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Potential Good News for Kids and Families in Road Solution

December 19, 2014 – After a long and tumultuous debate, the Michigan Legislature has finally done something to address the lack of adequate funding for road and bridge improvements that has plagued the state for years. Both the Senate and House had passed competing proposals that would have provided a legislative solution to increase dedicated funding for transportation purposes earlier in the lame-duck session. The Senate plan would have raised new revenue dedicated for road funding by increasing taxes collected on gas purchases, and the House plan would have re-directed money that currently goes to schools and local governments from the sales tax applied to gas purchases to road funding. Legislative leaders and Governor Snyder spent the last two weeks trying to forge a compromise between the two proposals and there was real fear among advocates for children that a long-term solution would steal funds otherwise available for children’s programs and services.

Ultimately, the legislative leaders and the Governor could not reach an agreement on a legislative solution to increase funding for road and bridge improvements and instead decided on putting a proposal to increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7% before the voters on a May 5, 2015 referendum. The constitutional amendment required a 2/3 vote in each chamber to be placed before the state’s voters giving Democrats, who generally oppose sales tax increases as disproportionately impacting low and moderate income families, more negotiating leverage resulting in a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increased funding for public schools to be included in the final package. The entire package, which also includes increases in vehicle registration fees, increases in heavy truck permits, a modest gas tax increase and some other statutory changes, was passed by both chambers of the Legislature early Friday morning.

With the Legislature now adjourned for the year, attention will immediately begin to focus on the May statewide vote. This last-minute, bi-partisan deal reached by the Legislature with the support of Governor Snyder provides a real opportunity to solve Michigan’s road funding shortfall while at the same time providing tax relief to low and moderate income working Michigan families and much needed increased resources to our schools.

All of this can only happen if the citizens of Michigan vote yes on May 5th, however. There will certainly be well-funded and organized opposition to the May vote and it will be important over the next few months for child advocates to join with other groups interested in supporting this plan to educate citizens about the value of a yes vote in moving Michigan forward. With a considerably more fiscally conservative Legislature coming to Lansing in January, the ballot initiative is probably our best opportunity for next few years to actually increase funding for schools and other education related programs.

– Matt Gillard

We Will Do Something About It, Together

December 2, 2014 – Okay first, I want to warn you that I’m using some foul language in this blog. Not the really bad stuff, but just a little minor swearing. I heard some commentary post-election that really got me riled up, particularly on this day where we celebrate good public works. You’ve seen Matt’s “Life After Midterms” video and some of our discussion about the election results – despite some fairly drastic shifts on the national scene, basically very little is changing in the political landscape in Michigan. The Governor was re-elected, the same political framework that runs the Michigan House and Senate will be running the Michigan House and Senate come January 1. The commentator I heard was summing up the 2014 election results in Michigan in one way: that the electorate, particularly the Democratic Party faithful who failed to vote in larger numbers than they had in previous election years, was basically saying, “We are mad as hell, and we aren’t going to do anything about it…”

Now, I’m not so sure that the Michigan electorate was so mad about how things have been going in the state in general. There have certainly been pros and cons to the last two years that Michigan’s Children has talked about in many different ways. During our series of youth-led candidate forums across the state, young people and candidates alike expressed successes, opportunities and challenges. The part that really got me riled up was the assumption made that although the citizenry was concerned, they were not going to act. Being an optimistic soul, I never believe that is inevitable, despite being historically true.

There are certainly groups of people who feel like they have such little power in the political decision making process in our state that even their vote doesn’t matter, particularly if they live in a district where the majority of voters lean toward one political party. Other groups of people do vote, but then don’t engage with their officials to help after the elections are over. While getting out to vote is one powerful way to do something about those things that concern you, it definitely isn’t the end game. Now that the votes have been tallied (well, still being tallied in one Michigan Senate district), it is time to take responsibility for setting Michigan’s agenda for the next few years. The winners in November need our help more than ever before to tackle the challenges that face us and to take the opportunities we have to better invest public resources in things that work.

