut if the children are to receive the care they deserve for a promising future.
I am writing this letter to advocate for childcare operations in Michigan and to provide clarity about the challenges that we face.
Universal 4-Year-Old Preschool:
UPK is a much-needed program and there are a few considerations that need to be addressed during planning if centers and independent providers are going to participate in the program.
- Mixed Delivery
- Centers, in-home providers, and public schools should all have an opportunity to participate in the program. Childcare providers are extremely financially reliant on their preschool programs and removing 4-year old programs will be detrimental.
- GSRP Rollout
- Intermediate School Districts are not built or funded adequately to be the disbursement point of the program. Every district operates their program differently, provides different resources, uses different assessments, keeps different amounts of funds, etc. There need to be clear guidelines and qualifications if the ISDs are to be the point of disbursement of funds. There cannot be opinion-based decisions- the stakes are too high.
Teacher – Student Ratios:
Michigan has the strictest ratios of any state in the United States. Though I understand that having an adequate child to teacher ratio is important, they simply don’t make sense. I urge legislators to review these ratios in our state; We currently have the same ratio of care for a 6-week-old infant and a 2.5-year-old toddler. Infants and toddlers do not belong in the same classroom. This is not an adequate solution for Michigan’s children, and it is far from being developmentally appropriate.
Training and Retaining Talent:
The importance of a highly trained team caring for and educating young children is clear. Post- COVID, there has been a massive increase in challenging behaviors and developmental delays. Properly training and equipping our team to identify, understand, and react to different situations is incredibly challenging. Often, the children who are exhibiting challenging behaviors are those that need our help the most. Although we have updated the new hire training and professional development training for our teachers, we can only afford to have them out of a classroom and training for a short period of time. I believe we could put programs in place that subsidize hours spent on training. Providers want to supply their team with more tools in their toolbelt, but the financial burden of the employer to pay for out of ratio hours, or for the employee to go without pay for training is too significant.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where children may not always be safe at their school. I have contracted with a company to audit our facilities and train our team in crisis management. It was a significant financial investment, but the safety of the children and team members is non-negotiable. I ask that the state subsidizes these audits and training to relieve the financial burden on providers in a similar way public schools have received financial support.
DHHS Subsidy Payments:
For the business model in our rural communities to function properly, the DHHS childcare subsidy system needs to operate properly and be reliable. A significant number of families rely on subsidies to help them with the financial burden of childcare as they work to improve their personal financial situation. There are a few situations that occur regularly that can be resolved quite simply:
- Electronic communication to providers and families regarding application status
- Currently all communication is through physical mail.
- Providing providers and families with start and end dates of approval
- Families are mailed a letter when subsidies are up for renewal. Providers don’t see this information until the payment bounces in a billing cycle.
The rates and qualification levels for subsidized families are a pillar of our business model. Not knowing if rates or qualification levels will remain the same, increase, or decrease each year makes it very challenging for providers to expand their footprint. To be candid, if subsidy rates decrease, we will have to raise tuition rates and families will risk no longer being able to afford care. As a direct result, we could go out of business. If the state were able to provide longer term guarantees for rates and qualifications, it would provide confidence for entrepreneurs to take on the financial risk of opening new centers.
CACFP Food Program:
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a federal program that subsidizes the food provided to children at qualifying centers. Currently, centers qualify for subsidy if over 25% of the children in care receive DHHS benefits. All children deserve healthy food and with the continually increasing cost at the grocery stores, providers are feeling the pain. There is a massive push to subsidize healthy food at public schools, why are the same programs not afforded to childcare centers?
Childcare Employee Tax Credits:
I think this is a wonderful program and I commend the individual who suggested it.
There are additional programs that other states offer that would provide benefit to providers in Michigan.
- New York rolled out a program that provided a property tax abatement to qualifying childcare centers.
- Given the current economic outlook with interest rates, I believe childcare providers who are growing their operation should be provided low interest rate loans.
Though this letter does not cover all challenges and suggestions of improvement for childcare in Michigan, I do believe it is an appropriate start. Of all members of our society, children deserve the most investment.
Please feel free to contact me with questions, comments, or concerns regarding this letter.
“Happy Childhoods Last a Lifetime”