Speaking For Kids

Will Kids Benefit From the 2012 Elections?

Elections are an opportune time to ensure that elected officials prioritize the needs of children and families.  Decisions to vote for one candidate over another can change or maintain the trajectory of the government and the decisions that will take place over the next two, four, or six years – decisions that may have significantly longer implications.

Televised debates provide an opportunity for large portions of the population to hear from candidates on key issue areas.  Thus far, televised debates for the 2012 elections have been among the Republican Presidential candidates and priorities related to children have been practically nonexistent from the conversation.  A recent report by Voices for America’s Children – Michigan’s Children’s national affiliate – found that in the first twenty Republican Presidential debates, of the over 1000 questions asked by moderators, less than two percent have focused on child policy issues.  This is despite the fact that the federal budget includes over $374 billion in investments in child health, safety, education and security.

Why should candidates be talking about key children’s issues like high quality early childhood education, K-12 education, high school dropout prevention and recovery opportunities, access to health care, and family security?  The single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  Growing educated and skilled workers and leaders in the 21st Century starts at birth and extends through young adulthood – from cradle to career.  The right mental, emotional and physical supports make all the difference in preparing children to succeed in school and life.  Unfortunately in Michigan, we struggle to do this.

Twenty-two percent of Michigan children live in poverty and even more devastating is the one in ten children who live in extreme poverty – this means that in an average size classroom, about three students are living in households with an annual income of $8,784 or less (for a family of three).  Child poverty rates are even higher for children of color and the correlation between poverty, race/ethnicity, and child outcomes is clear – low-income children and children of color have less opportunities to access a consistent source of medical care, high quality early childhood programs, and a high quality K-12 education and are more likely to struggle in school and life.  Improving child outcomes for all children by strengthening public policies is critical to Michigan’s economic recovery and should be a top priority for elected officials.

So how do voters learn about candidates’ positions on key children’s issues?  Candidate information is everywhere during an election year – on TV, on billboards, in the news, on the radio, and even at your door as they and their supporters canvass neighborhoods.  But the best way to learn candidates’ positions is by talking directly to them to learn their views and policy priorities; and once elected, the relationship is already in place to continue to have conversations with elected officials on issues that matter to constituents.  Unfortunately, this level of relationship building isn’t an option that’s feasible to many individuals – particularly children and families of color most affected by public programs – who for a variety of reasons are disengaged from the process.

In the upcoming months, Michigan’s Children will work with our federal, state and local partners to keep you updated on election advocacy opportunities.  We’ll be working with our national partners to ensure that child policy issues are included in televised debates, we’ll be providing you with an easy-to-use to toolkit on how to get engaged in election advocacy and we’ll work with our partners to inform you of opportunities to engage with candidates in your local communities.  And most importantly, Michigan’s Children will continue to promote your routine engagement in policy discussions after the elections and beyond.

Stay tuned for more!

-Mina Hong

Building a Bridge to Success

At a Youth Voice event held Friday, April 13th, decision makers from Calhoun County heard Marshall Alternative High School (MAHS) students discuss their changing educational experiences because of an innovative partnership that began this school year. For more information about the program, check out our Focus on Michigan’s Communities –Building a Bridge to Success: The Opportunity School.

At the event, each student was asked to talk about 1) what circumstances brought them to MAHS, 2) how their experience at the school is different from their former schools, 3) what barriers they still face that affect their educational success, and 4) what they want to be doing in 2-5 years.

The student’s stories were honest, funny, and compelling.  They each discussed barriers that still exist for their own situation like health and family issues, learning disabilities, the perceptions of their family and the public value of alternative education, and access to transportation – one student drives 70 miles round trip daily to attend school. The students identified common benefits and concerns about working toward a diploma through an alternative school rather than through a traditional high school setting.

School Rules vs. Teachers Caring.  All eight students said the main difference between their former school(s) and MAHS is that “the teachers really care.” When our moderator, Becky Rocho from Calhoun ISD, asked students to explain how they know the teachers care, they said, “I know what the rules are, they all keep me in line,” “We’re not allowed to have cell phones in class- you don’t get to talk on your phone while you’re at work, why do you need to have one in class,” and “We can only miss 7 days a semester, no job is going to let you miss 7 days without getting in trouble.”  Interestingly enough, the students all saw teacher’s involvement, clear rules and stricter school policies as their teachers caring about their success – as opposed to these things being a burden on students.

