Speaking For Kids

Registered to Vote? Election Advocacy 101: Learn Candidates’ Positions on Children’s Issues.

Voter registration deadline is quickly approaching and the presidential debates begin this week.  It’s a perfect time to get swept up in the excitement (assuming you’re not already turned off by all of the rhetoric) and get engaged in election advocacy to make sure that children’s issues are a top priority this November.

Obviously registering to vote is the perfect first step.  It is critical for all eligible voters to go out to the polls this November 6th.  Efforts to drive voters – particularly voters of color – away from the polls are just scare tactics with no legal basis.  Ensuring that those most affected by public policy decisions – children and families from low-income communities and communities of color – have the power of their vote is critically important.  Be sure to register to vote by the October 9th deadline and check out the ACLU of Michigan’s Let Me Vote campaign for more information to ensure your vote counts!

After you register to vote, learn the candidates’ positions on children’s issues.  This Wednesday marks the first in a series of four presidential candidate debates.  The debates provide an opportunity to learn about the candidates’ positions on various issues to help you make an informed decision on November 6th.  Watch the debates and listen to the candidates’ positions on issues that will affect children and families in your community and those most challenged by their circumstances.

Here are a handful of children’s issues that are critical to ensure that all children – particularly children of color and those from low-income communities – have equitable opportunities to succeed in life.  Listen for the following topics to come up during the debates; and if they don’t come up, what does that tell you?

  • A Healthy Start: Too many young children do not get a healthy start in life.  Nearly 1,000 Michigan infants die in the first year of life, and African American children are three times more likely to die before age 1.  Ensuring all children have a healthy start in life by increasing access to infant mortality prevention and parent support programs like home visitation can help reduce Michigan’s unacceptable infant mortality rate.
  • Access to Basic Needs: Michigan experienced a 64 percent increase in childhood poverty between 2000 and 2009, with nearly one of every four children in the state now living in poverty.  High poverty rates are even more prevalent for children of color. Access to poverty-prevention programs such as cash assistance, food assistance, and housing assistance protects children from the detrimental impacts that poverty may have on child development.
  • Child Abuse/Neglect Prevention: The number of victims of child abuse and neglect has grown by 21 percent in the first decade of this century. Family preservation and child abuse/neglect prevention programs can help turnaround these figures and keep Michigan kids safe.
  • Early Education:  A 2009 survey of Michigan kindergarten teachers found that one-third of children entering their classrooms are not ready to learn, and the lack of opportunity to attend a preschool program is a primary reason that kindergartners are trailing behind their peers.  Access to high quality early learning programs can help young children be prepared for educational success.
  • High School Completion:  Nearly 35,000 Michigan young people did not receive a high school diploma in the spring of 2011 – more than one-quarter of the students who began high school four-years earlier.  Young people of color or those from economically disadvantaged families remain the least likely to graduate “on-time” with their peers.  Expanding access to strategies outside of the traditional four-year high school experience can help many students reach graduation and prepare for the workforce.
  • Access to a Consistent Source of Medical Care: Too many Michigan families have lost their employer-sponsored health care or are under-insured resulting in more children becoming reliant on public insurance programs like Medicaid or MIChild. Unfortunately, too many children are being denied access to services that keep them healthy due to chronically low Medicaid reimbursement rates.  Luckily, due to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid rates will go up in Michigan starting in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, increasing access to a consistent source of medical care and keeping Michigan kids healthy.

See Michigan’s Children’s Election Advocacy Toolkit and stay tuned for regular blogs between now and the elections to learn more about how you can get engaged in election advocacy.

-Mina Hong

E is for Education, not Expulsion

Students in Michigan are being stripped of educational opportunity and future economic security because of school expulsion and suspension. Michigan’s Children applauds a recent Resolution adopted by the State Board of Education that begins to address district disciplinary policies that are stricter than state and federal law.

