July 22, 2014 — The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released their 25th annual examination of how kids are doing nationally, and state-by-state. According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation on child, youth and family well-being, nearly landing us in the bottom third of the states. As if this wasn’t bad enough news on its own, ten years ago we ranked 24th and have been making a pretty steady slide down since that time.
The national Data Book builds the composite rank from our ranking in four crucial areas: health, family and community (in both, MI ranks 29th), economic well-being (MI ranks 34th) and education, where we hold our worst national rank of 38th. Yes, you heard me. We rank in the bottom quarter of the states on the children’s issue that honestly, gets the most press. Our ranking here wasn’t great last year either – we ranked 32nd – but things are just getting progressively worse.
The vast majority of candidates tell us education is one of their top priorities. In addition, of all the important needs facing children, youth and families in Michigan, our state policymakers spend the most time on this one too, and rightly so. We spend a great deal more public dollar on K-12 education than we spend on any of the other investments that matter to our future – it is actually a constitutional guarantee, as it must be for the future of our state. Michigan had the first public school in the nation and has been an early adopter of all sorts of educational innovation, from the length of the school day to expanded learning opportunities over the years. So how can we be doing so much more poorly than other areas of the country?
Because we are making less progress. At this time when everyone is wringing their hands about the need for a better prepared workforce, more career and college readiness from our high school students, higher high school and college graduation rates to meet the demands of the workforce today and tomorrow, Michigan has recorded improvement on one of the four indicators measured by the Data Book, not as much as other states, and has remained basically stagnant on the other three, while other states have moved more dramatically.
Admittedly, this report did not reflect recent investment in the state’s preschool program, which we know will help us move the dime on that indicator in subsequent assessments. That said, our success in linking high quality early childhood programs to a high quality K-12 system with strategies that promote learning and high school completion for those who struggle most is critical to improving our ranking.
These results simply reiterate what we’ve been blogging about for several months now. This is campaign season, when policymakers are vying for our vote and making promises about what they will accomplish if we use that vote to get them elected. They are all talking about education as a priority issue. Now is the time to both listen to what they are suggesting for solutions that they would champion if elected and to make sure that they know what solutions that we would recommend.