Yearly Archives 2014

Lights On Afterschool Advocacy

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After-School Partnership.

10/10/14 – Lights on Afterschool is a nationwide event on October 23rd to celebrate afterschool programs and all of the benefits they bring to the lives of children, particularly children who struggle the most in school. But it also offers another opportunity – an opportunity to elevate the importance of all high quality expanded learning options – before- and after-school programs, summer learning programs, credit recovery programs and other options to expand learning beyond the school day and year with our elected officials.

Why does it matter that we talk to policymakers about expanded learning? Our elected officials are charged with making decisions about a range of topics – many which they know little to nothing about. It’s impossible for one person to be well-versed on education, health, energy, insurance, the justice system, tax code, veteran’s affairs, natural resources, transportation, and all of the other domains under which our elected officials make decisions. As a former state legislator, I know this to be true. Elected officials need you to help them stay informed on the issues that are important to Michigan’s children, youth and families.

So, how do we help them make the best decisions that they can? How can we get involved in policymaking?

  • It can be something that you occasionally dabble in – like contacting your legislator when there’s a timely issue that the Legislature is debating. You can stay informed on timely issues related to children, youth and families by signing up for Michigan’s Children’s electronic communications.
  • You can become a stronger advocate by getting to know the people that represent you and building and maintaining a good relationship with them. Attend your legislators’ coffee hours in your communities, sign-up for their e-bulletins, and communicate with them regularly to keep them informed on topics that you care about.
  • Or you can take it even a step further and invite them to you – to your programs in your community. If you run an afterschool program, invite them to take a tour and visit with the children. If you are a member of your PTA, invite your legislator to come to a meeting and hear the concerns of fellow parents.

Ensuring that policymakers are educated so that they can make informed decisions about afterschool – particularly when it comes to decisions on funding high quality expanded learning opportunities – is critical. I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of high quality expanded learning – you already know that these programs can help students stay academically on-track and can help those who are already behind to catch-up. But your elected officials may not know that. And it’s our jobs to make sure they do.

– Matt Gillard

The Questions No One Else is Asking

September 29, 2014 – The comment that struck me the most at the first of our series of youth-led candidate forums last week in Kalamazoo was echoed by all five candidates in attendance: questions they were being asked by the young people that night had not been asked so far on their campaign trails. The candidates were excited about this, and commended the young people on their thoughtful and thorough articulation of the issues that concerned them most.

There is probably no race in the state that is having more public forums, debates and other opportunities to hear from the candidates than the 20th Michigan Senate District. All three candidates for that office were present at our forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church last Thursday, as were the two major party candidates running for the 60th House District. All were incredible – articulate, respectful and generous with their limited time.

The reason that these questions were unique is because Michigan’s Children is working with local youth partners to both develop and ask the questions of candidates at our four forums around the state. In Kalamazoo, three groups of young people were involved: Jeter’s Leaders, Calling all Youth at Advocacy Services for Kids, and the newly formed Douglass Youth Advisory Council. These groups developed and prioritized a series of questions that they were interested in hearing the candidates articulate. Then a group of about a dozen of their young people stood up in front of the forum audience and put those questions to the candidates.

The reason we decided to conduct a series of youth-led forums during this election season was to remedy the fact that we don’t often hear candidates talking about issues that really matter to children, youth and families. Turns out, it did the trick. The young people asked questions about access to services, including behavioral and reproductive health; they asked about candidate plans to address high school dropout and high unemployment of young people and their families and their perspectives on basic needs programs that serve families when they are at their most vulnerable. They asked how young people could get more informed about how our government works and how if elected, how the candidates would get consistent and substantive feedback from young people before they made decisions. Each of our five candidates was given equal time to answer each question, and answer they did.

