Because the League's message was cut short due to a time limit on public comment at board meetings, the full text of the League's Report is printed below:
LWVLC Early Childhood Needs and Services Committee Presentation
to the Leelanau Board of Commissioners July 21, 2015
I. Mission of LWV
The League of Women Voters Leelanau County is part of the national and state Leagues of Women Voters. The Leelanau League has 100 plus members and is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. We work to increase understanding of major public policy issues and to influence public policy through education and advocacy. Since its inception in 1920, the League of Women Voters has grown to have a presence in all 50 states with more than 800 state and local Leagues.
We address you tonight about our concerns related to early childhood needs and services here in Leelanau County.
The national and state Leagues of Women Voters have long been strong advocates for addressing early childhood needs. Our organization understood what research now shows, that each of the first five years of a child’s life are crucial in building the foundation for education attainment and greatly impact success or failure in later life. Additionally, the League believes high quality, developmentally appropriate, and voluntary early learning experiences should be available to all children.
In May 2013 the League of Women Voters Leelanau County established an Early Childhood Needs and Services Study Committee to inform, initiate, support and advocate, at the county level, for comprehensive and sustainably funded early childhood services within Leelanau County. Parenting Communities is one such service.
With its notable geographic beauty, a growing population of well-to-do retirees, and its always-booming summer-home set, Leelanau County gives a first impression of peace, prosperity and general wellbeing. However, a deeper look reveals a very different experience for many of the county’s children and their families. This “invisible Leelanau” is reason for concern. The following information highlights just a portion what is often hidden from easy view.
Struggling families often translate into children who are not prepared for school. A recent report by Public Sector Consultants and the Citizens Research Council estimates that 260,000 (56 percent) of Michigan children from birth to age three are at heightened risk of falling behind their peers in terms of school readiness when they reach kindergarten. This leads to significant achievement gaps upon entering school — gaps that, for many, never narrow and can lead to other societal problems. These gaps also lead to increased governmental costs.
We know and appreciate that our Board of Commissioners is budget conscious. Decreasing future costs is as important as keeping an eye on current costs. So, if you only have one take-away from our comments here today, it should be that investment in early childhood programs makes good financial sense at the local, state and national level. Studies have shown between a 7% to 18% per year return on investment in the early childhood years based on increased school and career achievement, reduced costs in remedial education, and health and criminal justice system expenditures. Programs that have documented success are home visiting programs; medical care for expecting mothers and newborns; high-quality childcare and preschool for 3-5 year olds.
III. The Future
The League has been impressed with the efforts of the Commission in identifying economic and housing goals that can ultimately support the Leelanau County community. We applaud your recommendation approving the 2 percent application from the Probate/Family Court for $65,280 to provide home visiting and other support services to families in need of assistance via a contract with Parenting Communities, in recognition that prevention is treatment.
Healthy and thriving children who are on track for school success are Leelanau County’s greatest resource. Ensuring this is the case becomes the responsibility of the entire community; but the County Commission plays an essential role in establishing priorities for support and funding. Leelanau County has excellent, high quality early childhood services but obtaining sustainable funding to ensure that all children can participate in these programs has been difficult. Our County’s high average income masks the need at the lower income levels. Many funding sources do not consider children in our County to be “at risk” in comparison to those in counties with lower average incomes. Consistent, strong funding support is mandatory if Leelanau continues to make the high quality early childhood experiences available to all children. So long as many of our youngest residents and their families are struggling, we cannot claim success.
We have noted your endorsement of the proposed Healthy Families goal, subsequently directed to the Health Department, whose funding is bare bones. We ask that you find ways to increase the Health Department budget in order to aid them in implementation of their goals for healthy families.
We also believe that children’s issues are frequently too narrowly defined and categorized as belonging only to the health or education system and ask that you look at and support children and family services in a broader context. This involves ensuring that services and supports for young children and families are available, comprehensive and integrated across systems. Examples that are currently underfunded or unfunded include programs such as “Healthy Futures” and the consolidation of services for families in a central, easily accessible center.
True to the League’s mission to influence public policy through education and advocacy, we offer our active support in helping you ensure a persistent and specific focus on this population. We will continue to provide you research-based information related to young children and are willing to collaborate with you on these issues. We invite any of you to join our committee at our monthly meetings in the Munnecke Room at the Leland Public Library. We hope that you view the Early Childhood Needs and Services Committee of the League of Women Voters Leelanau County as a powerful resource available to you.
Thank you for your time and attention this evening.
Marian Kromkowski, LWV Leelanau County, President
Sue Miller, LWVLC Early Childhood Needs and Services Committee, Chair