Speaking For Kids

Taking Advantage of Michigan’s Opportunity

One of the good news pieces in the Michigan 2011 Kids Count Data Book released last week is that the high school dropout rate in the state fell between 2007 (the first year that Michigan went to the new cohort system that tracks the diploma or GED status of individual young people through 4, 5 and 6 years of high school) and 2010, the most recent information available.  These improvements did not happen by chance.  They happened because of concerted and strategic partnership efforts by schools, districts, cities and towns, health departments, after-school programs, human service agencies and yes, state departments.  They happened because of private philanthropic investment.  They happened because the state overwhelmingly decided that everyone should be in high school until they reach credential.

They also happened because of fear – a broad acknowledgement that the economic and social consequences of dropping out are high and far-reaching.  Costs borne by the young people themselves, our schools, our communities and our state.  As we all know, young people lacking a high school diploma face a labor market that is becoming more and more difficult to successfully navigate.  And, young people without a basic education are less likely to have the maturity and skills needed to parent effectively or the resources to promote the well-being of the next generation.

Despite the fact that this decline in dropout has not resulted in a corresponding increase in “on-time” graduation rates, there is an ever growing group of over-age and under-credited young people who are still connected to school but need more time to finish.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.  Michigan law allows state payment for educating young people toward a high school diploma until they are 20 years old (under certain circumstances, until age 22), resourcing school and community efforts to continue programming through the 5th and sometimes 6th year of high school.

A healthy economy can’t survive our current inequity in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, and additional time in high school improves equity.  Graduation rates increase for all groups after those additional years, but the fifth and sixth years of high school are particularly beneficial for low-income students and students of color.  This is great news.  We can take advantage of the opportunity to align State and Federal policy to better support young people who are not dropping out by providing multiple pathways to graduation that include more time and flexibility for students.

This year, as every year before, we hope that policymakers use their positions as caretakers of our tax dollars to invest smart from cradle-to-career.  High school dropout is a symptom of success and failures in systems serving kids and families throughout their lives.  Gaps in educational achievement and eventual high school completion between groups of young people experiencing different level of challenge can be traced to the earliest years of a child’s life and continue to grow through their educational careers.  Legislative and Administrative actions over the last several years have diminished services for young people.  Their state budget decisions have placed Federal funding at risk.  This is counter-productive to innovation, partnership building, meaningful education reform, and to a robust economy in Michigan.

There is leadership, however.  In 2008, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flannigan, issued a challenge to schools in Michigan – to curb high school dropout by doing what works.  The Challenge is for all schools: elementary, middle and high, to identify 10-15 young people who aren’t doing so well with the early warning signs of attendance, behavior and coursework and change their trajectory.  The data suggests that schools involved in the Challenge, who intentionally work to prevent high school dropout by utilizing early warning signs and research-based interventions, have lower dropout rates than those who are not part of the Challenge.  This is heady stuff.  Again, opportunity abounds.  We know what works.

We should be encouraged by the possibility of graduating more young people from high school and make sure that the 2013 budget supports that work.

-Michele Corey

Repercussions of F.D.R.’s G.I. Bill

Last week in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about how the G.I. Bill after World War II helped build a strong economy including a healthy middle class.  However, what President Obama failed to mention was the disparate effect the G.I. Bill had on White veterans compared to veterans of color.  The G.I. Bill essentially built a healthy middle class for White families but limited access to benefits that would have facilitated the rise of communities of color into that same middle class – a disparate effect that has not been corrected through subsequent policy decisions.

The G.I. Bill was open to all veterans, but its implementation proved to be discriminatory.  Congress had agreed that G.I. Bill supports – which included job training, college tuition, and home loans – could be administered locally.  Local implementers maintained the racially discriminatory actions that characterized local public and private sector behaviors prior to the war.  These included admissions policies that made it difficult for people of color to access higher education as well as rampant redlining practices by mortgage lenders.  Since discriminatory policies within housing and higher education were not addressed in the G.I. bill, many veterans of color were unable to access these benefits.  Thus, while the White middle class flourished after World War II, middle class communities of color failed to keep pace and the U.S. continues to see the repercussions today.

