Support the Caregivers to Support the Kids

September 30, 2015 – As you all know, Michigan’s Children has been bringing together the voices of the most challenged young people and policymakers for nearly 20 years through our signature KidSpeak® forums, and that work has changed the trajectory of policy conversations over those years. But children and youth don’t grow up on their own, they grow up in families, in schools and in communities – often many different ones if they are involved with our foster care system. Michigan is too often not the best parent to the young people who we have taken responsibility for, but there are a lot of caregivers who are working as hard as humanly possible and against multiple odds to try to do better for kids in foster care. We heard from about a dozen of those caregivers last week, and learned quite a bit about how we could do better.

Michigan’s Children; the Michigan Statewide Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Family Coalition; the Michigan Federation for Children and Families; the Michigan Kinship Coalition and the Kinship Care Resource Center were recently joined by nearly fifty local, state and federal decision makers at our latest FamilySpeak. We were joined by Congressional staff, by Michigan Legislators and their staff, by staff from the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, and by staff from multiple private agencies and service providers wanting to hear more about how to better support the very challenged children, youth and families that they serve.

Eleven caregivers, including foster, adoptive and kinship parents, spoke about what had brought them into the system, how their expectations differed from their reality of parenting and outlined their specific challenges. And all made recommendations for changes in policies and programs to make the system work better for their families and others. They talked so eloquently and emotionally about how the young people they were helping to raise at times just need access to the same things that other kids need– early identification of problems so that they can be addressed promptly and avoid larger problems later on. Michigan’s Children was glad to hear this recommendation coming from caregivers as it aligns with our ongoing advocacy work on ensuring a variety of early childhood programs and services are accessible that maximize future opportunities for all kids, rather than expanding equity gaps.

And they also talked eloquently and even more emotionally about how the kids in their care, and they, needed more help than they currently receive. More understanding of the impact of trauma – for themselves, to be able to negotiate it better as parents and for the systems serving their children, so that they are better served in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. More access to necessary services – better and early assessment of what is needed immediately, and consistent access to those services. They spoke a lot about how services were not available right away, or weren’t available in a way that worked for the young people they were parenting – many of whom will need supports like child care well beyond the traditional age of 12, and supports of all kinds well into adulthood, beyond 18 for sure.

They also talked about themselves – how they are workers and citizens and how both of those roles are at times compromised because of a lack of available support or understanding on the part of employers and workers in the systems. And some caregivers – particularly those family members who are caring for their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews – are often left out of access to critical services that their children need as much as others who have come into the child welfare system through other ways. In addition, it is clear that once children and youth have been adopted, there are far fewer services available to families, which also needs to be remedied.

Michigan’s Children is working with policymakers to see the connections between what we hear from young people in the system, and what we hear from their caregivers. So much of what young people experience as instability in their world and lack of services toward their eventual independence and adult success stems from exactly the same issues that caregivers articulate as lack of access to services and support so they can best care for their children.

We thank all of the amazing young people and parents who have taken the time to talk with us and to policymakers about their very personal experiences so that we can make sure that the state is taking its job as primary caregiver of children and youth in foster care as seriously as is required. Michigan needs to be the best parent to the children, youth and families in our care and we need to adequately support those who are helping with that effort.

– Michele Corey

September 10, 2015 – While working as a student teacher in a local high school some years ago, I was introduced to the mind-numbing business of taking attendance before each class hour. The routine process, involving some quick key board clicks on a digital report across 156 student names and six class hours, wasn’t itself time-consuming except for assembling lesson materials that needed to be set aside for absent students each day. Doing so gave them and their families some sense of what took place in the classroom that day. But in reality, it didn’t entirely replicate the learning process, the active exchange of questions, discussions, ideas and those wonderful unexpected ah-ha moments that come from the daily teacher-student experience. And not everyone was able to take advantage of take-home material.