Michigan law currently requires school expulsion in certain circumstances, including zero tolerance for guns, arson, or committing criminal sexual conduct in a school building or on school grounds.  However, both state law and the State Board Resolution remind school boards that they are NOT required to expel a student possessing a weapon if any one of the following is established:

  1. The student did not intend on using the object as a weapon, or to give to someone else to use as a weapon.
  2. The student did not know they had the weapon.
  3. The student didn’t know the object was a weapon.
  4. The student had permission to carry the weapon from school or police authorities.

We applaud the Board for acknowledging that certain groups of students – students from communities of color and children with disabilities – are more likely to be suspended and expelled, as well as their encouragement to local districts to review discipline policies that are more stringent than the law.

But they didn’t go far enough.

The Resolution encourages using alternatives to expulsion and suspension, like restorative justice and peer mediation, as well as increased professional development for teachers and administrators alike. However the Resolution fails to recognize the vast number of community resources available to assist with school behavior issues, particularly for students with mental health needs beyond the capacity of traditional school counselors.

The Resolution states that “students that have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning,” and the Board missed an opportunity to encourage alternative options to expulsion that would not end a students’ educational career. [They even say the word in the sentence.]

The Resolution fails to suggest what might be done differently when a student does need to be suspended or expelled. Alternative Education options all over the state are meeting the needs of former “behavior problem” students, with great success. The State Board could encourage districts to develop a plan for students to continue their education, even when the traditional school system isn’t working and thus eliminating a major part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

School Boards and Assistant Principals, typically responsible for school discipline issues, need to utilize the alternative education options in their communities and where there aren’t enough available, work with other local principals, districts, ISD’s and community agencies to develop the educational options they need to keep the kids in their communities in school.

For information about communities that have built programs that work, check out this Focus on Michigan’s Communities piece.

-Beth Berglin

Early Childhood Development = Workforce Development

As discussed a few weeks ago on our blog, a coalition of 100 business leaders organized by the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM) called for significantly greater investment in early childhood education, linking the connection between access to high quality early education and the state’s economy.  The CLCM’s two early childhood policy planks are to expand access to the Great Start Readiness Program – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure – to all kids who are eligible for GSRP, and to assure the healthy growth of children from birth through age three.

The timing of the business leaders’ call to action couldn’t be better.

Last week, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation and the Michigan Department of Education released its evaluation of GSRP from 1995-2011 that includes high school graduation and grade retention outcomes for students who participated in GSRP.  The 2011 evaluation results make the case for why GSRP works.  It found that more GSRP students graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants and even more telling, that more GSRP students of color graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants.  Access to high quality preschool reduces the high school completion gap that is seen across our state.   This evaluation comes after the state Legislature finalized the state budget for 2012-2013 which includes a $5 million increase for GSRP.

And next week, the Committee for Economic Development and ReadyNation will be in Detroit to release their latest report “Unfinished Business: Continued Investment in Child Care and Early Education is Critical to Business and America’s Future”.  Business leaders across the nation are taking a stand on the importance of high quality early care and education, knowing that it’s more cost-effective to do right by kids from the very beginning rather than investing in remediation later down the road.  And they recognize that Michigan is a key state where dedication and investment to workforce development starting in early childhood can show huge gains as the state transforms its economy.

As Michigan residents, it is critical for us to recognize this momentum that is occurring in our state.  As we enter the thick of campaign season, we must be mindful of who we elect into office and whether they too, will follow in the footsteps of business leaders across our state and our nation.  Are candidates talking about the importance of high quality early education?  Do they recognize the connection between access to high quality early learning programs and Michigan’s economy?  Will they “put their money where their mouth is” when they are negotiating the state budget next year by listening to the business leaders’ call to action to significantly increase funding for early childhood programming in our state?

It is imperative that we take advantage of this opportune time – the election season – to ensure that individuals we put into office to represent us understand our priorities.  Is expanding access to high quality early education one of them?

-Mina Hong

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