Speaking for Kids

Child Care Tax Credits Part 2 – Supporting Child Care Providers

July 31, 2014 – This is the second in a series of blogs about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s child care tax credits for child care providers and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, for-profit and non-profit child care centers who serve children in the foster care system or children who participate in the child care subsidy program are eligible for a refundable tax credit.  The credit is based on the average monthly number of children served and the quality rating of the child care center and ranges from $750 per eligible child for a 2-star rated program to $1,500 per child for a 5-star rated program.

Here in Michigan, our Quality Rating and Improvement System known as Great Start to Quality has two levels – the five-star rating for licensed programs and the three-tier rating for unlicensed family, friend and neighbor care.  Michigan could structure its child care credits similar to the Louisiana model for licensed programs.  And, to ensure that families can maintain choice in their child care provider, we could also provide a tax credit for families who choose family, friend, or neighbor care at the second or third tier.  This type of tax credit would incentivize child care providers to increase the quality of their care by allowing providers to target some of the investment from this refundable tax credit towards ongoing quality improvement needs, which we know to be expensive.  Quality improvements costs go towards things like employing credentialed staff, ongoing professional development, maintaining optimal teacher-to-child ratios, etc. – costs that are typically ongoing.  And, this tax credit would incentivize providers to move up the quality rating scale so that they can receive larger credits.

Michigan should also consider aligning the eligibility requirement for this tax credit with our early childhood system already in place – specifically, with eligibility for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program.  This way, we can bolster our state’s significant investment in high quality preschool by increasing the quality of other settings that serve those children and others.  Michigan legislators have already identified that children who have factors that place them at-risk – children living in families with low- and moderately low-income, children in foster care, children who are homeless, and children in special education – benefit the most from access to high quality early care and education.  Similarly, a tax credit should go to providers who serve those same populations from birth all the way through age 12.  Aligning the tax credit eligibility with GSRP would incentivize the highest quality child care programs to serve Michigan’s most challenged families to ensure the best possible outcomes for kids.

A note about school-aged care.  School-aged child care (i.e. before- and after-school and summer care) currently isn’t included in Great Start to Quality, but efforts to infuse those programs into the system are underway.  Any child care tax credit system must include those programs so that school-aged children could also benefit from high quality child care settings that keep them academically on-track and engaged in their education.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Child Care Tax Credits Part 1 – Supporting Michigan’s Working Families

July 24, 2014 — Last week, I blogged about the concept of tax credits to support the quality of Michigan’s child care system.  The next series of child care tax credit blogs that I’ll write will break down each of Louisiana’s four tax credits so that we can better understand how their model if replicated in Michigan could assist families, child care providers, child care teachers and directors, and businesses here in our own state.  First, I’ll focus on direct assistance for families.

As I laid out last week, the family child care tax credit allows families to receive a refundable credit for children enrolled in a child care program that has a rating of at least two out of five stars in the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.  This credit increases in value as families access higher-rated child care programs, and is dependent on the number of children in the family in a two-star rated program or higher.  Being refundable allows the lowest-income families – those making $25,000 a year or less in Louisiana – to receive a check in the mail for the amount of their credit.  Families making more than $25,000 can apply their credit to their tax liability.

Here in Michigan, we know that child care costs vary significantly with multiple factors influencing cost including the age of the child, the type of care (i.e. a child care center, family-run group home, or someone caring for a family member), and the quality of care.  For Michigan’s Children, ensuring that children have access to high quality child care is paramount – regardless of the child’s age or whether they are in a child care center or being watched by grandma.  We know that high quality child care is more costly for multiple factors including the ongoing training needed by child care teachers and directors, curricula that may be used, personnel costs as it relates to staffing with appropriate credentials or exceeding minimum licensing requirements as it relates to teacher-child ratios, appropriately engaging and partnering with parents and communities, etc.

A child care tax credit for families will reduce some of the financial burden associated with accessing higher quality care, and may be just the incentive that parents need to opt for higher quality care that will better support their children’s learning and development.  While there is a federal tax credit in place for child care that is not refundable, the State of Michigan currently provides no tax relief to families who need child care, so a model similar to Louisiana’s would be welcomed.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Making Kids’ Education Count in Michigan

July 22, 2014 — The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released their 25th annual examination of how kids are doing nationally, and state-by-state.  According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation on child, youth and family well-being, nearly landing us in the bottom third of the states.  As if this wasn’t bad enough news on its own, ten years ago we ranked 24th and have been making a pretty steady slide down since that time.