Even though I frequently shared the importance of keeping up by coming to class with the teens and parents I worked with, I knew the problems some kids faced attending regularly were varied and complicated by their personal challenges. Chronic asthma; sick parents at home; early morning jobs teens took to support their families; struggles with mental illness and family trauma. Rarely could skipping school be explained by teen obstinacy alone. But absences did cause them to struggle in school and ultimately put roadblocks to their post secondary schooling and career training. Now, new information from Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign this month gives a deeper look into chronic school absences – an issue gaining priority in education as a national crisis.

Released this September during Attendance Awareness Month, the report, “Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for Student Success,” spotlights a problem bigger than many people would expect with 7.5 million students missing nearly a month of school a year. It’s a problem that can be tracked to preschool and kindergarten whose absentee rates are nearly as high as teen’s rates, according to the report. The life-long consequences are serious, too. Children who are repeatedly absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiency by third grade. In middle school, students with chronic absences are more likely to drop out in high school. School testing and performance measures are negatively impacted, resulting in limited opportunities for success as students move on.

Using survey data taken during national testing of 4th and 8th graders, the report also pinpoints who is missing school, and in Michigan it doesn’t bode well for children of color, children with disabilities and children from low-income families. Once again, a national educational issue is hitting our vulnerable populations hardest and the numbers are compelling.

  1. The report found 32 percent of Michigan’s African-American 4th graders missed three or more days in a given month compared to 22 percent nationally. The rate was the same for Michigan 8th graders, 32 percent, compared to 23 percent across the country.
  2. Michigan’s Hispanic children also missed more school than the national average: In 4th grade, the Michigan rate was 28 percent compared to 21 percent nationally and in 8th grade, 26 percent compared to 22 percent.
  3. And Michigan children with disabilities also missed more school then peers nationally: 31 versus 25 percent in 4th grade, and 34 vs. 28 percent among 8th graders.

Attendance and truancy have gotten attention from political leaders in Michigan in recent years. Gov. Snyder’s Pathways to Potential program launched in 2012 as a means to reduce truancy by co-locating Department of Health and Human Services staff in schools. Some communities have developed successful strategies that are seeing progress in attendance, like the Kent School Services Network and others. Michigan needs to learn from success and build whole-community approaches statewide.

The State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston are taking a serious look at what’s needed to make Michigan a top 10 state in education. Addressing the causes of school absenteeism should be a part of those conversations as we set our sights on helping all kids learn and achieve in Michigan.

– Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

September 9th, 2015- Hello! My name is Elena Brennan and I am Michigan’s Children newest M.S.W. intern. I am so excited to join the team here at Michigan’s Children, as I am eager to immerse myself in public policy issues surrounding children, education, and advocacy work towards social justice. In May of 2014, I earned my B.A. in Psychology at Michigan State University and I bring knowledge and experiences surrounding various social systems, specifically those concerning youth and families from a policy and community based level. I will be graduating with my M.S.W. from Michigan State in the spring of 2016 and look forward to working with Michigan’s Children on the final portion of my graduate journey.

I have been interested in human development, specifically the relationship between the individual and their environment early on in my education. In 2012, I was involved in the Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) at Michigan State, an intensive two-semester internship working with adjudicated youth in Ingham County’s court system, where I found myself working with an extremely vulnerable population. This spurred my interest in program development, mentoring, policy and advocacy work, and analyzing the criminal justice system within the United States. I then went on to direct a 5-month program in 2014-2015 called Youth Advancement Through Athletics. This multi-faceted youth development program was designed to improve the lives of Lansing youth through mentorship, athletics, community outreach, and career-driven activities. My involvement directing the program sparked my interest in teaching higher education courses and solidified my interest in the Organizational Community Leadership (OCL) route of my graduate studies, allowing me to pursue more of my passions through organizations like Michigan’s Children!

I have previously interned at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency as well as participated in an international study abroad in Finland focusing on social service delivery. This recent trip deepened my passion and love for the field of social work, as I had the opportunity to study in a country with one of the most progressive social systems in the world. I hope to pursue more international studies in the future, as there is much more to learn outside of the United States.

For the next eight months you will find me at Michigan’s Children researching, writing, and advocating for the children of our state between cups of hot coffee.

