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Kresge Foundation committed to preparing more Detroit kids for kindergarten

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One quarter of Detroit’s children are prepared for kindergarten when they start school. That’s the word from the Kresge Foundation. It’s scary, and it’s threatening the city’s future as well as the future of its children.

To try and counter the situation the foundation is spending big bucks to support early childhood development in Detroit. This year it launched the Kresge Early Years for Success (KEYS) Initiative, a five-year, $20 million commitment to reimagine the city’s neighborhoods by putting the essential building blocks kids need for educational success.

“We will commit resources over the next several years to help create a high-capacity, well-structured set of early childhood development organizations as an important step toward the goal of fully preparing all students for kindergarten and ensuring their academic success in later grades,” Kresge says on its website.

KEYS now has a dedicated page on kresge.org where you can find information on Kresge’s strategic approach, investments and links to resources about early childhood issues in Detroit’s neighborhoods.

“Seeing a build-out of a system that truly prepares kids to be successful … is one of the great opportunities we have,” Rip Rapson, Kresge president and CEO, says on the page.

U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary for Early Childhood Development Linda Smith echoed Rapson’s statement at a recent forum in Detroit. She argued for more investment in the nation’s youngest children at all levels, pointing out that by age 3 about 85 percent of a child’s brain has developed, and that can have lifelong consequences if children are not given the tools early childhood development provides. That data came from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

“I thought Smith was refreshingly candid about what it takes to make the nation, let alone a community like Detroit, truly able to provide comprehensive support for our youngest children,” says Wendy Lewis Jackson, co-managing director of Kresge’s Detroit Program and architect of the Kresge Early Years for Success (KEYS): Detroit initiative. “She emphasized several things, including the need for a relentless commitment to high-quality care, more robust financing models and a smoother transition from early childhood experiences into the early elementary years.”

Smith says Michigan is leaving as much as $20.5 million annually in federal funds for early childhood support on the table by not fully matching the federal Child Care and Development Block Grants with state money, as is required, according to a story on the Kresge website.

“The federal match isn’t being drawn down for a variety of reasons, including issues pertaining to Michigan’s declining investment in its child care subsidy program, as well as the critical need to overhaul and modernize the program to better serve the needs of working families,” Lewis Jackson says in the story.

Earlier this year nonprofit capital provider IFF, a key partner in KEYS) released an animated video that illustrates Detroit’s shortage of 28,000 high-quality early childhood care slots. The video, supported by funding from Kresge, takes data from the report The System We Need: A Neighborhood Snapshot of Early Childhood Care in Detroit. The study found most children in Detroit do not have access to a spot for care.

That gap leads to a larger problem. Data from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington shows that lower-income children hear 30 million fewer words by age 4 and that can have a lifelong impact.

These are issues that “the federal government can’t fix alone,” Smith said. “This must also emanate from the community level.”

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