Speaking For Kids

Does the Latest Education Reform Proposal Promote Educational Equity or Will We Miss the Mark Again?

Last month, a proposed rewrite of Michigan’s School Aid Act – the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 – was released for public comment.   The Public Education Finance Project team was asked to operationalize Governor Snyder’s concept of education at “any time, any place, any way, any pace”.  While many have come out strongly for or against the draft proposal, the top priority when assessing any reform proposal should be on how it’s ensuring that ALL students have equitable opportunities to succeed in school since we know that the current education system does not work for many students – particularly low-income students and students of color.

So how does “any time, any place, any way, any pace” promote educational equity or miss the mark as written into the current proposal?

  • Any time: While the proposal offers opportunities for schools to shift to a year-round school calendar and extended learning opportunities available 24/7 – both which promote educational equity – unless all schools move to year-round schooling, it is unknown whether students who would benefit from this would opt-in to schools that offer this schedule.
  • Any place: The rewritten funding formula “follows the student” which may leave schools serving a high proportion of challenged students in serious financial risk.  Families who can “opt-out” of schools serving the most challenged communities may do so, resulting in less funding and resource for those schools.  This is counter-intuitive to “any place” since it promotes higher quality options that many students may be unable to access.  “Any place” should instead increase the level of quality for all schools and learning programs so that regardless of geography, students can access an education at “any place” that will ensure that they are college and career ready.
  • Any way: The proposal recognizes the fact that a traditional classroom setting doesn’t work for all students, which is applauded. However, education reform should bolster supports to education options that have evidence or promise toward closing gaps rather than creating an open market for education programs without minimum quality standards or evidence-base.
  • Any pace: The current draft provides incentives for students to complete high school in less than four years.  Rather than providing a financial incentive to accelerated students, those resources should be utilized to bolster strategies that get ALL students to a high school diploma through re-engagement and college or workforce connection.

Our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication has much more detail on the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013.  The brief identifies students challenged by the current education system; how “any time, any place, any way, any pace” can work to improve educational outcomes for all students; how the current draft of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 works to promote or hinder educational equity; and missed opportunities in the draft proposal.

-Mina Hong

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Cliff?

The elections now seem like a distant past as talk of the federal “fiscal cliff” has taken over the media.  While the political showdown in Washington, D.C. may seem like typical hoopla, folks in Michigan should care about the looming fiscal cliff.  Why, you ask?

This so-called fiscal cliff would result in a significant increase in taxes you will pay while at the same time reducing spending for critical children and family programs (and other non-entitlement programs) through automatic sequestration – aka across the board cuts to federal programs.  While neither Republicans nor Democrats want to see the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff, the two parties have different perspectives on how to battle the expiring tax cuts while cutting spending at the same time.  So why does this matter to Michigan children and families?

We know that Michigan families have been harder hit by the recession than the rest of the country with the percent of Michigan children living in poverty having increased by 64% since 2000.  Now, nearly one out of four Michigan children live in poverty and the statistics are worse for children of color.  The connection to the federal fiscal cliff?  So many programs that protect child well-being during times of hardship will be jeopardized, and in fact, many of these programs are likely to see cuts.  The question that will be debated is by how much?

It’s also important to realize just how reliant Michigan is on federal funding.  In the current fiscal year, federal dollars support 41% of Michigan’s total state budget.  For the Michigan Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services budgets – departments that support Michigan’s most struggling children and families – federal dollars support 64% and 82% of these budgets respectively.  While Michigan’s education system is less reliant on the federal budget, federal funding supports most of the education programs that work to reduce the achievement gap – an achievement gap that begins early and grows over time.

Some of the federally funded programs that may see significant funding cuts if a balanced approach isn’t taken to tackle the fiscal cliff including the following.

  • The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Community Health Centers both fund a large percent of Michigan’s preventive health programs for children and families.
  • LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant support low-income families with basic needs like heating, housing, and nutrition.
  • Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant promote school readiness while supporting struggling families.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers and Title I target school districts with high percentages of students at-risk of school failure by supporting equity promoting education programs like high quality after school programming and high school dropout prevention efforts.
  • The Workforce Investment Act for Youth engages disconnected young people to education and workforce opportunities.

All of these programs are critical in Michigan and all are in jeopardy if the federal deficit reducing solution isn’t fair and balanced.  Talking to the people who represent your interests in Washington, DC about the importance of these programs to you, your families and your communities is essential.  You can find out who your Congressperson is, as well as contact information for members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, on our website.

-Mina Hong

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