Speaking for Kids

Work and Education – Inextricably Linked

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new report last week that illustrates the impact of economic decline in Michigan and the nation on young people.  Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity, indicates that employment among young people, ages 16-24, is at the lowest point since the 1950s.  And, not surprisingly, young people least likely to be in the workforce are without a high school diploma, from low-income families, and racial or ethnic minorities.  This opportunity gap begins early and persists.  As our young people who have fallen behind become parents themselves, their children face additional obstacles.

We know the inextricable connection between work and education, and there is ample evidence of the impact of higher education levels on employment and earnings.  It is impossible to deny that the higher education credential that you earn, the more consistent, stable and lucrative your employment will be.  As a state, we can better utilize youth employment resources and strategies beyond a path to workforce experience and a paycheck (both of which are, of course, important), but also as a path back to an education credential.  And Michigan lawmakers in Washington, DC are championing this issue through the RAISE UP Act.  RAISE UP would provide incentives to communities to blend workforce and education funding in order to connect very disenfranchised young people with workforce and educational pathways.  U.S. Representative Dale Kildee leaves a legacy of support for this legislation and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow will be supporting its reintroduction in 2013.

And in Michigan, as we despair over our economic woes and the ever diminishing economic opportunity for our young people, we are also evaluating yet another round of education reform proposals intended to improve achievement and graduation rates.  The missed opportunity in the current proposals is to provide extra support to the young people who are out of school and out of work.  If young people leave school, work a bit and due to the lack of employment opportunity find increased motivation to return on a diploma path, they need a system that will serve them.  Michigan currently provides resources for up to six years of high school, but programming for this population that is connected to work opportunity and career-based skill building is inconsistent.  Education reform must provide supports to young people who need additional time to obtain a high school credential through alternative options that connect to college or the workforce.

Michigan’s Children has highlighted several great Michigan program examples where communities blend education and workforce resources as a dropout prevention or recovery strategy.  Let’s make sure that the most recent incarnation of education reform expands those efforts.

-Michele Corey

Does the Latest Education Reform Proposal Promote Educational Equity or Will We Miss the Mark Again?

Last month, a proposed rewrite of Michigan’s School Aid Act – the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 – was released for public comment.   The Public Education Finance Project team was asked to operationalize Governor Snyder’s concept of education at “any time, any place, any way, any pace”.  While many have come out strongly for or against the draft proposal, the top priority when assessing any reform proposal should be on how it’s ensuring that ALL students have equitable opportunities to succeed in school since we know that the current education system does not work for many students – particularly low-income students and students of color.

So how does “any time, any place, any way, any pace” promote educational equity or miss the mark as written into the current proposal?

  • Any time: While the proposal offers opportunities for schools to shift to a year-round school calendar and extended learning opportunities available 24/7 – both which promote educational equity – unless all schools move to year-round schooling, it is unknown whether students who would benefit from this would opt-in to schools that offer this schedule.
  • Any place: The rewritten funding formula “follows the student” which may leave schools serving a high proportion of challenged students in serious financial risk.  Families who can “opt-out” of schools serving the most challenged communities may do so, resulting in less funding and resource for those schools.  This is counter-intuitive to “any place” since it promotes higher quality options that many students may be unable to access.  “Any place” should instead increase the level of quality for all schools and learning programs so that regardless of geography, students can access an education at “any place” that will ensure that they are college and career ready.
  • Any way: The proposal recognizes the fact that a traditional classroom setting doesn’t work for all students, which is applauded. However, education reform should bolster supports to education options that have evidence or promise toward closing gaps rather than creating an open market for education programs without minimum quality standards or evidence-base.
  • Any pace: The current draft provides incentives for students to complete high school in less than four years.  Rather than providing a financial incentive to accelerated students, those resources should be utilized to bolster strategies that get ALL students to a high school diploma through re-engagement and college or workforce connection.

Our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication has much more detail on the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013.  The brief identifies students challenged by the current education system; how “any time, any place, any way, any pace” can work to improve educational outcomes for all students; how the current draft of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act of 2013 works to promote or hinder educational equity; and missed opportunities in the draft proposal.

