When it comes to quality, affordable childcare in northern Michigan, there is rarely an embarrassment of riches.

Just last month, the Record-Eagle reported a disturbing sweep of child care closures, with 74 daycare centers in Grand Traverse County shutting down within the past three years, according to Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs data.

Yet with Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program — a state-funded, all- or part-day preschool program for 4-year-olds — our region’s largest school district doesn’t have enough students to fill seven state-funded classrooms.

We’re filling only five.

GSRP — itself in jeopardy in spring 2020 when the Traverse City Area Public School board members voted 6-1 to discontinue it and lay off five teachers rather than make up a projected $125,000 shortfall, a decision stayed by a $70,000 donation from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation — got a big state shot in the arm.

The program, with funding running through Northwest Education Services (the former Intermediate School District) and administered through Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, got a per-pupil boost from $7,250 per student to $8,700 this year.

North Ed also got a grant of more than $400,000 last year to open up services for 3-year-olds in the region.

We agree with Christine Thomas-Hill, TCAPS associate superintendent of finance and operations, who has a “hard time believing” so few parents are interested in GSRP programs.

“I think it’s more they’re either not aware of it or they don’t have access to the resources to apply,” Thomas-Hill said.

With so much noise and fractured information-getting, we can no longer build it and just expect people to come.

The state and its administrators need to improve recruiting and easier access to program applications.

The four-day a week program is open to all Michigan families. It’s free for those with income less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level (below $66,250 a year, $5,521 a month or $1,275 a week for a family of four) and also has a sliding-scale tuition option for families above it ($362 per year for the same four-person family that makes between $62,751 – $87,850 or $725 per year for more than $87,850).

GSRP classrooms are staffed with certified teachers and an early childhood specialist and use Michigan Department of Education curricula.

TCAPS currently hosts GSRP classrooms at Blair (two), Courtade, Silver Lake and Long Lake elementary schools. We, like GSRP teacher Lindsey Ross, would like to see one at every TCAPS elementary school in the future.

“The more GSRP classrooms we have around the district, the more families and students we can support,” Ross said.

The state has built it but the families need to come.

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