If you can, join us for one of the remaining three forums in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Mt. Clemens. Get more information about the forums themselves, the candidates and our partners on the Sandbox Party website. And don’t forget to attend candidate forums in your area, we have our own questions for candidates on our What’s At Stake page. The general election is only a few weeks away – take all the opportunities you can to hear about what your candidates for office are saying and if they aren’t talking about the issues most important to you, take the opportunity to ask.

– Michele Corey

A New Public Forum for Michigan’s Children

September 19, 2014 – For nearly two decades, Michigan’s Children has organized our trademark KidSpeak® forums in Lansing and around the state.  These KidSpeak® forums provide an opportunity for young people to speak before a Listening Panel of policymakers, community leaders, and other decision-makers on the issues they have struggled with and how programs and services have assisted them.  Michigan’s Children has purposefully recruited young people who have encountered particularly challenging circumstances whether it be young people who have dropped out of school, become teen parents, struggled in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or faced other significant barriers to their success.  Their perspectives are critically important as children and youth continue to struggle in our state, particularly children and youth of color and from low-income families who face more barriers to succeed in school and in life.

Connecting the experiences of young people directly with policymakers has provided Michigan’s Children with firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that plays a key role in our policy priority setting.  In addition, linking powerful stories of young people directly with policymakers themselves has proven to be an effective advocacy strategy.  Young people have been the best messengers for key issues like foster care and educational success.  Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversations and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state departments and other policymaking bodies.

With the success of our KidSpeak® forums, Michigan’s Children is looking to expand these opportunities to also capture the voices of families with young children to ensure that public policies take a multi-generation approach to ensure that families can succeed.  As the importance of the early years continues to gain recognition, and as the educational attainment and opportunities facing parents and the impact that has on their children is well documented, policymakers must hear from families on how they can best be supported.  This year, for the first time, Michigan’s Children is organizing two FamilySpeak forums to do just that.  Modeled after our signature KidSpeak® forums, FamilySpeak will provide a venue for families who have struggled for a variety of reasons to speak before a listening panel of policymakers and decision-makers.  These FamilySpeak events will focus on two-generation strategies that take into account the needs of children and their parents to ensure that families can thrive.

Our first FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, September 22nd at the Michigan Association for Community and Adult Education (MACAE) annual conference and will be held in partnership with MACAE and the Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan.  This particular FamilySpeak will highlight an innovative program in Kalamazoo and Allegan Counties called the Life Guides Program, a program of Goodwill.  We are excited that this FamilySpeak will be showcasing this innovative, long-term program – modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone – that works to move low-income families to economic self-sufficiency.

Our second FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, October 13th at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) annual conference in Detroit and will be held in partnership with NBCDI and their Detroit Chapter.  That FamilySpeak will highlight multiple two-generation programs that serve families – ranging from programs that focus on health needs, mental health needs, human service organizations, and others.

To learn more about the FamilySpeak events, feel free to email Mina Hong.

-Mina Hong

Join the #InvestInKids Twitter Rally Today

September 10, 2014 – I try to play the social media game but I honestly feel like I can’t keep up.  I’m just beginning to dabble in the use of #hashtags and still struggle to get my message across in 140 characters or less.  What can I say?  I’m a policy person… trying to get something down to one-page is hard enough!  But, I do recognize that social media can be an effective strategy to move public policy priorities.  And to that end, I urge you to fight any possible social media hesitations – or embrace your love for social media – and participate in today’s #InvestinKids Strong Start Coalition Twitter Campaign from 2-3pm or anytime today if you’re unavailable during that hour.  The purpose of the Twitter storm is to let members of Congress – and I would add our state legislators and candidates for public office – know that investing in young children is a top priority.

The Strong Start Coalition is focusing on expanding access to early childhood opportunities – an issue that Michigan’s Children is prioritizing this election season via the Sandbox Party.  With our state’s significant focus on preschool over the past two years, it’s now time to focus on our littlest Michigan residents.  We must expand funding for programs that serve young children prenatally through age three through a variety of evidence-based services including home visiting, early intervention for developmental delays, and high quality child care.  These are all parts of Michigan’s early childhood system – particularly Early On Early intervention – that have received significantly less attention than preschool.

