Speaking For Kids

What Will You Be Doing This Spring Break?

Over the next two weeks, Michigan’s Legislature is on spring break.  Sure, many legislators may be, literally, taking a break with their families but this also provides a great opportunity to connect with your legislators in your community – in their districts.  And boy, is there a lot to talk about.

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittees approved most of their budgets for fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), which begins October 1 of this year and goes through September 30th of 2014.  The subcommittees made many changes from the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2014 – particularly in the Community Health budget – and many will continue to be topics of debate as the budget process continues.  We know that good health is critical to education and life success, and in fact, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start agrees as demonstrated by their first objective to ensure that all children are born healthy.  With children of color disproportionately challenged by access to consistent, high quality health care, changes made to the Community Health budget will have the greatest impact on them.

House changes that will affect child and family health disparities include the following.

  1. Medicaid Expansion: The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Community Health did not include the Governor’s proposed Medicaid Expansion in their budget proposal.   This expansion would’ve insured more than 320,000 adults who are living at 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below (that’s an annual income of $25,975 for a family of three), and we know that African American and Latino Michiganders are more likely to be uninsured than their White counterparts.  As a result, Medicaid expansion is important for Michigan children of color as we know that low-income adults are often parents or caregivers of young children and that many uninsured young adults are still working to complete their high school credentials.
  2. Infant Mortality Reduction: The House Subcommittee eliminated the Governor’s proposed $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  In a state where African American babies are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies, this elimination of funding is unacceptable.
  3. Healthy Kids Dental Program: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposal to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program to an additional 70,500 children and youth in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties.  This program increases provider reimbursement rates, encourages provider participation and helps more children receive the high quality dental care they need.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families who lack access to sufficient dental care.
  4. Mental Health Innovations: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposed $5 million to support his new Mental Health Innovations, which would’ve supported comprehensive home-based mental health services for children, a pilot high intensity care management team for youth with complex behavior disorders, and mental health “first aid” training to recognize mental health problems in youth and connecting them to professional help.  These efforts could assist in ensuring that children – particularly children of color – who struggle with mental health issues get  appropriate intervention services rather than being mislabeled as youth with bad behavior at-risk of school suspension.

This spring break provides opportunities to connect with legislators on these important health programs that reduce disparities and ensure that children are on-track to succeed in school and life.  Though the House Subcommittee made these inequitable changes to the Department of Community Health budget, the full House Appropriations Committee has yet to adopt these recommendations.  Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Health has yet to finalize their budget for FY2014 and is expected to do so shortly after the break.  Now is the time to talk to your legislators in both the House and Senate about these important health programs and what they mean to your children and your community.

-Mina Hong

March Madness

March Madness – the excitement of the best college basketball teams competing for the national championship spot.  As a University of Michigan alumna, I can’t help but get a little hopeful that the Wolverines might have some exciting success in this year’s tournament (particularly after a disappointing Big Ten Tournament run).  At the same time that sports fans across the country are filling out their brackets and placing their bets, Congress and the President are racing to another finish line – trying to find a way to continue to fund the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year.  And this, my friends, is true madness.

Before I get into the details of this madness, let me provide some context before we get into the nitty gritty.  We know that Michigan’s next workforce is set to be its most diverse yet.  In fact, I just read a statistic last week that 2011 was the first year in which more infants of color were born in the U.S. than White, non-Latino infants – perhaps this didn’t hold true for Michigan but we are moving in a similar trajectory.  The federal budget continues to be the single most powerful expression of the federal government’s priorities.  Thus, protecting the most challenged families and communities from devastating cuts should be the priority in any budget agreement.  And we know the impact of the sequester is devastating to Michigan children and families.

As you may recall, the infamous sequester was triggered on March 1st when Congress failed to reach an agreement on how to offset the across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs.  As our national affiliate, Voices for America’s Children put it, the deep budget cuts will disproportionately impact communities of color that are already struggling with not having enough resources.   Now, a new deadline is quickly approaching – Mach 27th – when the Continuing Resolution or C.R. that is currently funding the federal government expires.  Congress must agree to a budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which goes through September 30, 2013.  This provides an opportunity to undo some of the harmful cuts of the sequester or do nothing at all to offset them.

