Speaking For Kids

What Will be the 2013 State of our State?

The Governor’s third annual State of the State address set for next Wednesday, January 16th is the first opportunity in the new year for our elected officials to prioritize the best interest of children and families who are struggling the most in our state.  We all know that children and youth are our future teachers, scientists, artists and elected officials.  As a state, our strength and future prosperity depends on ensuring that children who struggle the most become successful learners and leaders.  With our next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, the policy decisions that our new legislature makes in 2013 must also close equity gaps to ensure that ALL children can thrive in school, the workplace, and in life.

Successful navigation of the education system is of course, the best path toward life success.  But as we see in the disparities by race, ethnicity, family income and other life circumstances, too many children are not served well by our current system.  Michigan and the nation must adopt a learning model that prepares students for the 21st century, but the education system alone cannot mitigate the challenges that children and youth face outside the classroom.  These challenges have resulted from Michigan’s unacceptably high rate of poverty – a rate that disproportionately affects children of color – layered on top of structural barriers to success-promoting opportunities, including more than a decade of disinvestment in the very programs and initiatives that work.  In 2013, we hope to see the following policy issues addressed to ensure that all children have equitable opportunities for success.

  • Reduce childhood poverty by reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to fiscal year 2012 levels.  The EITC promotes economic opportunity and helps hardworking, low‐income families make ends meet. Modeled after the federal EITC, it is an effective anti‐poverty tool that reduces the number of children living in poverty.
  • Give children a right start in life by increasing investment for family support services that reach families with infants and toddlers (children from birth through age three) to ensure that parents from struggling backgrounds have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teacher.
  • Strengthen connections between early childhood and the early elementary school years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-12 to create seamless transitions between early learning and primary education, reduce educational achievement gaps, and ensure better outcomes for all kids.
  • Reform K-12 education in a way that acknowledges educational disparities and intentionally focuses on increasing educational equity by promoting and incentivizing school-community partnerships that holistically address challenges that students face beyond the school walls – an approach that doesn’t rely solely on the K-12 education community.  In whatever form this takes, a laser-like focus on increasing educational equity must be the priority.
  • Give all young people, not just the most successful, meaningful connections to higher education or workforce development by expanding access to alternative education opportunities that utilize a fifth or sixth year of high school and connect a high school credential to community college credits or real-world work experience.

As a business person, Governor Snyder surely understands the connection between children, education, workforce development, and Michigan’s future economic success.  And as child advocates, we know that prevention is always more cost-effective than intervening later on.  Ensuring that the children who struggle the most today have the opportunities to thrive in the future is what we as a state must focus on in 2013.  We’ll be watching Governor Snyder’s address next Wednesday evening to see what his plans are to ensure all Michigan children have equitable opportunities to success.  Will you?

-Michele Corey

Lame Duck, Why So Divisive?

Lame duck.  The time after the elections before the new Legislature takes office.  A time when outgoing elected officials have minimal accountability.  A time when public policymaking can be particularly active – whether for good or for bad.  This lame duck session is marked by little progress in Congress and serious divisiveness in both Congress and the Michigan Legislature.  What gives?

First, on Capitol Hill, Congress must decide how to handle the pending federal “fiscal cliff” before tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts take place – a fiscal disaster.  While media continue to cover the discussions taking place, a pragmatic solution for the lame duck would be to pass a temporary extension of the tax cuts and delay sequestration (the automatic spending cuts) to allow the new Congress – a Congress that will  face political ramification if an approach isn’t taken that satisfies both sides of the aisle – to tackle the fiscal debate in the new year.  While this is likely to occur, the political battle currently underway will continue to jeopardize the public’s approval of Congress during a time when everyone must come together to identify the best possible fiscal solution for the nation.

Here in Lansing, the lame duck has been extremely active pushing through legislation that is hugely divisive.  Right to Work, Personal Property Tax, Emergency Manager law, and education reform.  Whatever your position on these various policies, the reality is that they further divide the state during a time when we need to come together to do what’s best for children and families.  At Michigan’s Children, we worry that the flurry of activity taking place in the Capitol could set-up the new Legislature for even greater divisiveness.  This is particularly devastating since the new Legislature has many important policy decisions to make like passing a balanced budget and reforming the state’s education system – serious undertakings that need the best thoughts from both sides of the aisle.  During lame duck, there are so many other important public policy decision-making that could take place that are less divisive and more important for the betterment of our state than those that the state Legislature has decided to take up.  Perhaps this lame duck, Congress and the state Legislature should take a break from their respective Capitols, enjoy the last few weeks at home with their constituents hearing from them on the issues that matter, and consider the real work that needs to begin in January.

-Mina Hong

Work and Education – Inextricably Linked

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report last week that illustrates the impact of economic decline in Michigan and the nation on young people.  Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, indicates that employment among young people, ages 16-24, is at the lowest point since the 1950s.  And, not surprisingly, young people least likely to be in the workforce are without a high school diploma, from low-income families, and racial or ethnic minorities.  This opportunity gap begins early and persists.  As our young people who have fallen behind become parents themselves, their children face additional obstacles.

We know the inextricable connection between work and education, and there is ample evidence of the impact of higher education levels on employment and earnings.  It is impossible to deny that the higher education credential that you earn, the more consistent, stable and lucrative your employment will be.  As a state, we can better utilize youth employment resources and strategies beyond a path to workforce experience and a paycheck (both of which are, of course, important), but also as a path back to an education credential.  And Michigan lawmakers in Washington, DC are championing this issue through the RAISE UP Act.  RAISE UP would provide incentives to communities to blend workforce and education funding in order to connect very disenfranchised young people with workforce and educational pathways.  U.S. Representative Dale Kildee leaves a legacy of support for this legislation and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will be supporting its reintroduction in 2013.

And in Michigan, as we despair over our economic woes and the ever diminishing economic opportunity for our young people, we are also evaluating yet another round of education reform proposals intended to improve achievement and graduation rates.  The missed opportunity in the current proposals is to provide extra support to the young people who are out of school and out of work.  If young people leave school, work a bit and due to the lack of employment opportunity find increased motivation to return on a diploma path, they need a system that will serve them.  Michigan currently provides resources for up to six years of high school, but programming for this population that is connected to work opportunity and career-based skill building is inconsistent.  Education reform must provide supports to young people who need additional time to obtain a high school credential through alternative options that connect to college or the workforce.

Michigan’s Children has highlighted several great Michigan program examples where communities blend education and workforce resources as a dropout prevention or recovery strategy.  Let’s make sure that the most recent incarnation of education reform expands those efforts.

-Michele Corey

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