Equity vs. Equality and the State Budget

March 6, 2014 – We, at Michigan’s Children, say this all the time because it’s true – the single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  As Michigan, like the rest of the nation, continues to become a more racially diverse state; focusing on equitable outcomes for all children is essential to ensure future prosperity.  We must be clear that equity is different than equality, which can be confusing to many.  And while the equity conversation typically focuses on the glaring disparities in child outcomes by race and income, Michigan’s Children also looks at equity promoting strategies that support children with other significant challenges, such as those served by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

From a public policy and programs perspective, equality means that all children have the same access to public services and programs.  Equity, however, ensures that children with more significant challenges can access additional services and programs proven to work for them to help level the playing field.  For example, all children have equal access to a public K-12 education experience.  However, students that experience challenges at home and in the classroom may benefit from additional services such as a high-quality after-school program that helps them with some of the educational challenges they may face, a school-based health center where they can access quality health care, and free- and reduced-lunch.  In other words, programs that work to increase equity provide targeted services to children who face the most barriers to ensure that they can have a similar chance of success as their peers.  Increasing equitable outcomes means that disparities will shrink such that data will no longer show a gap between the outcomes of children of color, poor children, and children shouldering other challenging circumstances than their less challenged peers.

How the Governor and Legislature prioritize spending in its annual budget and how this spending is targeted towards children that face the most significant challenges can shrink or increase disparities by race and income, thus affecting equitable outcomes for children.  Last month, the Governor released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 – a proposal that provides a truly mixed bag for equity.  Some of Governor Snyder’s recommendations will improve equitable outcomes for kids such as another significant increase in preschool funding through the Great Start Readiness Program, continued expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and an expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs to rural communities in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.  However, many of his budget recommendations continue to fall short when it comes to prioritizing Michigan’s most challenged children.  These include the continuation of under-funding programs that work to prevent child maltreatment, no funding for high quality before- and after-school programming including summer learning opportunities, and underwhelming increases to programs that have historically been underfunded or have experienced significant cuts in recent budget cycles.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 and the potential steps forward, steps backward, and mixed results they will produce for equitable outcomes for Michigan children.

-Mina Hong