Michigan’s Children is glad that the importance of home visiting has expanded over the past several years in Michigan, with some increases in state and federal funding for evidence-based home visiting services and through the Governor’s Partners for Success opportunity.  And, we’re glad that the need to increase access to high quality child care is being worked on by the Administration through Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  But I would argue that both of these parts of the early childhood system still have quite a ways to go to ensure access to all families who are eligible for these services.  At the same time, Early On continues to be left behind.  An Auditor General’s report that came out last year highlighted some significant challenges with the Early On system – many which are the result of historic underfunding of the Early On system for decades.  In a nutshell, opportunities for our youngest Michigan residents continue to fall far behind.

I hope you will join many other early childhood advocates across the nation today by participating in the #InvestinKids Twitter action.  In addition to targeting our members of Congress, please consider tailoring your message to candidates running for public office.

To learn more about Michigan’s Children’s election efforts, visit www.michigansandboxparty.org.

-Mina Hong

Starting School and Staying There

September 2, 2014 – Here we are, the day after Labor Day, with all eyes toward young people returning to school.  Now that they are back, we need to keep them there – making sure that they aren’t losing opportunity because of multiple absences, and making sure that they stick it out until high school graduation and beyond.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and the noteworthy Attendance Works national organization released today a study about the impact of attendance, or lack of attendance, on educational success in Michigan and around the country, titled Absences Add Up: How Attendance Influences Student Success.  As the report authors discuss, and Michigan’s Children has discussed many times in our blogs and elsewhere, it has never before been so essential that we move all of our young people to educational success.  One of the barriers to doing this is when young people aren’t getting all of the learning opportunities that they could.  This happens during the summer, it happens during the 80 percent of waking hours that children and youth aren’t in school and it happens when they are absent.  Bottom line:  they miss out and have limited opportunity to catch up.

So, not surprisingly, what Absences Add Up reports is that in Michigan and around the country, your assessment scores have EVERYTHING to do with how often you are absent.  Being present in school matters to academic performance for each grade and subject studied, for every group of children and in every locality.  The report states that “in many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups.”

In Michigan, there was a 15 point difference in average math assessment scores between 4th graders with no absences in the past month and those who missed at 3 or more days.  Similar gaps are seen in 4th and 8th grade reading.  The largest gap in Michigan is the 23 point difference for 8th grade math.  I see the impact of the cumulative nature of math instruction with my own kids, which is clearly hampered by multiple absence.

What are the keys to keeping kids in school?  Ah, that is the complication.  There are many reasons why children and youth are absent from school, some of which are under the control of the school system and some that are not.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Human Services recently staffed a Truancy Task Force with the purpose of building a common definition for truancy that could be utilized across the state.  In the course of that discussion, what was also apparent is that there are as many reasons for absence as there are absences themselves and a myriad of ways that local school systems both report and deal with absence.  So if it is this complicated, what can be done?

  1. Support integrated services in schools.  When schools are able to connect families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence – be they related to physical and behavioral health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students.
  2. Support expanded learning opportunities.  There is ample evidence documenting the impact of quality afterschool and summer learning programs on in-school attendance.  When expanded learning opportunities are utilized to engage and re-engage young people in their learning, they are more likely to engage and re-engage with school as well.

As we’ve been saying over and over again, this election season gives all of us a platform to see what the candidates for office suggest we do to keep kids in school and learning.  When kids miss school, they miss opportunity.  They can’t afford it and neither can we.

Child Care Tax Credits Part 4 – Supporting Michigan Businesses

August 21, 2014 – This is the fourth and final blog in a series about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s tax credits for businesses and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, businesses are eligible for a tax credit in several ways – one for contributions to Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, and another specifically for business who support employees’ child care needs.  I’m going to talk a bit more about the business credit that helps employees.  Employers can support their employees’ child care needs in three ways:

  1. By making payments directly to a child care facility for employees’ children;
  2. By purchasing child care slots provided or reserved for employees’ children; or
  3. By constructing, renovating, expanding, or repairing a child care center, purchasing equipment, or maintaining or operating a center.

