June 16, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Grand Rapids Community College’s Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory a “phenomenal place” during an event Wednesday to promote proposals to expand access to childcare.
Whitmer discussed her proposals to expand opportunities and services using $1.4 billion in federal funding from the American Recovery Act at an event coordinated by the Early Neighborhood Learning Collaborative and hosted by GRCC.
The governor toured several classrooms, joined by several state and community leaders who discussed the impact childcare has on the economy and how families struggled during the pandemic.
“This is really a phenomenal place where lives are being changed every single day, where paths are being created not just for the children who attend here, but for the students who are learning how to be great educators of the future,” Whitmer said.
“Quality early childhood experiences create the foundation for children and for families to thrive. Every family in Michigan should have access to a place like this.”
GRCC’s Fratzke Learning Laboratory opened in January 2017 and is designed to serve preschoolers ages six weeks to six years and students in Early Childhood and Education programs.
President Bill Pink said the college was a “natural place” for the governor to discuss early childhood education.
“This Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory, in my opinion, is one of the state-of-the-art facilities not only here in West Michigan or only in Michigan, but in the country,” Pink said. “I would challenge you to find a better facility that is more serving to students – the little ones, and the ones learning the art of truly caring for our little ones.”
Whitmer also was joined by K’Sandra Earle, ENLC associate director; Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan; Sean Welsh, PNC Bank regional president and a member of Talent 2025’s Early Childhood Development Working Group; and Praveen Thadani, president of Priority Health.
Speaking in the Frances Taliaferro Frey Early Childhood Community Learning Hub, the governor said the pandemic was a reminder of the importance of quality childcare in the state’s economy.
Whitmer said the federal government provided the state with $1.4 billion for childcare in wake of the pandemic – about six times more than the funding the state typically receives to support childcare programs.
She said access to quality childcare programs will help parents rejoin the workforce. There were not enough quality, affordable programs to meet the need of state residents even before the pandemic.
“Working families have long relied on childcare to support their child’s early development, and to make their lives work,” she said. “COVID has been a reminder that childcare is absolutely essential for the health of our economy. Decades of studies and data proves that where and how children spend their time matters.”
The governor has proposed making 150,000 more children eligible for free or low-cost childcare by extending innovative pilot programs and expanding opportunities by supporting existing providers, including helping them expand their programs and open new sites.
Whitmer also called for supporting college students in childcare education programs, offering premium pay and signing bonuses to professions and tuition-free training for people looking to enter the profession.
Whitmer also proposed providing low or no-cost childcare for students attending GRCC and other community colleges tuition-free through Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect.
The Fratzke Early Childhood Center enrolls about 90 children, and works with community partners including the ELNC and the Kent Intermediate School District’s Great Start Readiness program.
GRCC’s early childhood program was founded in 1974 and recently received recognition as one of the top programs in the nation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
A video of the event is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0vqKl4C8TA