The national Data Book builds the composite rank from our ranking in four crucial areas: health, family and community (in both, MI ranks 29th), economic well-being (MI ranks 34th) and education, where we hold our worst national rank of 38th.  Yes, you heard me.  We rank in the bottom quarter of the states on the children’s issue that honestly, gets the most press.   Our ranking here wasn’t great last year either – we ranked 32nd – but things are just getting progressively worse.

The vast majority of candidates tell us education is one of their top priorities.  In addition, of all the important needs facing children, youth and families in Michigan, our state policymakers spend the most time on this one too, and rightly so.  We spend a great deal more public dollar on K-12 education than we spend on any of the other investments that matter to our future – it is actually a constitutional guarantee, as it must be for the future of our state.  Michigan had the first public school in the nation and has been an early adopter of all sorts of educational innovation, from the length of the school day to expanded learning opportunities over the years.  So how can we be doing so much more poorly than other areas of the country?

Because we are making less progress.  At this time when everyone is wringing their hands about the need for a better prepared workforce, more career and college readiness from our high school students, higher high school and college graduation rates to meet the demands of the workforce today and tomorrow, Michigan has recorded improvement on one of the four indicators measured by the Data Book, not as much as other states, and has remained basically stagnant on the other three, while other states have moved more dramatically.

Admittedly, this report did not reflect recent investment in the state’s preschool program, which we know will help us move the dime on that indicator in subsequent assessments.   That said, our success in linking high quality early childhood programs to a high quality K-12 system with strategies that promote learning and high school completion for those who struggle most is critical to improving our ranking.

These results simply reiterate what we’ve been blogging about for several months now.  This is campaign season, when policymakers are vying for our vote and making promises about what they will accomplish if we use that vote to get them elected.  They are all talking about education as a priority issue.  Now is the time to both listen to what they are suggesting for solutions that they would champion if elected and to make sure that they know what solutions that we would recommend.

-Michele Corey

Supporting Michigan’s Working Families

July 18, 2014 — Child care is expensive.  Hands down, if you are a parent, you know that one of the most significant costs that you will bare right from the get-go is the cost of child care.  And yet parents want and need access to high quality child care that supports their children’s learning and development while they earn money to support their families.  For Michigan’s struggling families, high quality child care can help their kids start kindergarten with the skill set they need to succeed in school.  As for the child care industry, they struggle to pay for costly quality improvements since many quality indicators require ongoing costs to maintain.

One strategy to increase the quality of and access to child care is through tax credits.  Louisiana provides a fabulous tax credit model built upon its Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that provides financial incentives that help families access higher quality child care and encourages providers to increase the quality of their programs.  Called the School Readiness Tax Credit, the Louisiana model supports and bolsters the child care system by providing refundable tax credits, which allows taxpayers to receive a check for the amount of the credit if they have no tax obligation.  This is particularly important for nonprofit child care providers and for low-income families who benefit the most from these credits.

Louisiana’s School Readiness Tax credits are as follows:

  1. Families can receive a tax credit for kids enrolled in a child care program that has a rating of at least two out of five stars in the QRIS.  The tax credit increases in value as families access higher-rated child care programs.
  2. Child care providers who participate in the QRIS are eligible for a tax credit based on the number of stars they earn and the number of children they serve who are subsidized by their state’s child care subsidy system or are in foster care.
  3. Child care teachers and directors are eligible to receive a tax credit if they teach in a child care program that participates in the QRIS, and is based on the level of education the individual has attained.
  4. Businesses that provide financial support to child care programs that participate in the QRIS – either through donations to support their infrastructure or to support their employees’ child care – are eligible for a credit with its value based on the star rating of the child care program.  Businesses can also receive a credit for donations made to child care resource and referral agencies.

Michigan is well-poised to implement a child care tax credit system similar to the Louisiana model, with our QRIS known as Great Start to Quality already in place.  Each four of these pieces would provide significant benefits to families, child care providers, child care teachers and directors, and our local businesses to support families while ensuring our economy can continue to rebuild.  Keep your eyes out for a series of blogs focused on each component of Louisiana’s School Readiness Tax Credit and how a similar system could benefit Michigan children and families.

Learn more about opportunities through child care tax credits in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Summer Learning Matters for Students and Policymakers

July 11, 2013 – The Michigan Department of Education recently released assessment test scores documenting that fewer than one in five Michigan high school students are prepared in all subjects for college and career as evidenced by scores on the ACT College Readiness Assessment. In addition, when we look at this spring’s Michigan Merit Exam (the high school MEAP tests), there are huge scoring gaps in every subject by race, economics and other challenging student and family circumstances.

