Early Childhood Education Task Force hosts Children’s March due to lack of childcare


Shilpa Jhobalia

MARCH ON — Protestors and their children marched to raise awareness about a lack of childcare in the Marquette area.

Ryley Wilcox, Staff Writer

The Great Start Parent Coalition held a Children’s March on Sept. 20 at the Marquette County Courthouse to express community concerns of the lack of childcare in the area.

We the People MI and the Great Start Collaborative, Marquette-Alger, joined with the task force to fight for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to be spent on childcare and wellbeing efforts, said Shilpa Jhobalia, community organizer of the task force.

After the march, the task force invited the public to give their input at the county commission meeting, which they have been attending twice a month, said Jhobalia.

“We’re inviting them in to share their story of how the childcare crisis has impacted their life and give a stage and forum for people to really share that we need more funding for this,” said Jhobalia. 

The Marquette Community Foundation task force recently submitted a report, completed over 3-4 months, to the county commissioners assessing the childcare needs of the area. This was sent in addition to a summary of all surveys distributed by the task force and all the organizations that have helped their efforts, said Jhobalia.

“We kind of want a response from the county commissioners to see ‘Are you indeed going to increase the funding knowing now that we have well-documented research and surveys and different organizations speaking up that this is an issue and that this funding could really help with some tangible solutions on the ground?”’ said Jhobalia. 

During COVID-19 every county in America is getting ARPA funding. For Marquette County, funding is almost up to $13 million. The Marquette County Commissioners have allocated $100,000 of this fund for childcare, said Jhobalia, but the task force is asking for more.

“We know childcare is such a major problem for families in our community,” said Jhobalia. “[The ARPA funds are] supposed to help relieve some of the issues that came out of COVID which we know childcare was one major issue, and so was isolation for parents and the lack of socialization for children.”

Rachel May, associate English professor at NMU, said the task force had an opportunity to apply for Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) funding, a federal program that would fund student childcare allowing NMU students with children to send their child to an early education center on campus for free. 

“But, we would have had to have identified a center that could do that for us and NMU had not yet committed to either the temporary solution or the long-term solution of building a center on campus and so we could not apply for it this year,” said May.

The task force will be able to apply again for CCAMPIS funding in June 2023 when the application is open, said May. 

At the start of this semester, the task force lost two of its members who had to leave the university due to the lack of available childcare. Another current staff member is still on a 1-2 year waitlist for her child, said May. 

“I know that the administrators are still working on the education center and we hope to hear soon about recent progress that’s been made,” said May.  “We’re still hoping that they commit to our initial goal, which was a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) certified early childhood education center on campus.”

This center would offer high-quality early childhood education in collaboration with NMU faculty, staff and students who could use the center as a learning space, said May. 

“That’s still the goal that was expressed, based on feedback from the survey that we did last semester to faculty and staff and hopefully there will be a survey for students at some point this year as well,” said May. 

Temporarily the task force is looking at using the Messiah Lutheran church spaces, which have previously been licensed for childcare. At the church, there are several classrooms that could be used and would be a minimal cost or cost-free option to be licensed again, said May.

“The problem is that there’s no outdoor space at the church, so they would have to take excursions across the street to use outdoor space or offer half days. If they offer half days, they don’t need to use outdoor spaces,” said May. “And this would help alleviate some of this crisis.”

The task force has proposed that Gretchen’s House, a locally owned operation based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to manage the temporary space. The Little Huskies center at Michigan Technological University is one of Gretchen’s House’s satellite locations, which is the only NAEYC-certified center in the Upper Peninsula.

“They’ve been our model for offering early childhood to our campus community and the broader community,” said May. “So that’s what we proposed and that apparently was explored but has not been pursued as far as we know.”