Michigan’s Children will be doing everything in our power over the next two years to make sure that whether we are mad as hell or just wanting to make our state better for its children, youth, families, and future, more of us are doing something about it. We are here to help others do the same.

We also want to take this opportunity on Giving Tuesday to thank everyone who gets engaged in public policy decisions by talking to elected officials and keeping in touch with others who can engage as well. Of course, Michigan’s Children couldn’t do what we do to support those efforts without the trust of the philanthropic community and assistance from individual donors. In order to remain independent, we don’t take public funds. In order to remain effective, we need your help. Consider joining us in action, and consider supporting us financially as we work to move public policy in the best interest of children, youth and families in Michigan

– Michele Corey

 

Giving for Michigan’s Children

November 25, 2014 – In America, Thanksgiving’s arrival for most people ushers in a month-long holiday season filled with merriment. But for too many Michigan families, the holiday season is a stark reminder of the challenges they struggle with day-to-day.

As politicians boast of a Michigan comeback, we know that family poverty is on the rise as half of all Michigan children are born into poverty and one in four Michigan children live in poverty. Child safety is a constant concern as confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect grew in the double-digits in recent years. Educational achievement eludes many as two-thirds of Michigan 3rd graders aren’t proficient readers and one-quarter of all high school freshmen don’t graduate four years later. For children of color, these woeful statistics are worse than for the rest.

Unless we seek solutions to the systemic failings of public policies that contribute to these serious problems, undermining support and success for children and families, a Michigan comeback won’t mean much. That’s why we are appealing to you to help us carry on the good fight to ensure that our state’s children and families have a better future where opportunities for success in school and life don’t leave anyone behind.

We know it can be done – and that’s why we’re asking for your support during this season. For over 20 years we’ve served as a nonpartisan voice for public policy improvements to ensure that all children have an equitable chance to thrive from cradle to career. And we’ve done it without government funding to maintain our independence; instead, we’ve relied on the generosity of people like you. Please consider donating to Michigan’s Children this season.

If all Michigan families are to have the same outcomes as the most fortunate of us, we need to dig in and create policies that level the playing field. The good news is that we’ve made strides in doing just that. Working with other committed advocates in Michigan, we’ve made some important successes, among them the expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program that resulted in $130 million more to cover all eligible 4-year-olds in state-supported preschool.

Next, we must build on this accomplishment in other meaningful ways that address improving school readiness, ensuring child safety at home, and improving college and career readiness while prioritizing strategies that take a two-generation approach that serves children and their parents simultaneously.

Change is coming to Michigan. Be part of it by supporting us with your financial contributions but also with your voice. Sign up for one of our Action Networks and be informed of the work we must do to give all Michigan families something to be thankful for.

We can’t do it without you!

-Matt Gillard

CCDBG Reauthorization a Huge Win

November 19, 2014 – Today, President Obama signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 into law.  First, I think it’s important for us to recognize that though the general population believes that Congress is broken, when something as important as the safety and well-being of our children are at-stake, our political leaders can come together in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize a law that hadn’t seen Congressional action for nearly two decades.  This is a huge win for Congress, for President Obama, and for working families across the nation who access high quality child care – particularly for low-income working families who rely on their state’s child care subsidy to ensure they can stay employed or in education programs to better the futures of their families.  Child care assistance is clearly a two-generation strategy that helps parents and their children simultaneously, and I applaud Congress and the President for getting this done during challenging political times.

For Michigan, the reauthorized CCDBG law includes welcomed changes that will push our Child Development and Care program – Michigan’s child care subsidy system – to better serve struggling families.  My latest Issues for Michigan’s Children brief highlights some of the policy changes included in the new law and what that means for Michigan.  But in this blog, I want to focus on one of those changes – the 12 month eligibility rule.