– Elena Brennan

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Elena Brennan to our staff.  You will hear more from her throughout her year at Michigan’s Children, and can get in touch with her via email



September 9, 2015 – No longer a top tier state for education, Michigan today has larger gaps in student outcomes among its diverse populations than many other states, jettisoning our state to 37th in the nation according to the National Kids Count project. These learning gaps start early and persist and grow throughout educational careers without appropriate intervention and support, threatening our state’s future and the futures of thousands of our children.

New State School Superintendent Brian Whiston has begun his tenure focused on asking groups (many with competing interests) to talk with the State Board of Education about fixing that, and restoring Michigan to a top 10 state in education within 10 years.

At Michigan’s Children, we believe the answers lie in shrinking these achievement gaps and reducing student disparities through known evidence and practices that works best for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Positive change can happen even as state decision makers face unique pressures to fund costly road fixes while determining investments in the most struggling schools and districts.

We shared our recommendations that support students within and beyond the classroom to assist with their eventual success in a presentation to State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston this week, outlining a strategy that includes several specific areas for attention.

Start early. Education is a lifelong process beginning at birth with differences among children becoming evident as early as 9 months. By 6th grade, children from low-income families have 6,000 fewer hours of learning than their peers due to fewer opportunities for early, consistent and expanded learning. The education system must continue to focus early to head off future problems by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximize federal investment in Early On, and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Because children succeed when their parents do well, the education system must support parents’ role in children’s learning. The evidence on this is clear, particularly for early literacy skills and retention in the early grades. Today, four out of 10 Michigan schoolchildren aren’t reading proficiently by third grade, and the rates are much higher for children of color. The education system must expand support to help parents reach their educational and career goals through investments in Adult Education, workforce supports and family literacy options, and promote effective two-generation programming where families can learn together.

Trauma from family stress, mental and behavioral health issues, violence and loss, abuse or other social or emotional issues can undermine a child’s ability to learn and grow academically. Yet, we don’t fully recognize its impact on learning gaps and educational achievement in our policy and practice. The education system must implement good practices in schools and provide educators with the necessary tools to deal with symptoms of student and family trauma. Improving connections with community partners who can help is vital.

When schools are able to unite families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence, behavioral issues and academic problems be they caused by health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students. There is ample evidence that after-school and summer learning programs help to integrating community services for students and families, and support their academic progress by getting students motivated and engaged with their learning, helping them get caught up when they get behind and keeping them on a successful trajectory.

Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all for student success. Because children are inherently different and come with an array of challenges, young people need multiple pathways to success beyond the traditional, arbitrary four years of high school. Therefore, we must invest in second-, third- and fourth-chance programs for high school completion. In addition, we must prevent unnecessary expulsions that leave too many students adrift from college and career by promoting school attendance and adjusting school discipline policies.

It is clear that the Superintendent and School Board are uniquely positioned to provide needed robust leadership for this difficult work by taking into account the expertise of many sectors of work, including family and community resources. To do so recognizes a universal truth: A child’s ability to succeed in school and life relies on multiple factors, most that aren’t exclusive to what happens inside the classroom, but extend far beyond that learning environment. Improving the state’s ability to build success in more students is possible and essential, will require a commitment from many partners. We encourage our educational leadership to join Michigan’s Children and many others to put all of our children and families at the forefront of what it takes to make Michigan’s education great again.

– Matt Gillard

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on September 8, 2015.

September 8, 2015 – Yesterday I walked across the Mackinac Bridge with my family, the Governor and tens of thousands of other people in celebration of the end of summer.  It was the first time that we had ever made the walk and participated in the throng of humanity that makes it, many year after year.   This was truly an awesome experience, making us all feel a little prouder of our state, for sure.  However, as we started across the bridge in the rain, it was obvious that some of us would have an easier time of it than others.  There were people pushing strollers that slipped on the wet concrete and got stuck on the metal grates, there were people with canes, limps and other indications that the long walk would be a struggle for them.

