Karin Cooney’s child care center is licensed to look after 44 kids from Monday to Friday. But for months, she’s only really been able to care for around 30 — a consequence of being strapped for the certified, high-quality staff that have made her center, Angel Care Child Care, one of the most sought-after in Grand Traverse County.
With four more teachers, she might be able to make a dent in her waiting list, where 258 families have signed up in the hopes of enrolling a child. But her teachers seem to be leaving faster than she can hire new ones, part of a long-running crisis of staff turnover in early childhood education.
“It is finally blowing up,” said Cooney, who has worked in child care for 25 years. “I just can’t imagine being the parent of a young child right now.”
In a state where child care is precious, slots in facilities like Cooney’s are like gold, and they’re more valuable than previously known.
In 2021, the number of Michigan’s licensed child care providers statewide fell by 735 — a drastic one-year drop. All told, there are just 314,000 staffable slots available for nearly 560,000 children under the age of 5.
Michigan legislators have directed $1.4 billion of federal relief money toward stabilizing the child care industry. The cash, however, is a one-time fix designed to right the ship during the pandemic.
Absent a long-term policy fix, experts say, the industry is teetering on collapse as the business model for child care continues to break down.
Michigan is also trying to figure out why roughly 2,000 providers didn’t ultimately apply for stabilization grants meant to keep more day cares from going under. Experts said that concern around taxes attached to the grants caused hesitancy, as well as the application being “really complicated.” And day care owners themselves said they were resistant to state involvement in the operation of their facilities.
A consortium of newsrooms led by the nonprofit newsroom MuckRock is requesting child care data through Michigan Freedom of Information requests and conducting a first-of-its-kind data analysis of child care records. They will have stories and data to share in the coming weeks.
MuckRock also wants to hear from families and providers about Michigan’s child care crisis. Below is a form with 10 questions — some optional, some required but none for publication. You can also email the newsroom directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call and leave a voicemail at (401) 830-2344.
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Luca Powell is a reporter with the Traverse City Record-Eagle. You can reach him at email@example.com
Mohar Chaterjee is a reporter with MuckRock and Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org