So we look to the reasons why, well documented in the research. One of those reasons is the difference in experiences that children and youth have access to in the summer.

There is a pile of research documenting that all kids lose some educational gains over the summer. I see that in my own three kids and try to make sure that they are engaged in activities that keep their minds moving ahead. Okay, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the activities that I’d love to have them do, or that they are really excited about doing, are just too expensive, or just too far away from our house, or they just don’t work for our complicated schedule with all parents working. Now think about that for more challenged families with less access to transportation and less flexibility in their jobs.

Research suggests that fully two-thirds of the reading achievement gap by the 9th grade is attributable to summer learning loss alone. Each year, we look at MEAP and ACT test results for our young people. Each year, we express disappointment that more of them aren’t doing better and we express particular concern about the gaps between our highest achievers and our lowest. So, let’s do something about that.

In the last budget cycle, as we have for many years, Michigan’s Children joined with others in the Michigan After-School Partnership to call for state investment in expanded learning opportunities – those opportunities that take place outside of the traditional school day: primarily before- and after-school and during the summer. Those same opportunities that research points to as a solution to summer learning loss and that go far to lessen the achievement gap. As you likely know, Legislators in the Michigan House included a small amount of money to support those programs, a start back onto the path of larger, necessary state investment. But that small investment didn’t make it into the final budget passed last month, despite the efforts of our Legislative champions and ourselves.

In this campaign season, we need to remind those vying to represent us that they can commit to make decisions backed by years, often decades, of research that can change the educational odds for kids in Michigan. It does take investment, and we can help them better understand where that investment can really matter by inviting them to see great programming, talking with them about what is needed in our communities and then making sure that they are addressing those needs while they are on the campaign trail.

Our work this summer is to do just that.

– Michele Corey

How Will You Spend Our Money?

July 2, 2014 — How will you spend our money?  This is a question that all candidates running for the Michigan legislature should hear between now and November.  The fiscal year 2015 budget was just signed into law by Governor Snyder early this week and provides a great tool for you to utilize to talk to candidates to learn about their priorities.  You can ask them what they are glad to see in the state budget and where they believe there is inadequate funding or inappropriate investment or disinvestment.

We often talk about the state budget as the state’s expression of its priorities and a tool to address disparities that we see in child and family outcomes by race, income, and other challenging factors.  Targeted investments can work to reduce disparities – or increase equity – and bad budgeting decisions can increase disparities that lead to more challenges for Michigan children and families who may already be struggling.  The same is true for the federal budget.

We’ve highlighted key strategies to increase equitable opportunities for Michigan kids in our latest Budget Basics publication – budget strategies that can reduce disparities.  If you get an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with a candidate, you may want to dig a little deeper with him/her to understand how they will be prioritizing equity-promoting strategies.  Here are some possibilities you may want to address.

  • Child poverty continues to rise in Michigan, though many elected officials like to talk about the state’s improving economy.  Why do you think poverty is on the rise and what strategies would you take to reverse this unacceptable trend?
  • Child abuse and neglect is on the rise in Michigan, and children of color continue to be more likely to be removed from their homes than their white counterparts even though they aren’t maltreated at higher rates.  How would you suggest that Michigan work to prevent child abuse and neglect, and how can the state tackle this unacceptable disparity?
  • Michigan has increased funding for four-year-old preschool by $130 million over the last two years.  This is a great strategy to reduce the school readiness gap.  However, research shows that the first signs of the achievement gap can emerge in infancy.  What budget strategies would you prioritize to ensure that our youngest children – our infants and toddlers – have a strong start in life?
  • Much attention has been paid to third grade reading, since too many Michigan kids fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade – particularly students of color and students from low-income families.  What strategies would you use to ensure more kids can read proficiently?
  • As you know, Michigan continues to struggle to ensure that all young people achieve a high school credential.  What strategies would you explore to ensure that more Michigan young people are on a path to college or career?

Asking candidates questions related to equity now will send them a clear message that you expect them to address these issues if and when they are elected into office.  Make sure your candidates know what your top priorities are and that you can be a resource to them when elected.