Currently in Michigan, we evaluate families’ eligibility for the child care subsidy every 12 months but if families experience job loss or income changes, these must be reported to the state and families risk losing their child care subsidy at any point in time.  The reauthorized law will require states to provide 12-months of continuous eligibility to families receiving the child care subsidy that would not result in fluctuations based on changes in parents’ work status or increases in family income.  This is a welcomed shift to current policy that will have significant impact on families, child care providers, and the state.

First and foremost, low-income working families will greatly benefit from the CCDBG changes.  Michigan’s income eligibility threshold for the child care subsidy is one of the lowest in the nation at 121% of the federal poverty level.  That means a family of four has to make an annual income of $28,858 or less to be eligible for the lowest end of the subsidy (currently as low as $0.95 per hour).  For a family whose income might shift slightly after being deemed eligible – say $30,000 after picking up a couple of temporary overtime shifts at work – would risk losing their subsidy and would have to re-apply when their income fluctuated again.  Or if a family experienced job loss, they would automatically lose their subsidy even if they needed child care while they searched for jobs and attended job interviews.  The reauthorized CCDBG law would require Michigan to continue to provide the child care subsidy for the full 12-month eligibility period in these types of instances – a huge benefit to those working or newly unemployed parents.  For children, this means they can stay in their same child care setting, which we know to be beneficial to healthy attachment and development.  So from a two-generation perspective, 12-months of continuous eligibility is a significant win for Michigan’s struggling families.

This is also a win for child care providers and for the state.  For providers, they won’t have to worry about a child suddenly losing their subsidy and the resulting shifts in their program’s revenue.  We know that providing high quality child care is expensive, so having reliable and continuous revenue through the subsidy reimbursement for 12 continuous months will be helpful to providers as they work to maintain and increase the quality of their business while serving low-income families.  For the state, our administrative costs will go down as we no longer have to track families during their 12-month eligibility periods and can continue to increase our focus on ensuring access to higher quality care.

This, and other policy shifts to the reauthorized CCDBG law, have been a long time coming and we look forward to seeing these changes come down in Michigan to improve the child care system for Michigan’s low-income working families.

-Mina Hong

How to Improve Third Grade Reading? Think about Two-Generation Strategies

November 14, 2014 – Lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature is where legislation introduced over the last two years will either get enacted or go back to the drawing board in January. There are some indications that the two bills before the Michigan House related to improving 3rd grade reading may be on the agenda to move. Like many others, we’ve also been talking about this issue for a long time – how could we not? The evidence is so powerful for the need for kids to be on target with their literacy skills at that point – the research tie is overwhelming between on-track reading by the 4th grade and academic success in the years to come.

We’ve talked before about the lack of a research base for utilizing grade retention as a strategy to improve reading. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that grade retention has nothing short of dire impacts on high school completion. We’ve also talked plenty about the research base that does exist to improve reading in the 3rd grade. A lot of that has to do with making sure that we close literacy gaps long before kids enter school at kindergarten. It also has to do with making sure that we help end summer learning loss and use the hours that children have outside of the classroom to support learning. Both of these strategies require taking a two-generation approach to policy and program – helping children thrive while helping their parents move ahead – another topic of discussion this week through the release of a national Kids Count special report on the topic.

There is no more deeply researched connection to the educational success of children than that to the educational success of their parents. Parents are their children’s first, best and most consistent teachers before the 3rd grade and well beyond. There are clear barriers to parents to support their young children’s education: struggles with basic needs, a lack of health and mental health services for children, adolescents and parents, and limited strategies to engage parents effectively in their children’s learning and development. In addition, there are too many parents who didn’t succeed themselves educationally – fully one in six births in 2012 were to mothers without a high school credential, and 13 percent of all young adults ages 18-24 (already parents or potential parents) are without that credential.