With my three kids, all very healthy, we had a pretty easy time of it, but there were clearly people who were better prepared than we were.  Sometimes we, and those going at a faster pace than we were, found ourselves frustrated by the extra time needed by the folks who couldn’t go as quickly or who needed some extra help by the many National Guard members who were there to make sure that everyone who started across would make it to the finish.

Today marks the first day of school for most students in Michigan.  The bridge walk made me think a lot about the summer learning graphic illustrating the different impact of the summer months that serves to increase the learning gaps between poorer kids and their more affluent peers.  In the summer, kids who have expanded learning opportunities through family travels, summer enrichment programs and specific assistance to build literacy and numeracy skills or catch up where they have fallen behind, continue to progress educationally.  Kids who don’t have any of those things actually fall behind over those months, starting school today even further behind than they were when they left in June.

So, in the case of the bridge walk, those who made it across the fastest would be like the kids who start school today having gotten those 6,000 hours of extra learning by the 6th grade – through literacy and other enriching activities with family members able to spend that time with them; and through extra learning time during the school year and in the summer in quality expanded learning opportunities.    Those who moved more slowly needed that additional time and assistance to be able to complete the trip.  Many students are starting school today who have not been afforded that time or assistance, and are beginning the school year further behind than they left it.

Michigan’s Children is testifying before the State Board today about investments that are necessary if Michigan really wants to become a top ten state for education, reiterating the pieces we’ve been talking about through our August Issues edition, Making Michigan a Top 10 Education State by Shrinking the Learning Gap and our Bridge commentary.  One of those necessary investments is in expanded learning – before-and after school programs, summer learning programs and other opportunities to bolster the learning that goes on during the typical school day and year.

The most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities need to have better access to learning in the summer.  There are amazing programs across the state that serve to close those gaps.  Evaluation of a small summer learning investment that Michigan made a few years ago showed stark differences between the typical educational loss for students without those summer experiences, and the significant academic gain for the students who participated.  Funding that supports those programs has not been included in state budgets for several years, and high quality programs are not accessible through the state for families who cannot afford to pay for them.

Let this be the last first day of school where we allow students to start further behind than when they left.  Let’s commit this year to investing in expanded learning through the school year and in the summer, allowing everyone to begin in September a step ahead.

– Michele Corey

August 21, 2015 – Renewed attention has been placed on the disproportionality in school suspension and expulsion rates, and efforts here in Michigan and nationally to reduce suspension and expulsion continue to take shape.  The White House is leading a national push to rethink school discipline with a focus not only on general discipline practices but also as part of their My Brother’s Keeper efforts to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.  These conversations, thankfully, have included the need to better understand the role of trauma, as schools are demonstrating that providing trauma-informed training to teachers and school personnel is a highly effective way to reduce inappropriate school discipline.  Research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has played a clear role in these efforts as more and more is known about how to properly identify children who have experienced trauma and to best support them.

However, much more needs to be done to put what we know into practice in schools in Michigan, particularly since traumatic experiences that are exhibited through difficult school behaviors begin far before kindergarten.  With the increased focus on ACEs, attention is being placed on how to prevent and mitigate adverse experiences in early childhood.  Critically important in this discussion is a recent report by Child Trends that sheds light on how prevention efforts can and should focus on better supporting families with young children to prevent bullying behavior – clearly tied to later school discipline issues.

As the Child Trends report indicates, young children are developing social skills in those early years, and early aggressive behavior is a potential indicator of anti-social behavior later.  Michigan’s Children and others have been concerned about recent data on the extent of expulsion from early childhood education settings.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education put out a joint policy statement on reducing suspension and expulsion rates in those settings.  Clearly kicking young kids out of child care or preschool is not the way to go, but rather we must identify the root cause of early aggressive behaviors and address those underlying issues.  The brain science that undergirds current focus on preventing the academic achievement gap before kindergarten-entry also points to the need for earlier efforts to mitigate bullying and aggressive behavior, taking advantage of the time when young children’s brains are developing most rapidly and brain structures to promote pro-social behavior can be built.

