KENT COUNTY, Mich. - Taxpayers with homes valued at $150,000 will see an $18 increase on their taxes due to a new millage that will expand services for kids.
The 'Ready By 5' proposal is the first fund of its kind in Michigan. For the next six years, $5.7 million annually will be allocated to a fund for service providers who treat children under the age of 5. The range of services that will be available to families includes everything from speech pathology to oncology - anything creating a delay for children prior to kindergarten. The county will form a council to determine which organizations can acquire funding. Groups like Family Futures will be able to apply for certain amounts of money to open up their services to hundreds more families.
Annemarie Valdez, the CEO of First Steps Kent, said in the past these services were simply not accessible to most families, especially those living in poverty. Valdez said of the 45,000 children under 5 years old, nearly half of them live in poverty. First Steps Kent is the organization who created the millage after conducting extensive research specific to children in Kent County.
"We found that we were really only serving about a third of the need," Valdez said of the current systems.
Valdez said preparing kids prior to kindergarten will benefit not only that child but their classmates, as well.
"We hear from kindergarten teachers that when children come unprepared to the classroom it takes that much more time and energy to prepare for children and to make sure that all children are getting equal time in a classroom," Valdez explained.
Valdez said the goal is to enable the early childhood system to function with a 'no wrong door approach.'
"In the past if a parent went through a certain organization or a certain door, they might get stuck because there was no referral to get them to where they needed to go," she said.
Over the course of the six-year millage, $32 million will be allocated to the early childhood fund. Parents and their children will be able to start reaping the benefits of this fund beginning in 2019.
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