When the Governor and legislature look for researched solutions to build more 3rd grade reading success, in addition to the essential teacher training and other school and classroom improvements that smart minds within the educational community are considering, it will be critical to also consider strategies that:

  1. End literacy gaps before they start by supporting home visiting services and other supports for parents with the youngest children.
  2. Build a more level playing field at kindergarten entry by continuing to support investments in pre-k programs, coupled with better supports for high quality child care. Parents need programs that they can utilize so that they can get ahead in life while their children’s developmental and educational needs are being met.
  3. Ensure supplemental supports to early elementary children and families to stop gaps from growing through the school year and in the summer months through integrated student services and expanded learning opportunities.
  4. Make sure that parents are equipped to assist by supporting opportunities for them to build their own literacy skills, complete a high school credential and move into post-secondary and family supporting employment.

These are big investments that aren’t going to be made in the short weeks of the lame duck session before the end of this year. We urge the Governor and the next Legislature to recognize two-generation strategies as a way to build reading success beyond the 3rd grade and making Michigan a better state to successfully raise a family.

– Michele Corey

Children’s Advocates Need Political Leadership in 2015

Matt’s blog was published for our Sandbox Party site on 11/10/14.

Nov. 12, 2014 — The mid-term elections are over and who isn’t glad for an end to nasty campaign ads and verbal attacks. While the quiet always comes before the storm, let’s look ahead to our prospects for next year.

On one side of the political aisle, the Legislative landscape in Lansing just got more Republican and more conservative as the GOP gained major victories in even the tightest contests across the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who championed key improvements in state-funded pre-K in his first term, even if his K-12 support wasn’t as robust, is back for a second term.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter, a conservative from Mt. Pleasant ending his first term, was just elected by his Republicans peers as House Speaker, a role central to moving legislation supported by the majority of his party. (Another contender, State Rep. Al Pscholka, considered less conservative than Cotter, fell short by a few votes.)

So what does this new partisan make-up mean for child advocates seeking improvements in such priorities as child care, 0-3 supports, home visiting, expanded learning for after-school and more?

It’s going to be challenging for us and challenging for Gov. Snyder, too. Much of our success and future will depend on the positions and posturing the Governor takes in dealing with an ever conservative Legislature.

Come January, Republicans will hold a 63-47 majority in the House and a 27-11 supermajority in the Senate after winning five new House seats and one additional Senate seat. How much of what becomes the legislative priority will come from the Governor’s leadership or from the demands of a growing conservative Legislature who don’t want to additional spending undermine their ability to cut taxes.

Gov. Snyder has shown great willingness in the past to invest in quality programs like pre-k. It remains to be seen whether he will be willing to lead again on other issues of importance to children and families as the ranks of potentially like-minded Legislative Republicans are cut short. One test of that leadership may come over roads. His stated priority – crafting a road improvement package for the state – is back on the table after failing dismally before the campaigns began.

And what of moderate Republicans, many of whom have supported investments in children and education due to their recognition of the importance of building a strong future labor force? In many ways, they’ve been neutralized. Like across America, moderates who dare to take progressive stances will risk certain primary challenges from Tea Party activists in the future.

All these challenges will make investments in the programs and services that help children and families more difficult in the coming year, but not impossible. Gov. Snyder’s support will be even more necessary in the coming months.

Let’s hope he sees this as a critical part of the legacy he leaves behind for the future of Michigan when his second term ends four years from now.

– Matt Gillard

 

Post-Election Work for Michigan’s Young Families

November 11, 2014 – Like many of you, I’m happy that the seemingly endless political ads are finally over.  Now that voters have decided who will be representing us in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. next year, it’s time to help these newly elected officials focus on the issues.  Though our state Legislature will look decidedly more conservative next year, I do not take that to mean that “nothing will get done” as some of my liberal peers might.  We can’t forget that the historic increase in funding for our state-funded preschool program – the Great Start Readiness Program – happened with bipartisan support under Republican leadership (and was, in fact, the largest prek investment nationally).  So, what does the GSRP program have that made it appealing to both sides of the political aisle?  It has a strong evaluation that demonstrates its child-outcomes that advocates knew existed for decades.  The evaluation helped public officials understand the equity-promoting nature of the GSRP program that serves four-year-olds with a high quality program that promotes school readiness and reduces the achievement gap.  And, legislators could understand the ROI that came from reduced special education costs, fewer kids repeating grades, more students graduating on time, and higher earnings as adults.