So what are those current repercussions?  The G.I. Bill has led to disparities in homeownership, community resources, education, health and wealth passing through subsequent generations.  We cannot deny the residential segregation that plagues the country, particularly in Michigan – home to one of the most racially segregated regions in the nation.  And while residential segregation may partially be a result of choice for some communities such as immigrant communities (as in, families of the same racial/ethnic background seek to live with others who share their culture, language and customs), the G.I. Bill clearly played a critical role in limiting the economic and residential mobility of veterans of color.  By providing resources for new home construction only, it served to help create suburbs while ensuring no investment or wealth accumulation in existing urban housing.

This type of segregation has allowed policymakers to target communities for investments and disinvestments in ways that layer disadvantage upon disadvantage, whether intentionally or not.  Today in Michigan, we see communities of color that have limited access to high quality early childhood education programs, top performing schools, well-resourced health care facilities, adequately paying jobs, and safe neighborhood spaces.  Michigan’s legislators need to better understand the long-term effect that their decisions make on communities, families and children of color and how strategic investments can help reduce racial disparities while continued disinvestment will further widen the race equity gap.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s equity work.

-Mina Hong

Advocates Need Legislators to Know That Kids Count in Michigan

Every year the Michigan League for Human Services produces the Kids Count Data Book, an annual review of child well-being with a profile of every county and the city of Detroit.  The book can be purchased or downloaded from the League website.  As a project partner, we’ll be posting blogs highlighting critical information outlined in the 2011 Data Book and pointing toward related policy strategies.  But, before we get into that, let’s talk about the most important take-away from this release.

Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.   Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   This further complicates the huge challenge they face to invest in critical policy and program in the face of our economic crisis in Michigan.  Policymakers will need your expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

Data from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book provides a broad picture of the status of children and families and connects the dots between outcomes for kids and the systems that serve them well or fail to do so. This information is a useful conversation starter as you are talking to your elected officials.  If you’ve never talked with them before or if you talk with them routinely, local Kids Count data can help to frame your conversation.  Asking policymakers what they think about the data, and what plans they have to help address some of the issues of concern is a good place to start. Helping policymakers understand the context behind some of the numbers is even more valuable. Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have impacted the situation? Or have there been cuts in programs and services that have resulted in worsening data in an area?

Constituent conversation with policymakers is critical! Kids Count project staff provide copies of the Data Book to each legislative office, and utilize the information in conversation with legislators and their staff throughout the year. However, when surveyed, legislators say that the way they find out about children and families in their area is from their constituents. Most were familiar with the Kids Count data, but the legislators who really utilized the information were those who had discussed it with their constituents.

There are many examples of decision making indicating that policymakers need our help.  One example is the unrelenting data about increases in child poverty, (including unacceptable increases in children and families living in extreme poverty, with incomes below half of the federal poverty level) and equally unrelenting evidence that time spent in poverty contributes to a myriad of challenges faced by children throughout their lives.  Despite this, the Legislature decided to:  1. virtually eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit – a program that has successfully moved families with children out of extreme poverty and in many cases out of poverty all together; 2. remove the assistance life-line of thousands of poor families who simply found themselves unable to find a job for too long a time in our current unfriendly economy; and 3.  determined that owning reliable transportation in a state that requires the use of a car to successfully navigate nearly every community, deemed a family unworthy of basic Food Assistance, regardless of actual income.

We need you to weigh into policy decisions.  Contact Michigan’s Children’s staff for more information about talking with your elected officials.  We are here to help.  Access our library of materials to help you make your case, and stay involved with us through our Action Networks.

-Michele Corey

Copyright 2017 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Square,Suite 110 Lansing, Michigan 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Sitemap