Monthly Archives December 2012

Lame Duck, Why So Divisive?

Lame duck.  The time after the elections before the new Legislature takes office.  A time when outgoing elected officials have minimal accountability.  A time when public policymaking can be particularly active – whether for good or for bad.  This lame duck session is marked by little progress in Congress and serious divisiveness in both Congress and the Michigan Legislature.  What gives?

First, on Capitol Hill, Congress must decide how to handle the pending federal “fiscal cliff” before tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts take place – a fiscal disaster.  While media continue to cover the discussions taking place, a pragmatic solution for the lame duck would be to pass a temporary extension of the tax cuts and delay sequestration (the automatic spending cuts) to allow the new Congress – a Congress that will  face political ramification if an approach isn’t taken that satisfies both sides of the aisle – to tackle the fiscal debate in the new year.  While this is likely to occur, the political battle currently underway will continue to jeopardize the public’s approval of Congress during a time when everyone must come together to identify the best possible fiscal solution for the nation.

Here in Lansing, the lame duck has been extremely active pushing through legislation that is hugely divisive.  Right to Work, Personal Property Tax, Emergency Manager law, and education reform.  Whatever your position on these various policies, the reality is that they further divide the state during a time when we need to come together to do what’s best for children and families.  At Michigan’s Children, we worry that the flurry of activity taking place in the Capitol could set-up the new Legislature for even greater divisiveness.  This is particularly devastating since the new Legislature has many important policy decisions to make like passing a balanced budget and reforming the state’s education system – serious undertakings that need the best thoughts from both sides of the aisle.  During lame duck, there are so many other important public policy decision-making that could take place that are less divisive and more important for the betterment of our state than those that the state Legislature has decided to take up.  Perhaps this lame duck, Congress and the state Legislature should take a break from their respective Capitols, enjoy the last few weeks at home with their constituents hearing from them on the issues that matter, and consider the real work that needs to begin in January.

-Mina Hong

Work and Education – Inextricably Linked

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report last week that illustrates the impact of economic decline in Michigan and the nation on young people.  Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, indicates that employment among young people, ages 16-24, is at the lowest point since the 1950s.  And, not surprisingly, young people least likely to be in the workforce are without a high school diploma, from low-income families, and racial or ethnic minorities.  This opportunity gap begins early and persists.  As our young people who have fallen behind become parents themselves, their children face additional obstacles.

We know the inextricable connection between work and education, and there is ample evidence of the impact of higher education levels on employment and earnings.  It is impossible to deny that the higher education credential that you earn, the more consistent, stable and lucrative your employment will be.  As a state, we can better utilize youth employment resources and strategies beyond a path to workforce experience and a paycheck (both of which are, of course, important), but also as a path back to an education credential.  And Michigan lawmakers in Washington, DC are championing this issue through the RAISE UP Act.  RAISE UP would provide incentives to communities to blend workforce and education funding in order to connect very disenfranchised young people with workforce and educational pathways.  U.S. Representative Dale Kildee leaves a legacy of support for this legislation and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will be supporting its reintroduction in 2013.

And in Michigan, as we despair over our economic woes and the ever diminishing economic opportunity for our young people, we are also evaluating yet another round of education reform proposals intended to improve achievement and graduation rates.  The missed opportunity in the current proposals is to provide extra support to the young people who are out of school and out of work.  If young people leave school, work a bit and due to the lack of employment opportunity find increased motivation to return on a diploma path, they need a system that will serve them.  Michigan currently provides resources for up to six years of high school, but programming for this population that is connected to work opportunity and career-based skill building is inconsistent.  Education reform must provide supports to young people who need additional time to obtain a high school credential through alternative options that connect to college or the workforce.

Michigan’s Children has highlighted several great Michigan program examples where communities blend education and workforce resources as a dropout prevention or recovery strategy.  Let’s make sure that the most recent incarnation of education reform expands those efforts.

-Michele Corey

Does the Latest Education Reform Proposal Promote Educational Equity or Will We Miss the Mark Again?

Last month, a proposed rewrite of Michigan’s School Aid Act – the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 – was released for public comment.   The Public Education Finance Project team was asked to operationalize Governor Snyder’s concept of education at “any time, any place, any way, any pace”.  While many have come out strongly for or against the draft proposal, the top priority when assessing any reform proposal should be on how it’s ensuring that ALL students have equitable opportunities to succeed in school since we know that the current education system does not work for many students – particularly low-income students and students of color.

So how does “any time, any place, any way, any pace” promote educational equity or miss the mark as written into the current proposal?

  • Any time: While the proposal offers opportunities for schools to shift to a year-round school calendar and extended learning opportunities available 24/7 – both which promote educational equity – unless all schools move to year-round schooling, it is unknown whether students who would benefit from this would opt-in to schools that offer this schedule.
  • Any place: The rewritten funding formula “follows the student” which may leave schools serving a high proportion of challenged students in serious financial risk.  Families who can “opt-out” of schools serving the most challenged communities may do so, resulting in less funding and resource for those schools.  This is counter-intuitive to “any place” since it promotes higher quality options that many students may be unable to access.  “Any place” should instead increase the level of quality for all schools and learning programs so that regardless of geography, students can access an education at “any place” that will ensure that they are college and career ready.
  • Any way: The proposal recognizes the fact that a traditional classroom setting doesn’t work for all students, which is applauded. However, education reform should bolster supports to education options that have evidence or promise toward closing gaps rather than creating an open market for education programs without minimum quality standards or evidence-base.
  • Any pace: The current draft provides incentives for students to complete high school in less than four years.  Rather than providing a financial incentive to accelerated students, those resources should be utilized to bolster strategies that get ALL students to a high school diploma through re-engagement and college or workforce connection.

Our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication has much more detail on the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013.  The brief identifies students challenged by the current education system; how “any time, any place, any way, any pace” can work to improve educational outcomes for all students; how the current draft of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 works to promote or hinder educational equity; and missed opportunities in the draft proposal.

-Mina Hong

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

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