How does that happen?  With a focus on the family and ensuring that parents have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teachers.  ACEs experienced in those early years – like child maltreatment, witnessing domestic violence, or having a parent with mental health challenges – shape early experiences and potentially long-term outcomes in ways that may result in aggressive behavior.  Since parents serve as role models to their children, what they do leaves a lasting impression on what young children perceive as appropriate or inappropriate behavior.  For families identified as having unstable or unsafe home environments, providing intensive family-focused supports that promote positive parenting while addressing the root causes of violence or maltreatment – like mental health or substance abuse issues – are essential to not only ensure family stability but also to reduce behaviors leading to bullying and school discipline problems.

Michigan is piloting in several communities efforts to improve trauma-informed practice through the Great Start systems to better recognize early signs of trauma and to intervene more appropriately in early childhood settings.  Connecting the outcomes of this work with local and statewide efforts to reduce bullying, suspensions and expulsions is critical to improving education outcomes to prevent and mitigate trauma so that all Michigan children, youth and families can succeed.

-Mina Hong

August 20, 2015 – Trying to get better at things is good, particularly trying to get better at things that are in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state. New leadership in the Department of Education has come with new opportunities to get better, and Superintendent Whiston has already shown that he is committed to setting goals and working with others to achieve them. In a state where we ranked 37th of the 50 states in education in the last National Kids Count Data Book, this is essential. The Superintendent and the State Board of Education are spending some time over the next couple of months getting feedback about what it would really take to move Michigan to a top 10 education state.

Michigan’s Children is weighing in on that conversation with what we’ve talked about consistently for years – a focus on shrinking achievement gaps by investing in what works for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Six specific areas rise to the top, each with a myriad of strategies that can and must be forwarded:

Take responsibility for early strategies beyond pre-school by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximizing federal investment in Early On and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Support parents’ role in their children’s literacy by expanding initial efforts to help parents in their role of first and best teachers and to help them reach their own educational and career goals by better investments in Adult Education, workforce supports, and family literacy options so that parents can fully support their children’s literacy journeys.

Change school practice related to student and family trauma by providing school personnel the tools they need to recognize and deal with symptoms of trauma in their students and families and evaluating their ability to do so. It also includes building better connections with community partners who can assist.

Close equity gaps by integrating services and expanding learning opportunities. This includes building assurance that state and federal resources for service integration would go to the best models of service and that supporting services needed by children, youth and families would be available throughout the state. It also includes investing in after-school and summer learning at the state level, in addition to maintaining federal investment.

Give young people multiple chances to succeed by promoting attendance through adjustments in school discipline policies and investment in programs beyond the traditional, arbitrary four-years of high school. The effectiveness of these programs is increased when young people themselves are involved in planning and are clearly connected to a pathway leading toward college or career.

And finally, we suggested that the Superintendent and the State Board provide real leadership in this difficult work that often requires the efforts of many areas of expertise and many sectors of work, including the family and community resources. With so many things impacting a child’s ability to succeed in school and life – many of which are not within the walls of a school and the purview of education pedagogy – it is essential to bring efforts together.

As we’ve said many times before, our educational leaders have their work cut out for them, and as public and private partners available to help, we have our work cut out for us as well.

– Michele Corey

August 3, 2015 — There is no doubt that the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of Michigan’s most effective two-generation program strategies. It is proven to not only help working parents, but lifts more children out of poverty than any other public program and it improves their health and education outcomes. Helping families, it also helps communities by stimulating local economies. A sound investment for sure, based on research and evidence.

Now, there is new research pointing to its heavy lifting for moving more people out of poverty in ways greater than previously thought. The research, reported by the Center for Budget for Policy Priorities, points to impressive results in increasing employment and reducing welfare use for single mothers. In one study of single mothers (ages 24-48) with children and no college degree, researches found the number of such families lifted out of poverty nearly doubled due to the impact of the EITC. Sounds like a strategy worthy of investment?

Despite its proven effectiveness, the state EITC is on the list of funding sources that could be redirected from helping children and families and toward fixing Michigan’s miserable roads. This was a bad idea when it was raised in the dog days of the previous state Legislature, then becoming a cornerstone of the May 5 Proposal 1 campaign which opposed cutting EITC to fix roads, and it’s a bad idea yet again.