Learn more about the state budget and how it will impact Michigan children and families by visiting our Budget Basics library.  To learn more about how you can get engaged this election season, visit the Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website

-Mina Hong

Needed: A Budget for Children, Youth and Families

June 27, 2014 — According to the recent release of the 2014 Children’s Budget from one of our great national partners, First Focus, we’ve spent right around eight percent of our federal budget resources on children in this country for the last five years. Because of overall cuts to federal spending, this has resulted in decreasing investment, particularly in the areas of child welfare and education. According to the report, since its peak in 2010, total federal spending on children has dropped 14 percent after adjusting for inflation, while overall federal spending decreased just 8 percent during the same period.

What do federal investments have to do with Michigan policymaking? Remember the state budget process that we’ve been talking about? Well, many of those decisions are dictated by the resources that Michigan receives from the federal government. Eighty percent of funding for the Michigan Department of Human Services comes from the federal government, which funds critical safety net programs, and virtually all of the state’s efforts that support nutrition, prevention of child abuse and neglect and the care for children and youth who have been removed from their families due to maltreatment. Two of every three dollars in the Michigan Department of Community Health budget comes from federal sources, much of which helps to fund the Medicaid program serving hundreds of thousands of Michigan children and youth, and supports school- and community-based health services for the most underserved children, youth and families. The Michigan Department of Education receives 71 percent of its funding from federal sources, much of that resource dedicated toward closing achievement gaps for the most challenged young people. Click here for more about the impact of federal spending in Michigan.

Included in the release were polling results, conducted by American Viewpoint. Polls have found that virtually all voters believed that protecting basic investments in children like health, education and nutrition was important. Three-quarters of those polled believe that the protection of these investment was highly or extremely important – the same share as those feeling similarly about the importance of debt reduction.

So, what’s the problem? Why do we have stagnant investment? The same polls revealed that voters don’t focus very much on children’s issues when they are voting, or later, when they are holding elected officials accountable for their decisions once in office. Even among parents, when asked to list the issue most important to them in deciding their vote for U.S. Congress, only 10% put children’s issues at the top. Of course, we can certainly tie the issues that voters do list first to our success or failure in investing in children and families. The number 1 priority: economic issues like jobs and the minimum wage (think career and college ready young people); and number 2: fiscal issues like government spending, taxes and the national debt (think return on wise investments).

The 2014 election in Michigan will be the most impactful in decades. We will again be electing the people who will be determining spending priorities in our state and our nation. Let’s make sure that they all know that we are expecting them to focus on making more young children ready for school, more children of all ages safe and secure, and more young people ready for college and career. Let’s make sure that they know that when they do that in proven effective ways, more young people are able to access family supporting career employment. When they target public spending on those programs with proven return on investment, public resources have more bang for their buck.

Find out more about how to get involved yourself and how to help others get engaged this election season by visiting the Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

Building a Stronger Foundation for the Right Start

June 19, 2014 – This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released the annual report, Right Start in Michigan 2014: Maternal and Infant Well-Being in Michigan’s Legacy Cities.  Each year, this report looks at the status of babies and their mothers through a series of birth outcomes.   At the same time, Michigan’s Children updated our own look at high school graduation, High School Graduation Matters in the 2014 Elections.  Both of these documents clearly illustrate that in the next budget cycle and with the next Legislature, more needs to be done to improve graduation rates for our most challenged young people – particularly for young mothers.

As we’ve talked about many times, despite significant improvements over the last several years in high school dropout rates – those kids who leave or are pushed out of high school before graduation – Michigan continues to struggle with real improvement in our 4-, 5- or 6-year graduation rates.  We continue to see significant numbers of young people who are failing to graduate in a 4-year timetable, but are still trying to hang on toward a high school credential.  Unfortunately, we’ve also seen flat or falling investment in the very programs that work for older youth.

The educational attainment of mothers is a key predictor of future success for children.  Not only do parents with limited education have more limited income, but they may also face more challenges navigating systems like education and health care for their children.  In 2012, fully one in eight births in Michigan was to a mother without a high school credential.  We know that it will take young women who give birth in their teens, and often the young men who have fathered those children, more time and more flexible paths to succeed in high school, and we know that there are limited resources for adults who may want to come back to complete that credential after their children are a bit older.

This is unacceptable.   The impact is clear – high school graduation at LEAST is essential to navigate our current economy and society.  The more young people we leave behind because we haven’t provided enough flexible paths to help them build a strong educational foundation for their families; the more challenged Michigan’s communities, schools and economies will remain.  And as the Right Start report indicates, this includes leaving behind our youngest children who may then face subsequent challenges as well.

