GRAND RAPIDS, MI — “Children who start ahead stay ahead.”
That’s the abbreviated pitch for the early childhood millage Kent County voters will decide on Nov. 6.
The “Ready by Five Early Childhood Proposal” asks voters to approve a six-year millage of 0.25 that would raise about $5.7 million each year for the purpose of “providing planning, evaluating, and providing early childhood development services to persons up to age 5 and their parents,” the ballot question reads.
The millage would cost a homeowner with a $150,000 house about $18.75 per year. It would capture roughly $32 million over the whole six-year period from 2019 through 2024.
The proposal was spearheaded by non-profit First Steps Kent. It was OK’d for the ballot in June by Kent County commissioners with a vote of 13 in favor and five opposed.
When First Steps brought the proposal to county officials, the group sought a 0.5-mill levy. A subcommittee later trimmed it to a 0.25-mill levy, but some commissioners argued it should be higher.
Stan Ponstein was one of five commissioners who voted no to placing the measure on the ballot. He said taxpayers are paying enough already. The solution to education isn’t putting more money into it, it’s prioritizing where that money goes, he said.
“What we’re doing is not working,” Ponstein said. “Throwing more money at it is not going to improve the outcomes that we desire.”
If approved, the funds would be managed and overseen by an independent nonprofit. An “independent allocation council” would distribute the funding, according to First Steps.
The proposal seeks to ensure that every child in the county under age 5 has access to “community-based programs, such as in-home support, visiting nurses, developmental screenings for all children, early learning and programs that support parents, not replace them,” the proposal website reads.
Some of the issues proposed to screen for are autism, speech or hearing impairments and learning disabilities.
According to a study by First Steps, nearly half of all Kent County children under five eligible for health and school readiness programs are not able to receive them, due to lack of space. The study points to a lack of funding as the reason.
“Investing in early childhood programs saves money and returns better outcomes for health, education and employment in the long run, which is why it’s in our community’s best interest to invest in Kent County’s youngest children,” Lew Chamberlin, co-chair of the First Steps Commission, said in a statement.
“By passing the Ready by Five Early Childhood Proposal, we can ensure every child in Kent County has access to the resources they need to be healthy and ready to succeed.”
First Steps first floated the millage is 2016 but later scrapped it, pledging to gather more grassroots support and return in 2018.
According to First Steps, no other county in Michigan has a dedicated property millage to support early childhood services.
Full Story by Michael Kransz, http://s.mlive.com/q5U2NZV