-Mina Hong

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Cliff?

The elections now seem like a distant past as talk of the federal “fiscal cliff” has taken over the media.  While the political showdown in Washington, D.C. may seem like typical hoopla, folks in Michigan should care about the looming fiscal cliff.  Why, you ask?

This so-called fiscal cliff would result in a significant increase in taxes you will pay while at the same time reducing spending for critical children and family programs (and other non-entitlement programs) through automatic sequestration – aka across the board cuts to federal programs.  While neither Republicans nor Democrats want to see the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff, the two parties have different perspectives on how to battle the expiring tax cuts while cutting spending at the same time.  So why does this matter to Michigan children and families?

We know that Michigan families have been harder hit by the recession than the rest of the country with the percent of Michigan children living in poverty having increased by 64% since 2000.  Now, nearly one out of four Michigan children live in poverty and the statistics are worse for children of color.  The connection to the federal fiscal cliff?  So many programs that protect child well-being during times of hardship will be jeopardized, and in fact, many of these programs are likely to see cuts.  The question that will be debated is by how much?

It’s also important to realize just how reliant Michigan is on federal funding.  In the current fiscal year, federal dollars support 41% of Michigan’s total state budget.  For the Michigan Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services budgets – departments that support Michigan’s most struggling children and families – federal dollars support 64% and 82% of these budgets respectively.  While Michigan’s education system is less reliant on the federal budget, federal funding supports most of the education programs that work to reduce the achievement gap – an achievement gap that begins early and grows over time.

Some of the federally funded programs that may see significant funding cuts if a balanced approach isn’t taken to tackle the fiscal cliff including the following.

  • The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Community Health Centers both fund a large percent of Michigan’s preventive health programs for children and families.
  • LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant support low-income families with basic needs like heating, housing, and nutrition.
  • Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant promote school readiness while supporting struggling families.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers and Title I target school districts with high percentages of students at-risk of school failure by supporting equity promoting education programs like high quality after school programming and high school dropout prevention efforts.
  • The Workforce Investment Act for Youth engages disconnected young people to education and workforce opportunities.

All of these programs are critical in Michigan and all are in jeopardy if the federal deficit reducing solution isn’t fair and balanced.  Talking to the people who represent your interests in Washington, DC about the importance of these programs to you, your families and your communities is essential.  You can find out who your Congressperson is, as well as contact information for members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, on our website.

-Mina Hong

The Work Has Just Begun

While some states are continuing to count their final ballots, here in Michigan, we already know who will be representing us at the federal, state, and local levels.  Hopefully you took the first step of learning what was on your ballot, researched the candidates and proposals, and waited in line and cast your vote on Tuesday.  But, that’s only the first step.  Now is the most opportune time to talk to your newly elected officials (even those incumbents who are continuing to represent you) about the issues that matter to you.  Now is the time that policy advocacy can make the biggest difference.

Why is that, you ask?  Because the first and most critical component of getting engaged is building relationships.  You know that you’re more likely to lend $5 to someone you know and trust rather than a stranger.  When it comes to policymakers, the same is true.  Over the next several months, your legislators will be hosting coffee hours, attending meet and greets, and doing everything they can to further understand the needs of their constituents.  This is the time to introduce yourself, show them around your program, do some basic education on the children and family issues that matter the most to you and your community.  No need to make the big ask, just begin to build the relationship and have them understand how and why you can be a resource to them.  And if you already have a relationship with your elected officials, congratulate them and reiterate that you are a resource.  If they don’t hear from you, how else will they know all of those critical things that you know that could really help them make the right decisions?