Businesses can receive a tax credit as a percentage of their child care related investments based on the quality rating of the facility that they are investing in.  Because high quality child care costs are so expensive, shifting some of this financial burden off low-income working families will provide a significant benefit to both employees and employers.  For businesses, this type of tax credit will have significant benefits for them as it relates to their day-to-day operations and ultimate success.  With more women in the workforce than ever before and low-income families reliant on all adults in the household working to make ends meet, the needs of working families must be addressed to ensure that businesses can thrive.  We know that inconsistent child care results in more missed work days by parents, which is particularly problematic for low-income parents who struggle to afford consistent child care.  Offering on-site child care or a child care benefit to a high quality program will ensure that staff have reliable child care that will allow them to be more productive at work.  And, offering a child care benefit will allow businesses to attract and retain quality staff.  Additionally, a tax credit for donations made for infrastructure improvements of already existing child care programs provides an enticing incentive for businesses to invest in those quality improvement efforts.

For families, this business tax credit will increase access to higher quality, reliable child care that supports their children’s learning and development.  High quality child care can ensure that young children are building the foundational base they need to succeed in school, and help school-aged children stay academically engaged and on-track. In short, a business tax credit will lead to more productive employees whose children are in high quality child care settings, which will ensure that businesses thrive today and that the workforce of tomorrow will be prepared for Michigan’s global economy.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to access, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child are tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Child Care Tax Credits Part 3 – Supporting Child Care Teachers and Directors

August 13, 2014 – This is the third in a series of blogs about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s tax credits for child care teachers and directors and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, child care teachers and directors are eligible for a tax credit if they work for a licensed child care facility that participates in the quality rating system and are enrolled in the Louisiana Pathways Child Care Career Development System.  The voluntary Pathways system is a mechanism for training and education for child care professionals that provides scholarships and tracks training received.  The refundable tax credit is based on the education level attained ranging from $1,606 to $3,212.  In essence, this tax credit is a wage supplement or salary bonus since the credit is provided directly to the child care teacher or director.

Here in Michigan, like the rest of the country, our child care professionals are sorely underpaid for the invaluable work they do.  We know that, across-the-board, programs struggle to pay child care professionals a livable wage.  For teachers working in programs that serve children in the state’s child care subsidy program, this issue is exacerbated.  A child care tax credit for professionals similar to the Louisiana model would provide an opportunity for our child care teachers and directors to continue on a path of professional development – increasing the quality of the care that Michigan children are in – while also providing some salary boost to support those personal investments.

Michigan has a structure set-up to help child care professionals achieve higher education credentials through the TEACH scholarship program.  The TEACH scholarship covers the cost of tuition – whether it be for a single early childhood education course or for individuals seeking a Child Development Associate, an Associate degree, or a Bachelor’s degree – as well as the cost of books and a travel stipend.  However, TEACH does not provide any ongoing salary bonuses for teachers and directors who have attained higher education levels.  A child care tax credit similar to Louisiana would provide an opportunity for teachers and directors to seek professional development opportunities and allow for some financial incentive to support those efforts, better supporting Michigan’s child care professionals and improving the quality of child care.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child are tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Politics to Policy

August 7, 2014 – I’ll be the first to admit it. I hate politics. Being in the public policy field, people sometimes ask me if I ever think about running for public office. I just laugh. And never is there a time more brutally and unapologetically political than an election season. This seems to be particularly true leading up to primary elections when candidates are trying to market themselves as more conservative or more liberal than their challengers. Matt enjoys all of the politics (read his political perspectives on the outcomes of the primary elections), and we are glad that he is able to translate his enthusiasm and interest into great policy strategy for Michigan’s Children. That said, I’m looking forward to moving past the politics and getting back to conversations about public policy. In other words, lifting up what matters to Michigan families, and ensuring that public policies and investments are made in the best interest of kids.

