Improving the State of our State

January 17, 2014 – The Governor’s annual State of the State address last night was his opportunity to talk about what he sees as the status of Michigan over the last year, and what he expects to prioritize over the next.  It is pretty easy to document the current state of our state:  rising poverty for kids and families, tied to many costly challenges from cradle to career; some economic progress in Michigan that, while on a positive note is improving the state of our budget revenues, is also a result of shifting economic realities that maintain low wage workers’ high unemployment, underemployment and tenuous connection to the workforce.

How can we change this circumstance?  Because education levels are so directly related to consistent, family supporting employment and the income tied to that employment, at least a part of that answer has to do with building college and career readiness in more of our young people.  At this point, some of our Michigan young people have it, and some don’t.  Why such disparity in this outcome?  High school graduation and subsequent success in post-secondary and career options are symptoms of the success and failure of many systems.  We choose which of these systems we are interested in supporting with public dollars and how they are supported by our public investment each year through our state’s appropriations process.

While the Governor’s budget recommendation (which kick starts the budget process each year) won’t come for a couple of weeks, his State of the State address last night gives an early glimpse into the priorities he will later work with the legislature to fund.  As last year, we are so excited about the Governor’s continued commitment to pre-school access.  It is an essential piece of a more comprehensive strategy for increased college and career success.  In addition to preschool, how should we expect some of the other main points that were made last night be translated into the budget recommendations to come to ensure that Michigan’s economic progress is felt by our most challenged children, youth, their families and communities?

  1. Easing the tax burden for hard working folks.  Well, that is easy enough.  Reinstate earlier cuts to the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  Improve the structure and resources directed to our child care subsidy program to increase its ability to serve as an effective work support.
  2. Improving truancy and school safety.  Reward educators for building better bridges to families and community resources that strengthen the ability of parents to support their children’s education, including their consistent attendance at school.  Reward the utilization of best school discipline practice that doesn’t result in loss of educational time.
  3. Expanding education year-round.  Provide year-round educational options for kids beyond the school building by better supporting extended learning opportunities to mitigate summer learning loss and assist in skill building and engagement, particularly those that focus on community, higher education and workforce partners.
  4. Assessing educators and education well.  Assess, support and reward educators, schools and communities for the ability to connect early and often with children, youth and their families and for the ability to make sure that the most challenged students are progressing.  Expand responsibility for educational success beyond the school doors, and support that responsibility accordingly.  Support current work that allows for more competency-based assessments – taking time out of the equation for school success.  Work that has broad agreement through the K-12, workforce and higher education communities.

Other priorities of Michigan’s Children that we expect to see addressed in the Governor’s budget conversations in the coming weeks?   We are really just expecting that our investments match the facts about children, youth and families:

  1. The trajectory toward college and career success begins before birth through disparities in maternal health and education.  Disparities in literacy are evident as early as nine months, and much of the brain is wired by the age of three.  To capitalize on the essential investment the state is making in 4-year old preschool, investment needs to be made earlier.
  2. College and career success is dependent on a variety of factors far beyond the reach of educators and schools.  Consistent support for integrated services like physical and mental health, basic needs, and other things that help kids and their parents focus on education; and providing 2nd and 3rd chances for high school graduation for those who need that extra time and different kinds of opportunities to succeed are also essential.

Michigan’s Children looks forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to put our public resources behind proven effective strategies that will indeed improve the state of our state.

– Michele Corey