By Sean Chase
In an effort to advance childcare in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited the Grand Rapids Community College Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory on Wednesday, June 16.
“I’m really, really happy to be here,” Whitmer said, during Wednesday’s press conference.“And having had a very short, quick tour, this really is a phenomenal place, where lives are being changed every single day, where paths are being created, not just for the children who attend here, but for the students who are learning how to be great educators of the future.”
The governor’s visit to Grand Rapids comes on the heels of the new $1.4 billion bipartisan bill package to strengthen childcare services throughout Michigan announced on Tuesday, June 15.
After touring the learning laboratory with GRCC President Bill Pink, Provost Brian Knetl and former Lieutenant-Governor Brian Calley, Whitmer laid out a multifaceted plan to energize Michigan’s workforce, starting with childcare.
“We’ve been through an exceptionally difficult year,” Whitmer said. “Few have felt the strain of this last year more than Michigan’s working families, who have had to juggle work and childcare, in the midst of unprecedented circumstances. Working families have long relied on childcare to support their child’s early development, and to make their lives work. COVID has been a reminder that childcare is absolutely essential to the health of our economy.”
Once working families are ensured safe, quality childcare, Whitmer believes people will be able to return to their pre-pandemic jobs, in turn helping to revitalize small businesses throughout the state.
“It’s clearer than ever that our economic recovery depends on quality, affordable child care because if parents know that their kids are cared for, they don’t have to worry about that,” Whitmer said. “They can be more engaged and more effective in their workplaces. We have to tackle both sides of the equation. We have to incentivize parents to jump back into the workforce as our recovery continues to pick up. We have to give them the support so they can do it with peace of mind and quality support for their kids.”
Last week, Whitmer proposed expanding Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), to provide preschool for 22,000 eligible four-year-old children not currently enrolled in the program, which she expanded upon on Wednesday.
“GSRP is not only good for our kids, but obviously it helps our working families, who need safe, affordable, quality options for their kids,” Whitmer said. “So right now as we emerge from the pandemic, childcare weighs on our economy. The data is clear, that most employers in our state have lost staff because of childcare challenges.”
Whitmer also discussed a plan to provide low or no-cost childcare for students attending schools with the Future for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect programs. As an extra incentive for people to return to work, Whitmer announced a plan to pay eligible laid-off workers an extra $300 a month bonus until Sept. 4, if they return to their previous employer. She also spoke about trying to expand these benefits to new-hire employees in some circumstances.
Before handing things over to Calley, Whitmer made mention of a possible roll back of current COVID-19 restrictions saying, “It’s scheduled for July 1, but I think you should stay tuned.”
Whitmer’s visit is the second of it’s kind in the past month on GRCC’s campus, as First Lady Jill Biden visited a pop-up vaccine clinic conducted by GRCC on May 27.
“For our college it’s an honor, within a month, to have had the First Lady, and to have the Governor on campus,” Pink said. “To have had some of our congressmen on campus, with Peter Meijer. They’ll be coming back, we have Peter Meijer and other’s coming back to campus with our partnership with the World Global Affairs Council. This is just another great example of how this college is seen, and how we stand very strong in the space of community college’s truly serving the community, that’s what’s cool to me about it.”
Whitmer’s recent plans for education focused on supporting K-12 institutions throughout the state. Currently, no announcements have been made regarding state support for Michigan community colleges. However, Pink believes the GSRP will help GRCC’s early childhood care programs better serve the community.
“So what it will do for us, I think it’s a good stepping stone to, as (the governor) mentioned, the GSRP, which is really a big part of our partnership with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative,” Pink said. “So what it means, is that this stages that momentum, to say ‘here’s what this needs to look like.’ “From the K-12 side, that’s awesome, but I will tell you not only is higher (education) in this conversation, but also our business community. Just two days ago, I was on a call with a lot of business leaders and they were really pushing the idea, we weren’t even talking about this… this today, they didn’t even know this was gonna happen. What they were talking about is the need for early childhood childcare, to be a big part of what we do here locally. So this becomes an answer to that. This becomes an answer to the business community, saying we have these resources that are gonna get stood up stronger. For us here at the college, it helps our folks as we prepare students for these jobs. It lets them know that they’re going to go into spaces that they can truly thrive in.”