The House has passed a budget that shifts around funding for military and defense – in essence, prioritizing certain programs and overriding the sequester’s across-the-board approach to cuts for those agencies – while maintaining the across-the-board cuts to education, health, and human services.  The Senate, on the other hand, offset some of the damaging cuts to the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start – equity-promoting programs focused on families with young children.  While it is known that the entire sequester will not be reversed, offsetting deep cuts to these critical programs that serve the country’s and Michigan’s most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families – is necessary to ensure the economy can continue to recover.  Now is the time for Michiganians to continue talking to our U.S. Representatives and urge them to adopt the Senate budget for the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year, which will better serve our struggling children and families.

Learn more about the federal budget and what it means for Michigan children and families on our website.

And Go Blue!

-Mina Hong

Does GSRP Have the Wrong Intentions?

Last week, the Michigan House and Senate education committees heard from Susan Broman, Deputy Superintendent of the MDE – Office of Great Start, and others on the Governor’s proposal to expand the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program (GSRP).  That’s right, in case you’ve missed it, the Governor has proposed an unprecedented expansion of Michigan’s public preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being under-prepared for kindergarten.  Specifically, he’s calling for a $130 million increase over the next two years starting with a $65 million increase in fiscal year 2014, the budget that the Michigan Legislature is currently developing.  And all who attended the hearings got the first real public glimpse of opposition to this GSRP expansion.

I will say, I wasn’t surprised by the questions asked, and if anything, most of them helped to make the case about why we really need to invest in high quality early learning programs.

The Mackinac Center argued that the highest return on investment was seen in programs like the landmark Perry Preschool Program in Ypsilanti that served at-risk three- and four-year old African American children.  And it’s true.  The highest returns are seen in programs that invest in quality (the Perry Preschool Program cost on average $12,270 per child in 2013 dollars).  Luckily, GSRP is also a high quality early education program that’s significantly cheaper than the Perry Preschool but has improved student outcomes while saving taxpayer dollars.

Legislators rightfully asked about the eligibility requirements for GSRP, questioning whether serving families up to 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL) creates a middle-class program rather than targeting the families who need it most.   The answer is no.  GSRP specifically prioritizes children in families at 200% FPL or below – 200% FPL being $47,100 for a family of four.  Families above 200% FPL are only eligible for GSRP if the child faces serious risk like a developmental delay, serious behavioral issues, primary home language not being English, child abuse/neglect, etc.  For families above 300% FPL (less than 10% of GSRP recipients are currently above 300% FPL), their child must face at least two risk factors to be eligible for the program.  So, we’re not talking about expanding a middle-class program, but rather serving children who are most at-risk of starting school behind.  (Want to know more about GSRP eligibility?  Check out this eligibility flow chart from MDE.)

Other legislators questioned whether GSRP was essentially taking children away from their homes and taking away parental responsibility.  Again, the answer is no.  Parents understand the benefits of preschool, which is why the majority of middle- and upper-income families send their children to pre-k programs.  Children and families who would benefit the most from high quality early childhood programs (as evidenced by Perry Preschool and GSRP evaluations) are children of color and children from low-income families with multiple risk factors who face difficulty accessing these programs.  (Today, there are about 16,000 four-year-olds below 200% FPL who are not accessing GSRP.)  Additionally, GSRP programs are required to have a family engagement piece built right-in, such as providing a minimum of four family contacts per year to involve families in the children’s education at school and to help them provide educational experiences for the children at home; and including GSRP parents in the programs’ regional advisory committees.  (See more information about parent involvement requirements in GSRP.)

Finally, there was much confusion among legislators about the Head Start Impact Study that showed a third-grade “fadeout” and if this might mean that GSRP shouldn’t be expanded as well – demonstrating confusion about how the two programs interplay.  Study after study have confirmed the significant long-term benefits that Head Start graduates experience compared to their peers such as high school completion, college attainment, secure employment, and healthier lives.  And in fact, for the most at-risk Head Start graduates – English language learners, foster kids, children of color, and children with special needs – fadeout was not evident.  If anything, any “fadeout” demonstrates the need to strengthen early childhood programs at the same time as strengthening K-12 education.  The federal government is already working to improve Head Start quality through re-competition.  Michigan must also step to the plate by continuing to support high quality early learning experiences through GSRP expansion while also strengthening our K-12 education system to better serve our most challenged students.

Next week, the House is expected to unveil their recommendations for fiscal year 2014; and the Senate is expected to do the same at the beginning of April.  We must continue to talk to our legislators about the benefits of GSRP to our children, our family, and our community.  To assist in your conversations, take a look at our GSRP Q&A fact sheet with legislators’ commonly asked questions. And check-out our guest column in Bridge Magazine talking about the benefits of GSRP within the larger P-20 education continuum.

-Mina Hong

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