  • They will be deciding how to invest our tax dollars.  You can help them understand where these investments make the most difference, particularly for kids of color and from low-income families.
  • They will continue to explore the needs of Michigan families and continue to work to strengthen the economy.  You can help them understand what it takes for a struggling family to provide basic needs like food and housing for their children.
  • They will be changing the way that education is funded and structured.  You can help them understand that to reduce the academic achievement gap, children’s education must begin before birth and continue through to their successful career.
  • They will be changing how health care is provided in Michigan and must focus on reducing costly disparate health outcomes.  You can help them understand what it takes to make sure that pregnant women, babies, children, youth and their families stay healthy and what a difference their health makes to other life success.

Though the elections are over, our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage has resources you can use to assist in educating your legislators.  There, you’ll find some quick facts about the status of children in Michigan, templates you can use to contact your newly elected policymakers, and issue briefs on specific children’s issues.  Act now, and continue to act!

-Michele Corey

Will Your Vote Improve Educational Equity?

Last week, an AnnArbor.com news article highlighted the successes of Ypsilanti Public Schools with using the fifth and sixth years of high school to improve their high school completion rate.  As a Washtenaw County Resident, I was proud to see Ypsilanti Public Schools utilizing a strategy that has shown to reduce high school achievement gaps between white students and students of color – a strategy aligned with Michigan’s Children’s educational equity priorities.  And related to educational achievement outcomes, on November 6th, Ypsilanti and Willow Run residents will see a proposal on their ballot to consolidate the two school districts that, if passed, would lead to a re-envisioning of public education.

What does consolidation have to do with educational equity?  While the ins and outs of the consolidation in terms of financial implication is beyond Michigan’s Children’s purview, the notion of re-envisioning the current education system is one that we can get on board with.  These particular consolidated district plans would incorporate a cradle-to-career approach to education (similar to Michigan’s Children’s cradle-to-career strategy) that would redefine the notion that public education is a K-12 system that falls within the school walls.  The ballot proposal is one way of many that citizens from all over Michigan can get engaged in this re-envisioning conversation.

The Michigan Department of Education is already taking steps to expand beyond the K-12 tradition.  The Office of Great Start was established last year to bridge the gap between early childhood education and K-12 and to align the state’s early learning and development investments to increase school readiness and early literacy.  Research shows that investing in high quality early childhood programs that target young kids most at-risk of being unprepared for kindergarten is critical to reducing the educational achievement gap – a gap that can be traced to children as young as nine months of age.

But, we know that Michigan’s current level of early childhood investment does not reach all of the children who could benefit from high quality early learning programs, so efforts must be made to continue to focus on improving educational outcomes for all kids in K-12.  The State of Michigan’s ESEA Waiver (also known as the No Child Left Behind waiver) focuses on reducing gaps in all schools – between white students and students of color, students from upper-class families and those from low-income families, and even students that are highly proficient versus under-proficient regardless of demographics. In a nutshell, the state’s waiver focuses on reducing equity gaps – a strategy that cannot be done within the traditional K-12 system alone.

This takes me back to the beginning of my blog – a cradle-to-career education strategy much include components that take advantage of equity-promoting strategies like high quality early learning opportunities, access to before- and after-school programs that promote learning beyond the traditional school day, use of the 5th and 6th years of high school like in Ypsilanti Public Schools to increase high school graduation rates, and alternative education programs that may utilize online learning and/or link young people to college prep and workforce development opportunities.  Residents of Ypsilanti and Willow Run have a serious decision to make on November 6th that may lead to some of these strategies.  The rest of us do as well – how are the individuals we are electing into office going to ensure that Michigan is appropriately educating ALL of our children?

-Mina Hong

Michigan Policymakers in 2013 MUST do Better

Last week, our national partners at First Focus released a report in partnership with Save the Children called America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S. that gave a clear picture on the well-being of children in the U.S.  To put it bluntly, we’re not doing well.  The report gave an overall grade of a C- based on five “subjects” – economic security, early childhood, K-12 education, permanency & stability, and health & safety.  And we know that in our home state, Michigan children are faring just as poorly, if not worse.  In fact, according to the national 2012 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan’s overall ranking among other states was 32nd.  Are we going to allow Michigan to be in the bottom half of the states in a C- country?  Or are we going to demand action by ourselves and our decision-makers to not let that stand?