Job Connections.  Each student expressed concerns about finding jobs – and the connection that has to their ability to continue to excel. Some students said they need a job so that they can pay people for gas to get to school, or buy a car – others said they need help getting employers to see that attendance at an Alternative School is worthwhile, particularly when they feel like they’ve chosen MAHS as a positive step towards maturity and independence.  Afterwards, attendees at the event discussed developing a program in partnership with area businesses to place students in job shadowing or internship opportunities connected to student’s various career goals.

Study/Learning Habits.  When asked if there was anything else they wanted to share, one student said that what has helped him the most attending MAHS is that teachers have time in class to help.  He talked about feeling like just a number in his old school and all the rest of the students nodded in agreement.  This started a discussion about small class size and students comments included, “They won’t let you fail,” “They don’t just tell you what to do- they help you learn it,” “They give us one on one help in class,” and “They take time to be sure I understand.”  This theme was overwhelmingly reflected in attendee evaluations – the need for better funding to ensure smaller class sizes that allow more individual attention and learning.

Something to note is that the students’ perceptions weren’t unique – we see the same issues, concerns and benefits of the flexibility offered through alternative education options in programs across Michigan.  What is unique is that this program was developed in partnership with the leaders within the local public schools, community college and the local chamber of commerce.  The community has made a commitment to address the needs of their students – and by leveraging these partnerships the community will continue to grow this program that is not yet a year old.

Michigan’s Children continues to highlight innovative options for high school completion and paths to successful post-secondary and career that combat the current inequity in Michigan graduation rates for low-income students and students of color.  We work hard to move decision makers at all levels to better align state and federal policy to better support community leadership on this issue around the state.

-Beth Berglin

Failing Michigan’s Youngest = Failing Michigan’s Future

Since its inception, Michigan’s Children has focused on children’s well-being from cradle-to-career – a concept that aligns with Governor Snyder’s P-20 education continuum.  With Executive support for this continuum; as a state, Michigan must put its money where its mouth is.  While the state has made efforts to support preschool-aged children through the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s half-day preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure, we have failed as a state to provide consistent support for Michigan’s youngest learners – those three years of age and younger.

It is well documented that the first 1000 days of life are critical for the healthy development of young children – a time when the brain is developing rapidly and early literacy and foundations for lifelong success can be solidified.  More importantly, the first three years of life are critical to prevent large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities that begin to emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life.  Disparities in child outcomes, particularly educational disparities, have huge consequences such as:

  • kindergarten teachers needing to spend more time with students who aren’t ready for school;
  • students repeating grades in K-12;
  • more students needing access to special education services;
  • disparities in on-time graduation rates; and
  • disparities in college and career readiness.

These outcomes combined will in the long run, take a toll on the state’s economy as we will not have a workforce prepared to take jobs of the future. Long-term disparities in educational success and their economic, social and fiscal consequences are profound.  However, taking advantage of the first three years of life by supporting families with young children to be their child’s first and best teachers can help reduce future taxpayer burdens associated with disparate child outcomes.

Michigan’s Children’s key priorities for the fiscal year 2013 budget are to improve educational outcomes and close equity gaps.  Creating a sustainable funding stream for children from birth through age three would provide the foundation for that improvement.  High quality supports for infants, toddlers and their families can help reduce and prevent equity gaps directly linked to the Governor’s Dashboard including infant mortality, child poverty, 3rd grade reading, and college readiness.

The State of Michigan used to support families with young children through the 0 to 3 Secondary Prevention Program.  0 to 3 Secondary Prevention supported community-based collaborative programs that fostered positive parenting skills, improved parent-child interactions, promoted access to needed community services, increased local capacity to serve families with young children, improved school readiness, and supported healthy environments.  It’s funding peaked at $7.75 million in 2001 before complete elimination in last year’s budget debates.  It is critical that Michigan reinvest in young children from birth through age three by creating a consistent source of funding for infants, toddlers and their families to truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Check out Michigan’s Children’s website to learn more about our early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

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