Now that we’re looking forward to the general elections, we can thankfully move in that direction. The general elections are a time when we can really begin to ascertain the differences between candidates on issues that matter to children, youth and families and see if we agree with how they say that they will tackle areas of concern. Now is the time when we can really understand how our candidates will or will not prioritize the needs of Michigan’s most challenged kids and families. At Michigan’s Children, we have highlighted some of our priorities this election season, and you’ll be hearing more and more from all of us about each of these areas in the months to come:
• Two-generation strategies that ensure parents have opportunities to get ahead in life while their children are connected to high quality learning opportunities.
• Adequately supporting the needs of Michigan’s most challenged young children from birth through age three.
• Increasing access to high quality child care for children from birth through age 12.
• Expanding learning opportunities for students and young people who face educational challenges to ensure that all young people can obtain a high school credential.

Maybe some of these issues resonate with concerns that you have about your family or your community. If so, please visit the Sandbox Party website to learn more about What’s At Stake this election season, and of course check back to Michigan’s Children’s Resources section as well.

While I hate politics, I still believe in the system. Sure, many Americans and Michiganians feel that our government is no longer functional – that Congress can’t get anything done, and that the Michigan Legislature no longer represents their views. But unless we get involved and stay involved in the democratic process (read Michele’s blog on her reflections on the primary elections and how it relates to this), we can’t expect Congress or the State Legislature to understand our priorities. This election season, I hope you will begin having conversations with candidates about what matters most to you, your family, and your community. If you’ve already started those conversations, kudos to you! Please keep them going and connect your friends and networks into those conversations so that more Michigan voters can be informed. And I hope you will join the 18% of Michigan’s registered voters who voted on Tuesday and get out to vote in November.

– Mina Hong

The Power of Our Vote

August 7, 2014 – Okay, I’ve admitted to you before that I love democracy – I love the power and the responsibility that comes with determining who will be making big decisions on my behalf, and assisting them make the best decisions possible along the way. For the past couple of months, we’ve been pestering folks as best we can to participate in the electoral process, beginning not in November, but beginning earlier than that in the Primary Elections that happened yesterday.

As we looked today at the winners and losers from yesterday and what that tells us about Michigan voters, candidates and their supporters, I was struck again by how close some of these Primary races were – several decided by fewer than 10 votes. Yes, you heard me, fewer than 10. I’ve had more people at my house for my book club! And many more decided by fewer than 100. We all know 100 people, and it is astounding to think that is all it takes to hand somebody success or failure at the polls. Now we know that turn out will be higher in November – typically we have about 20% (18% this last go round) of registered voters voting in the primaries and about 45% or so voting in the general election (okay, those dismal numbers are worthy of another blog another day), but contests will still be won often by small margins. Why would we put that kind of power into the hands of someone else?

The other thing that I was struck by was that once again, money alone doesn’t buy elections. Whenever I talk to people about getting more involved in policy advocacy, I always stress that even though the media never stops talking about the impact that money has in politics, it actually isn’t as impactful as some democratic system nay-sayers want to believe. That said, even I sometimes use the caveat that money makes more of a difference in statewide races, and in Congressional bids, then it does in more local races. Well, yesterday the people voting in the Republican primary of the 4th District Congressional seat, the one vacated by popular and powerful U.S. Representative Dave Camp, voted for the candidate who got outspent more than $5 to $1.

So what won that primary contest if it wasn’t money? Votes. Oh yeah, they always win. Candidates can get money from where-ever, and some of them do. You hear a lot about big monied interests funding campaigns that aren’t their own – campaigns in other communities, in other states. Well, that can get you advertising, staff and sometimes better strategy, but the only thing that gets you into office are the votes. Those can only come from the constituents in the district that you are vying to represent. They can only come from us, and we are all on even footing with votes – we each get one.