Luckily, the elections in August and November give all of us a bully pulpit to make sure that decision-makers understand that we expect educational success for everyone, and that we will be glad to assist them if they commit to that path once in office.  Be sure to talk to candidates about this issue if it is one you are particularly passionate about.  Learn more about how you can get engaged in the elections by visiting the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

On the 2014 Campaign Trail for Michigan Children

June 16, 2014 – I’d like to introduce you to the new Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website. You’ll notice some significant changes to the Sandbox Party website. First, the Sandbox Party has joined efforts with Michigan’s Children to raise awareness on children’s issues and to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children. As a project of Michigan’s Children, the Sandbox Party will shift its focus from early childhood issues to a whole-child cradle-to-career approach. With this shift, you will be gaining a more comprehensive look at children, youth and families with the earliest years as a very important piece of that.

Also, between now and November, the Sandbox Party will be focusing all of its attention on the 2014 elections. This 2014 election season holds the potential for great change in Michigan and with it, the opportunities and possibilities for significantly improving the lives of Michigan’s greatest resource – our children. Our new website will provide a lot of opportunities for you to learn more about the upcoming elections. One page of the website is dedicated to statewide races – highlighting the Governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race – with a focus on what those candidates are saying about children and family issues. You can also find a list of all of the local candidates running for office in your community by visiting the local races section of our website, which also features highlights of some particularly competitive local races.

The What’s Happening section of the website will provide you with a calendar of events in your community as it relates to the elections – whether it be candidate town halls, local candidate forums, or other meet-and-greet opportunities for you to engage with those running for public office.

This entire website is meant to provide you with the information and tools you need to become engaged this election season and ensure that those you vote into office prioritize the needs of Michigan children and families.

Though the general elections are about five months away, many decisions will be made in the primary elections in early August because of the demographics of those districts. In districts where the majority of voters identify with one political party, the winner of the primaries will very likely go on to win the general elections. Thus, making sure that you go out and vote on August 5th is critical.

So, please take a look around our new website, share this resource with your friends and network, and visit us often.

-Matt Gillard

Here’s to the Graduates

June 6, 2014 – A lot of attention is paid at this time of year to all of the young people who are graduating from high school, and that attention is well deserved.  The graduate that most folks picture is the 17 or 18-year old who has progressed through high school at a traditional 4-year clip and is now poised to move forward to college or career.  Michigan’s Children would like to add to that picture our congratulations for the young people who have taken a different path toward their graduation – those who are graduating after spending their 5th or 6th year in high school; those who have returned to a diploma path after having left or been pushed out of high school; and those who have gotten so far behind and had so many life circumstances in the way that they rightly chose to take a GED path to finish this initial credential.  We celebrate the success of these young adults who are also entering into the same job market and post-secondary options as those who took a traditional, consecutive 4-year trek to get to this point.

Recently released data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that by the year 2018, 62% of the jobs in Michigan will require postsecondary education.  This confirms that in order to hold self- and family-supporting jobs in the future, the learning trajectory for all young adults is just beginning.  As the Michigan College Access Network suggests, all graduates will need financial accessibility to post-secondary of course; but much more than that, they also need academic preparation, social capital, and knowledge to navigate the process.   We are glad for the attention paid to the need for more accessible post-secondary education, and we support those efforts for the most challenged young people in our state.

For those who will not receive their high school credential this spring, the future trajectory is much more uncertain.  We’ve known in Michigan for many years that once young people fall behind in school, or when they face significant personal and educational obstacles, a traditional high school setting is not always successful in reengaging them, yet few alternatives exist.  Once students have left school before diploma, for whatever reason, they need different options to re-engage.   Not enough young people have been able to take advantage of second and third chance programs for school credential and post-secondary paths because they are not consistently available across this state or consistently accessible for all young people who need them.

Michigan’s Children is interested in taking advantage of the sharp increase in recent attention and resources to improve college access in Michigan and help to better define high school and post-secondary paths for the most challenged young people.  Over the next year we will be developing a fiscal map of current resources that serve the 140,000 Michigan 18-24 year olds without a high school credential to create the best options for policy directions in FY16 state and federal budgets and beyond.  We will continue to utilize existing research to illustrate quality models and communicate that information through multiple channels.  And, we will continue to highlight best practice options for young adults that utilize community, workforce and post-secondary partnerships successfully to serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.

Here’s to the 140,000 potential high school graduates in Michigan.  Let’s build investment in their success.

-Michele Corey

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