But the GSRP program isn’t the only program that has a strong evaluation and ROI.  Many programs that serve families with very young children – beginning at birth or prenatally and into the toddler years – also have strong evaluation findings and ROI.  And if we want to get the most bang for our GSRP buck, we must ensure that young children don’t start preschool so far behind that they’re just playing catch-up during that one school year.  While we know that a school readiness gap exists, preschool teachers know that there is a preschool readiness gap as well.  With the achievement gap emerging well before four years of age, making investments targeting young children from birth (or even prenatally) through age three is critical.

Fortunately, Michigan can build upon its momentum to continue to strengthen our early childhood system.  Opportunities to expand evidence-based home visiting services will ensure that more young families can benefit from these voluntary parent coaching programs that help parents become their child’s first and best teachers.  Bolstering our Early On early intervention program that targets infants and toddlers with identified developmental delays will help reduce special education costs down the road while more children access individualized services to address their own developmental needs.  And increasing access to high quality child care options – particularly for families with infants and toddlers when high quality care is most expensive – can ensure that young children receive developmentally appropriate early learning experiences they need to be preschool and kindergarten ready.

While these issues will likely get little play this lame duck session, now is a great opportunity to start talking to our newly elected officials about these issues.  Now is the time to congratulate your state legislators and invite them to visit your programs, meet them for coffee, or have an informal exchange with them to talk about what matters to families with very young children.  That way, they can hit the ground running when they get sworn into office in January.

-Mina Hong

Cast Your Vote for Children, Youth and Families

November 3, 2014 – I came away from our youth-led candidate forums this fall feeling pretty optimistic about our democratic process. The candidates who attended our four forums around the state were well prepared, articulate, respectful and willing to prioritize the intense demands of an election season to spend 2-3 hours with groups of young people, their parents, the organizations supporting them and members of the communities where they live. Despite the fact that many of the young people weren’t of voting age, these candidates recognized that they were future voters and that their parents and other community members were voters or potential voters. The candidates also recognized, and articulated to us, the media and the young people themselves, that they had something to learn from the experience that would help them in the election and beyond.

That said, there are differences between the candidates for office. They have different opinions about the solutions to the concerns raised by the young people at our forums. They have different opinions about the role of government to be part of those solutions, and how much public resource should be invested. They have different priorities for their own work if elected, and different ways to keep in touch with their constituents to make sure that they are prioritizing what works.

I want to thank our local forum partners, who supported the young people in their preparation, facilitated the forum location, and helped Michigan’s Children convince the candidates to come and the media to cover the forums. We will be working with these partners after the election as well, to help the winners better understand critical issues and workable solutions, and to hold them accountable to make sure that their actions once elected match their commitments made.

I also want to personally thank the candidates who spent time with us at our forums. While I’m not endorsing them individually or as a group, we do want to recognize their participation. Many candidates who were invited did not participate, and those who did deserve our respect. The time that they took was so impactful to the young people involved, and helped their communities better understand their commitment to children, youth and families in our state.

Tomorrow is election day. As Matt Gillard said in his recent video on our Sandbox Party website, we are all tired or seeing all of the campaign ads, and getting the endless stream of fliers in our mailboxes and phone calls. However, decisions that will be made by the share of registered voters who show up at the polls to cast their vote will determine the path of our state for years to come. Don’t let those decisions be made by someone else, make sure that you are part of the process.

Find out more about the youth-led candidate forums, and about how you can get more information about your candidates.

Then, of course, come November 5, join us as we use our influence as voters and constituents to help and to guide the winners toward decisions that point us toward a better Michigan for children, youth and families.

