Monthly Archives July 2013

Collaborating for a Great Start, Great Investment, and Great Future

Last month, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start (OGS) released its much anticipated report Great Start, Great Investment, Great Future: The Plan for Early Learning and Development in Michigan.  This report provides a clear road map on creating a comprehensive, coordinated early childhood system in Michigan that incorporates key principles – principles that Michigan’s Children strongly agrees with – as follows:

  • Children and families are the highest priority.
  • Parents and communities must have a voice in building and operating the system.
  • The children with the greatest needs must be served first.
  • Invest early.
  • Quality matters.
  • Efficiencies must be identified and implemented.
  • Opportunities to coordinate and collaborate must be identified and implemented.

Based on these key principles, Michigan has A LOT of work to do to build a system that serves the most challenged young children and their families to ensure a great start in life.  As a state, we made historic progress by significantly expanding access to evidence-based preschool through the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP).  However, much work remains – particularly around the principles of investing early and serving children with the greatest needs first.  And as the report clearly lays out, one clear path for this is to expand programs and services for our young children prenatally through age three through increased investment and improved coordination and collaboration starting at the state level.

Rather than repeat myself, please check-out this guest column that I co-wrote with Scott Menzel, Superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Chair of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrator’s Early Childhood Committee.  Our guest column praises Michigan’s expansion of GSRP and highlights the work left undone to support Michigan’s youngest learners.  It also provides a brief overview of some key programs that could maximize Michigan’s GSRP investment by supporting young children before they reach preschool.  As the OGS report states, “[r]esearchers have found that return on investment is highest for investments made when children are youngest.  Unfortunately, public investment is lowest for children from birth through age 4…” and particularly for birth through age three.  But more money may not be enough to get more children prepared for school.

The OGS, Department of Community Health (DCH), Department of Human Services (DHS), policymakers, parents, providers, and community members have a lot of work to do.  The OGS report highlights the need to improve coordination and collaboration across sectors to increase efficiencies and maximize services to families with young children.  This couldn’t be closer to the truth when talking about young children prenatally through age three – these services span across departments and agencies and some efforts are already underway to improve collaboration and coordination.  Locally, it’s seen through the Great Start Collaboratives and at the state level, it’s seen through the Great Start Systems Team and the Governor’s People, Health and Education Executive Group that includes the directors of DCH, DHS, and Civil Rights in addition to the state superintendent.  However, these efforts have not yet been able to transform Michigan’s early childhood system into the coordinated, collaborative system needed to best serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families.

As we focus on increasing investments for programs and services that support young children prenatally through age three in the fiscal year 2015 budget, we must also include incentives for the state and for local communities to continue to work towards a more comprehensive and coordinated system.  Some local communities are already doing this well, and there’s always room for improvement.  Educating legislators now about best practices to coordinate and collaborate across systems will ensure that they are prepared to continue conversations to strengthen and transform Michigan’s early childhood system in the next budget cycle.

-Mina Hong

Patriotism & Civic Engagement Doesn’t End on July 5th

The last remaining fireworks have been lit and leftovers of hotdogs, hamburgers, and potato salad have been consumed.  As the 4th of July has come and gone, many thoughts of patriotism have left people’s minds as we begin another full week back at work.  However, if anything, Independence Day should be a reminder that as residents of these United States of America, it is our duty to ensure that our independence, freedom, and voices are recognized by the elected officials who represent us year-round.

One prime example of the need for year-round civic engagement is budget advocacy.  While it seems like the ink has barely dried on Michigan’s fiscal year 2014 budget, advocacy efforts to increase investment for programs that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families in the fiscal year 2015 budget (which begins October 1, 2014) must begin now.

We know that there were many efforts in the fiscal year 2014 budget to increase opportunities for Michigan’s struggling children like a significant expansion of the state’s public preschool program, but a lot of work remains undone.  For example, supports for families with young children prenatally through age three continue to fall short of the significant need.  Too many students who struggle with school continue to lack access to evidence-based before- and after-school programming that can help them catch-up and stay on track.  And too many students who face multiple challenges between their home and school environments lack access to school-community partnership programs that can help them access basic needs while staying engaged in their educations.

Now is the time to make sure that elected officials understand that Michigan residents are grateful for their efforts around preschool but that there were some significant missed opportunities in the fiscal year 2014 budget.  Legislators are back in their districts for summer break and will be seen at many events around your communities.  Be sure to talk to them when you see them, attend their monthly coffee hours, or set-up a visit with them.  Now is the time to build or strengthen relationships with your elected officials and to make sure that they have a solid understanding of the programs and services that matter to your children, your family, and your community.  In most cases, waiting until the budget season gets underway in Lansing can be too little too late.  Educating legislators and building champions before the busy budget season can ensure that they are prepared to be a voice for the programs that matter to Michigan’s most challenged children and families.

As we reflect on the fun BBQs and beautiful fireworks displays, we must also look forward to ways to continue to actively engage in our patriotic duty of engaging with elected officials on issues that matter to us.  Let’s make sure that our patriotic spirit doesn’t end on July 5th.

Learn more about the decisions that were made in the fiscal year 2014 budget and how you can get involved in the budget-making process in Michigan by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

A Mixed Budget for Equity

Last month, Governor Snyder signed the fiscal year 2014 (FY2014) budget into law.  The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities and can be used as a tool to improve opportunities for children and families or worsen disparities.  The FY2014 budget proves to be a mixed bag with some significant steps forward and some hugely missed opportunities.

A  big win for children is the $65 million expansion for the Great Start Readiness program.  This 60 percent increase will ensure that thousands of additional children will have access to a high quality preschool program and be better prepared to succeed in school, reducing the achievement gap.  We can also applaud the $11.6 million expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, which will ensure that 70,500 Medicaid-eligible children in Ingham, Ottawa, and Washtenaw Counties will have access to high quality dental care.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families.

There were some mixed results in the final budget.  For example, the final budget included $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  This level of funding to support the state’s plan is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the $11 million needed to fully implement the plan.  In a state where African American infants continue to be three times more likely than white infants to die during the first year of life, fully implementing the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan while ensuring that other supports that promote healthy pregnancy and birth are essential to mitigate this unacceptable disparity.

And there were some missed opportunities.  Efforts were made to increase support for school-community partnerships through the Communities in Schools program; and we know that incentives for schools to create community links aimed at strengthening schools, increasing parent involvement, and meeting children’s needs can improve student outcomes and reduce the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, support for CIS did not come to fruition in the final budget.  Also, the final budget provided no additional resource for before- and after-school programming which improve educational success for all students and demonstrate the greatest benefit for students who face the most extraordinary educational challenges; and no funding increases for opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school – additional years that have proven to increase graduation rates for students who struggle the most in school.

And of course, the battle to expand Medicaid still rages on.  While more children would not be insured, Medicaid expansion would benefit children in significant ways.  More than one out of four individuals covered by the expansion would be women of child-bearing age, one out of four would be young adults who might not otherwise have health insurance, and 91,000 additional parents would have health care coverage.  However, Medicaid expansion is not a lost battle.  The House has already passed a Medicaid reform package separate from the budget bill, which includes the expansion, and the Senate continues to debate this bill.  The Senate Government Operations committee met today to provide a brief overview of the Senate workgroup that will be working over the summer in the hopes that Medicaid reform and expansion can be approved by the Senate in the fall.  We encourage you to continue talking to you State Senators about the importance of Medicaid expansion for your family and your communities.

Learn more about the FY2014 budget and Medicaid Expansion by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

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