The State of the Union

Last night, President Obama gave his fourth State of the Union address.  As his White House Senior Advisor, David Plouffe, alluded to prior to his address, President Obama focused on the U.S.’s economic recovery by “lay[ing] out … A very specific blueprint for how we build an America that’s durable and that works for as many people in this country as possible.”

While the bulk of President Obama’s speech focused on economic recovery, jobs, energy, and foreign policy; he did spend some time discussing his vision for education.  President Obama stated, “[Education] challenges remain. And we know how to solve them.”  But more importantly, we know how to solve them for all children – regardless of socioeconomic status or racial/ethnic background.  We know what public programs and policies can be improved so that disparities in outcomes for kids – including education – can be reduced.

We need a health care system that ensures access to quality health care for young women before they become pregnant so that when they do become pregnant, they can have healthy, full-term pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.  This is particularly important for African American women who, regardless of socioeconomic status, are more likely to deliver underweight, preterm babies – babies who face greater challenges from birth.

We need an early childhood system that encompasses health, mental health, and early education that begins at birth and supports families with young children through age three.  This means that parents need access to supports – such as high quality home visiting programs – that ensure they can be their children’s first and best teachers.

We need a high quality early childhood education system that supports the healthy development of children and prepares them for school.  A high quality early childhood education that includes parental support and involvement can turnaround the educational equity gap that emerges long before children reach kindergarten doors.

We need a K-12 education system that is strong enough to provide an academically challenging course of instruction, and also flexible enough to meet the ever-changing needs of students and the economy.  The K-12 system needs to provide multiple paths to graduation which lead to equitable outcomes and post-secondary success.

We need education, business and community leaders to form partnerships to build sustainable programs that meet the needs of children, families and communities. Businesses know what types of workers they need and they can work with schools and career training programs so youth can receive job training while gaining a school diploma or post-secondary credential.

We need politicians that will listen to youth and families about the challenges they face – and then stand up for those youth and families through action in their communities and elected roles.

In order to achieve President Obama’s idea of “winning the future” our children need a great start in life that prepares them to be ready to learn when they enter school and supported as they move toward post-secondary success. Turning the economy around certainly needs to include business incentives, adult workforce retraining and support for troops coming back to the U.S., but unless we recognize the importance of ensuring the success of the next generation of workers the economic turnaround won’t last.  Investing in children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances, must be a key part of rebuilding and strengthening Michigan’s economy.

To learn more about how Michigan’s Children believes policies can support children from cradle to career, check out our website: www.michiganschildren.org.

– Beth Berglin and Mina Hong