– Michele Corey

It IS About Changing the World

October 20, 2014 – My daughter Sarah is nine, and like many nine year olds, is not that interested in my job. It seems that I just sit around in front of a computer screen all day, and despite our conversations about our roles and responsibilities in a democracy, she has never really understood it – go figure. It isn’t as if I was a fire fighter, a nurse, a teacher or even a restaurant owner, like my husband. This policy advocacy thing has not been something that any of my three children have easily grasped.

Last week, she went with me to the Parenting Awareness Month Conference in Marquette. And much to her chagrin, had to come to my “Policy Advocacy 101” workshop there as I talked about the importance of getting more involved in public policy to a great group of parents and services providers.

Honestly, that kind of thing is a lot of what I do – talking to people about how much it matters to take 5-10 minutes out of their jobs and their lives to influence public policy on behalf of children, youth and families. Michigan’s Children believes that when more people are involved in the policymaking process, particularly people who are directly impacted by the policies themselves, the result is better policy. We blog about it all the time, and work to produce tools and opportunities for that to happen.

Workshop attendees were really engaged in the discussion, and it was clear that the workshop had been impactful. While it seemed like Sarah was paying some attention – she had said that she was just going to read the whole time, but now and then I caught her eye as she was listening to me and to others in the room – we didn’t talk too much about it afterward, and just went on about our travels.

The day after we got home, however, her grandma was asking her the usual stuff, how the trip went, how did she like our hotel, that sort of thing. Then, my mom asked what she thought about my presentation. Sarah turned to me and said rather accusingly, “I thought that your work was about kids, Mom. It is about changing the world!”

Indeed, it is about both. All of our work is about making sure that those who represent us, those who decide how our tax dollars are spent, have everything they need to make the best decisions that they can, understanding the impact of those decisions on us all. The election season is winding down, and we will soon be deciding who those people will be for the next couple of years and beyond. We will try to make the best choices that we can, and then we all have to stand ready to help those we have elected. Help their work be about making public policies that move us to a better Michigan for children, youth and families – those that change the world for kids in our state.

– Michele Corey

Lights On Afterschool Advocacy

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After-School Partnership.

10/10/14 – Lights on Afterschool is a nationwide event on October 23rd to celebrate afterschool programs and all of the benefits they bring to the lives of children, particularly children who struggle the most in school. But it also offers another opportunity – an opportunity to elevate the importance of all high quality expanded learning options – before- and after-school programs, summer learning programs, credit recovery programs and other options to expand learning beyond the school day and year with our elected officials.

Why does it matter that we talk to policymakers about expanded learning? Our elected officials are charged with making decisions about a range of topics – many which they know little to nothing about. It’s impossible for one person to be well-versed on education, health, energy, insurance, the justice system, tax code, veteran’s affairs, natural resources, transportation, and all of the other domains under which our elected officials make decisions. As a former state legislator, I know this to be true. Elected officials need you to help them stay informed on the issues that are important to Michigan’s children, youth and families.

So, how do we help them make the best decisions that they can? How can we get involved in policymaking?

  • It can be something that you occasionally dabble in – like contacting your legislator when there’s a timely issue that the Legislature is debating. You can stay informed on timely issues related to children, youth and families by signing up for Michigan’s Children’s electronic communications.
  • You can become a stronger advocate by getting to know the people that represent you and building and maintaining a good relationship with them. Attend your legislators’ coffee hours in your communities, sign-up for their e-bulletins, and communicate with them regularly to keep them informed on topics that you care about.
  • Or you can take it even a step further and invite them to you – to your programs in your community. If you run an afterschool program, invite them to take a tour and visit with the children. If you are a member of your PTA, invite your legislator to come to a meeting and hear the concerns of fellow parents.

Ensuring that policymakers are educated so that they can make informed decisions about afterschool – particularly when it comes to decisions on funding high quality expanded learning opportunities – is critical. I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of high quality expanded learning – you already know that these programs can help students stay academically on-track and can help those who are already behind to catch-up. But your elected officials may not know that. And it’s our jobs to make sure they do.

– Matt Gillard

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