Your essential weekly guide to the latest on FOIA, transparency and accountability battles, threats and wins. Powered by the reporters at MuckRock.

Day care options are disappearing for Michigan parents. A new investigation explores the scope of the problem

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Michigan League for Public Policy, a Lansing-based nonprofit, created a list of 11 so-called "child care deserts." These are regions where three children compete for every available slot at an in-home or group day care center.

But those deserts were calculated using the capacity of licensed child care facilities located in a particular county, overstating the number of spots available and thus hiding the true picture of child care availability in Michigan. Many of these licensed child care slots remain empty due to staffing challenges and other reasons.

Through state FOIA requests and a first-of-its-kind analysis of child care records, a consortium of newsrooms including MuckRock, the Detroit Free Press, and Chalkbeat Detroit found that the number of day care deserts in Michigan is nearly double the nonprofit's estimate: 20 instead of 11. Another 23 counties are rounding errors away from the threshold of three children for every available care slot.

In some counties, nearly half of care providers are under-enrolling children, the analysis found. Statewide, there are about 264,000 day care "slots" for 0 to 5-year-olds in Michigan, compared to an official state estimate of 373,000. Data behind the investigation are available on GitHub, and documents are on DocumentCloud.

The reporting consortium also explored the impacts of limited child care availability, such as one story of a child who nearly drowned when her at-home day care visited a nearby pool.

Text excerpted from reporting by Luca Powell and Derek Kravitz. Image via Detroit Free-Press.

Read the full investigation
The update 

Introducing our new data reporting fellow. MuckRock is excited to have Karen Wang from Columbia's computer science and journalism dual degree program join us as a data reporting fellow for the fall semester. Karen graduated from the University of Southern California in 2021 and has already had internships on the visual investigations team at BuzzFeed News, the data/investigations team of the Washington bureau of McClatchy and on an innovative source tracking project for Southern California Public Radio, KPCC/LAist.

▶ MuckRock project named as INNY finalist: Uncounted, MuckRock's investigation into the hidden death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, was named as a finalist in the 2022 Institute for Nonprofit News Awards. The project is named in the Large Division for the Community Champion Award, which honors an organization that "made a significant contribution to the well-being of its community through a journalism-centered project or service."

SEC whistleblower awards program may be distributing money inequitably. A new report by a legal researcher at the University of Kansas School of Law found that a disproportionate share of financial awards given out by the Securities and Exchange Commission's whistleblower awards program are going to law firms with connections to regulators. The program is designed to incentivize whistleblowers, but this study suggests more transparency is needed for the "private, unregulated industry of whistleblower attorneys," reports the Wall Street Journal's Mengqi Sun.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is seeking a new executive director. As New Mexico's leading advocate for public transparency, NMFOG provides education on sunshine laws, advocates for stronger legislation, assists in court cases and more. The nonprofit is looking for a new executive director to work with its volunteer board. Learn more about the position and apply here.

FOIA finds  & top docs 
  • Redactions in Mar-a-Lago: Last week, a federal judge made the affidavit behind the search of former President Trump's residence public — with heavy redactions. The affidavit was a popular document on DocumentCloud this week, uploaded by the Associated Press and other users.
  • Belated memorandum: In spring 2018, MuckRock user Jacob Fischler requested a document outlining how the federal Department of Transportation would pay for a series of rail infrastructure projects called the Gateway Program. The request was completed this week.
  • Writer on vacation: Is a writer (or journalist) really on vacation if they keep writing?, the philosopher and critic Roland Barthes asks in a 1954 essay. MuckRock reporter Betsy Ladyzhets was struck by the piece when she read it on a recent vacation of her own, so she uploaded it to DocumentCloud for broader perusal.

For The Record was written by Betsy Ladyzhets and edited by André Natta.

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