Now that we are moving into the general election, we have to take a closer look at how we decide which candidates are best to represent our interests – policy making in the best interest of children, youth and families. At Michigan’s Children, we’ll be focused on making sure that candidates are hearing about the issues that most concern constituents, and we’ll be paying close attention to what candidates are saying or not saying about the most critical investments needed in Michigan today:

1. Two-generation strategies that ensure children do well while their parents move ahead.
2. Earlier learning opportunities that optimize investments in 4-year old preschool.
3. Accessible, affordable, quality care for children and youth while parents can’t be with them.
4. Expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day.

Check back with the Sandbox Party and keep informed through our Sandbox Bulletin, our Early Learning Action Network and our Graduate Michigan Action Network. The power to move improved public policy for children, youth and families is, as always, in our hands.

– Michele Corey

Four Things We Learned from This Year’s Primaries

August 6, 2014 – This year’s all-important primary election has come and gone and four themes emerged from the results:

1. The battle for the soul of the Michigan Republican Party has not been decided. Establishment Republican interests took on Tea Party/Conservative candidates in numerous races throughout the state, and while both sides scored some major victories, no clear-cut winner emerged. With Todd Courser of Lapeer, Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell, and Gary Glenn of Midland all winning highly contested open GOP primaries in which establishment Republican groups spent huge money supporting their opposition, the Tea Party faithful can point to some impressive victories in the state House. Similarly, Congressman Justin Amash’s high-profile victory over establishment-supported Brian Ellis in the 3rd Congressional district was another big win for the Tea Party cause.

On the other side of the coin, the establishment-supported candidates emerged in the other three closely watched GOP Congressional primaries: Mike Bishop defeated Tom McMillin in the 8th Congressional district, David Trott bested Congressman Kerry Bentivolio in the 11th Congressional district, and John Moolenaar beat Paul Mitchell in the 4th Congressional district. The Republican establishment scored another impressive victory in the 37th state Senate district’s GOP primary with state Rep. Wayne Schmidt handily defeating state Rep. Greg MacMaster in a nasty northern Michigan battle.

This mixed bag of results from these Tea Party vs. Establishment fights ensures the ideological fight for control of the Michigan GOP will continue through at least the next Legislative session.

2. The power of incumbency remains formidable in state Legislative elections. With the notable exception of State Rep. Frank Foster losing in the 107th state House district, all incumbents from both political parties were successful in their state Legislative primaries. This trend has continued for several election cycles now where even well-financed and well-organized challengers have virtually no chance of knocking off incumbents in primary elections. This reality holds true in both Democratic and Republican primaries and ultimately discourages many potential candidates from pursuing Legislative office.

3. Strong female candidates making their gender an issue have success. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence emerged from a tough Democratic primary in the 14th Congressional district at least in part by successfully articulating the need for more women in government and leadership positions in our society and by standing on her support from Women’s Rights groups.

4. Low-voter turnout equals incredibly close races. Statewide, overall turnout for the August primary came in at right around 18 percent of all registered voters. This abysmally low number, combined with the fact that most Legislative and Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to be not competitive in the November general elections, means a small minority of Michigan’s citizens actually elected our next representatives in our state and federal government. Also, the low turnout led to numerous races being decided by fewer than 100 votes and in some races even less than 10 votes separated the top finishers. If turnout continues to remain this low in primary elections, the extremes of both political parties will continue to have undue influence and the voices of the vast majority of Michigan’s citizens will go unheard.

With the primary election behind us, supporters of children, youth, and family issues can now turn our attention to the November General Election. With the candidates for Governor and the open U.S. Senate seat traveling around the state spreading their message to voters, as well as candidates for Congressional and Legislative offices out in your communities, everyone will have an opportunity to find out how the candidates feel about the issues that are important to them. Please use www.michigansandboxparty.org as a resource to become engaged in this critical upcoming election.

– Matt Gillard

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