Our latest Issue Brief – Where Michigan Children Stand This Election Season – compares America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S. with Michigan’s ranking in the national Kids Count Data Book to give us a clear picture.  As a state, we MUST do better.

To give you a snapshot:

  • Economic Security:  U.S. Grade: D/ Michigan’s Rank: 36th
  • Early Childhood:  U.S. Grade: C/Michigan’s Rank:  Tied for 24th in Preschool Access
  • K-12 Education:  U.S. Grade: C/Michigan’s Rank:  33rd
  • Permanency & Stability:  U.S. Grade: D/ Michigan’s Rank: Tied for 38th for Confirmed Child Maltreatment
  • Health & Safety:  U.S. Grade: C+/Michigan’s Rank:  22nd

What does this all mean during an election season? The candidates that we elect will make an impact on child well-being, positively or negatively.  The public policies and budget decisions they make must focus on improving the well-being for Michigan children who are most challenged by their circumstance.  Children of color and children from low-income families face systemic barriers that do little to promote good health, school readiness, and academic achievement.  During this election year, it is critical that candidates who support investments in children are elected into office and we continue to hold those elected officials accountable for helping children and families succeed.  America’s Report Card has shown us that as a nation, we’re not doing well by our children.  And yet again, the news for Michigan is even more grim.

Elections provide a unique opportunity to change that course, but only if we are all engaged.  We can do better and we must expect better from those who make decisions about public programming on our behalf.  Take advantage of this opportunity to raise your voice for children, youth and families.

-Michele Corey

Why Does Big Bird Matter?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Mitt Romney, Big Bird, PBS fiasco and all of the political hoopla that has resulted from Presidential Candidate Romney’s comment at last week’s debate.  And while we at Michigan’s Children like to avoid this type of hoopla, Big Bird does represent educational opportunities outside the classroom and brings to mind the impact that the elections will have on education.

Big Bird and Sesame Street epitomize the importance of having access to educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom – whether in high quality child care settings that provide engaging developmentally appropriate learning opportunities or in after-school programs that help connect what kids are learning in math class to real world experiences and careers.

In Michigan, we are starting to pay needed attention to our gap in academic achievement between low-income kids and kids of color and their peers – the equity gap.  Pressure from the Federal government and our own demographics are forcing this attention, as Michigan’s kids of color continue to make up larger and larger shares of all our children – our future parents, voters and workforce.

As a state, we rely heavily on federal funding to support programs serving kids and families who struggle to access high quality opportunities outside of the traditional classroom.  Much of our state’s efforts to provide these types of programs serve kids from low-income families and kids of color who struggle the most to achieve academically.  And these high quality programs are proven to increase educational equity by helping to reduce the academic achievement gap. So what types of programs are we talking about?  Federally funded programs in Michigan include:

  • high quality home visitation programs that help parents become the great parents they want to be,
  • high quality child care programs that allow parents to work while kids learn,
  • school-based health and nutrition programs that keeps kids healthy and hunger-free so they can actively participate in the classroom,
  • after-school programs that keep kids learning and engaged after the last school bell rings, and
  • partnerships with community colleges and workforce development that keep young people in school or reconnect them to education.

So what does this mean for the elections?  With the Congressional gridlock that we’ve seen, whether federal funding will continue to flow to our state for equity promoting programs is uncertain.  Thus, it is our responsibility to elect individuals who we believe will be good stewards of our public dollars and will ensure that these types of programs will, at a minimum, maintain their funding and hopefully increase to serve more kids and better prepare our future workforce.  At Michigan’s Children, we believe this means hiring (because that is what we’re doing when we elect public officials into office) individuals who believe in a fair approach to tackling the federal deficit that does not further cut programs that promote equitable opportunities to educational success.

In Michigan, we have a statewide Senate race and every single Congressperson is facing re-election this November.  So do you know where the candidates stand on these types of issues?  Learn how you can engage with candidates by visiting our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage.

-Mina Hong

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

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