While Michigan’s EITC isn’t as sizeable as it once was, it is certainly true that combined with the federal credit – which amounts to $6,242 for families with three or more children — it helps supplement low-wage earners and makes a real difference in many households.

Overall, there are 820,000 families with 1 million children who benefit from the state’s EITC and many are single parents. Working full-time at minimum wage, a single parent with two children receives a tax credit of about $300 annually. Again, it wouldn’t be viewed as a windfall to someone in the middle- and upper-income groups, but it can amount to a full paycheck for the working poor.

Several years ago, the state’s EITC was more substantial, but in 2011 the then-new Snyder administration cut the credit from 20 percent to 6 percent of the federal EITC rate, effectively raising $285 million in taxes from the state’s lowest wage earners. Today, the average Michigan EITC return amounts to $143. Despite the cut in the state rate, the current state EITC alone keeps 7,000 working families out of poverty and helps all receiving families with basic needs or debt repayment.

Able to keep more of their earnings, families who qualify tend to spend more of their income on basic necessities, such as housing, child care and transportation, spreading those funds among local businesses and services, thereby strengthening local economies, as well. For a married couple with two children and adjusted gross income of $16,300, they would receive a federal EITC of $5,372 and a state EITC of $322. A single parent with two children and an adjusted gross income of $30,000 would receive a federal EITC of $2,741 and a Michigan EITC of $164.

In this case, what’s good for local working families is good for communities and the state overall. So, how can you help?

  • • Talk to your elected lawmakers and urge them to continue to invest in the Michigan EITC and help keep more dollars in the pockets of working families who need them most.
  • • Employ the facts, using important data available about Michigan’s EITC and emerging research.
  • • And use your own observations about your community and its residents in stating your case. Every community is different and you know best the struggles faced by families around you in making ends meet.
  • • Most of all, remember that public policy decisions require public input. Local lawmakers rely on hearing from constituents like you to help make up their minds about decisions like the EITC.


Other resources:

Save Our EITC

An analysis of the Earned Income Tax Credit by the Michigan Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury (February 2015)

‘’Understanding the Impact of the State EITC infographic, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan”


— Teri Banas is a communications consultant working with Michigan’s Children.

July 22, 2015 – We have heard a lot about the fact that for the first time since 2001, both chambers in Congress have passed their recommendations to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB.) This is monumental, particularly since the kids who were starting kindergarten in 2001 are now 19- and 20-year olds, some still making their way through high school and others in post-secondary or career. 2001 was a long time ago in education years, and much has changed in homes and communities that should be reflected in schools and education policy.

What hasn’t changed is the primary role of the federal government in education. Because K-12 and post-secondary education are primarily resourced by states and localities, the federal role and investment emerged for one reason only: to ensure that everybody has equitable access to educational opportunity. That access takes several important forms:

Assistance for students, families, schools and communities facing the most challenges. We have to best support students who need special help and accommodation for learning, of which many of their needs are primarily addressed within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Beyond that, research has shown for decades that the most under-resourced students tend to go to the most under-resourced schools. Many students face multiple personal, family and community challenges that begin early, go beyond the school walls and impact education outcomes. However, schools alone cannot and should not be responsible for addressing those challenges but can be a great access point for critical services. Current cradle to career investments are not enough, and much more can and should be done to support evidenced programming.

Accountability requirements for our education investment. We know who we are supposed to be helping with additional assistance, so it is essential to understand how different populations of students are doing to evaluate how well we are doing it. This has been and will continue to be done by looking at student outcomes (test scores, graduation rates) and the reporting of those outcomes specifically for targeted population groups by race, income and other individual or family circumstances like disability, homelessness, participation in the foster care system, English Language Learners, etc. This is essential to continue to understand our successes and challenges with reducing achievement gaps.

Incentives for innovation.  We don’t always have all of the answers, and the times do change, so it is always important to encourage best practice and shifts in teaching and learning based on the specific needs of certain populations, or emerging research and practice. Recent federal efforts like Race to the Top, Investment in Innovation and Early Learning Challenge grants are examples of how federal investment can help states and districts make big, innovative changes in their education systems.

There are two different bills on the table to reauthorize the ESEA — the Senate Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) and the House Student Success Act (H.R. 5) . Michigan’s Children favors the Senate version, which keeps intact many essential programs supporting evidenced practice to best support struggling students. This includes supports like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, investments long before kindergarten and connections for students and their families to resources and services beyond the traditional K-12 system to support their learning and development. The House version intentionally combines many critical programs into block grants to the states. This approach would limit the ability of the federal funding to target proven equity-building strategies. I won’t belabor the details here, but you can find them all in all of the media coverage, from many of our advocacy partners and from the Congressional Research Office in great detail here.

Concerned with how all of this plays out? We are too. The good news is that this conversation is far from over, and we all have an opportunity this summer to get involved. A conference committee made up of legislators from both parties and chambers will be working into the fall to come to a resolution of the differences, and there is still time to influence them. Members of the U.S. House and Senate will be home in their districts next month. Use that time to let them know what you see challenging or helping with the success of students and families in your community. Help your elected leaders think about how best to address educational needs to build career and college ready kids in 2015 and beyond. If you run a summer program, invite them to join you to talk directly with young people, parents and staff.

While it is unlikely that members of our Michigan delegation will be sitting on the conference committee, it is critical that you encourage your members to talk with their conferee colleagues. And if you want help, Michigan’s Children is here to support your efforts. Now is the time.

– Michele Corey

June 30, 2015 – This month, the Legislature and Governor approved the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which goes into effect on October 1, 2015.  Overall, it was a great budget for kids.  But – and here’s a big but – if you take into the very important factor that children and youth are part of a family unit, the budget was only mediocre.

The big winners in the budget was in education.  The focus on improving third grade literacy led to a $31 million state investment towards those efforts that included a significant investment towards additional learning time for kindergarten through third graders struggling to read, a variety of teacher supports, and some resource for our youngest learners through parent coaching and support.  The focus also included some very important quality improvements to Michigan’s child care subsidy program to make high quality child care more accessible for the state’s lowest-income working families.

On the other end of the education spectrum, in addition to the first significant expansion in many years to support At-Risk learners, Michigan also put significant resource to expand career and technical education as well as an increase for adult education – both important dropout prevention and recovery strategies for young people to re-engage in their educations and obtain a high school credential and a path towards college or a career.  And, policymakers acknowledged the need for more time in high school for some young people facing extraordinary challenges by allowing districts to fund their education beyond age 20.

While these investments are significant wins for Michigan children and youth, we’ve continued to provide little support to families who face the most challenges in our state – often the same families whose children will benefit from these education investments.  The state budget made no efforts to reverse the recent harmful changes to FIP, FAP, and the EITC – Michigan’s cash assistance and nutrition assistance programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Instead, lawmakers are now looking to completely eliminate the state’s EITC to fix our roads.  Is this really a wise choice?

Similarly, Michigan’s child abuse and neglect rates continue to rise, but support for important family preservation programs have been flat funded with federal funding alone.  If we want to reverse this unacceptable trend of child maltreatment, Michigan must get serious about preventing abuse and neglect and supporting families with the most significant challenges so they can provide safe and stable homes.  This starts with putting in some state resource to bolster the federal investment.  In addition, educational and other life outcomes for young people involved in the CPS and foster care systems continue to fall short of success.  Efforts to better support families of all sorts – biological, kinship, guardians, foster and adoptive families – needs to be prioritized.

If we truly want to see more children reading proficiently by third grade and more young people graduating from high school, college and career ready, then we must not ignore the other systems beyond education that will impact education success.  The well-being of families directly impacts the well-being of children in families.  As a state, we must do better to support families with the most challenges to ensure that their children have equitable opportunities to succeed in school and in life.

To learn more about the recently approved FY2016 budget, visit Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

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