Speaking for Kids

Moving Toward the Top

August 20, 2015 – Trying to get better at things is good, particularly trying to get better at things that are in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state. New leadership in the Department of Education has come with new opportunities to get better, and Superintendent Whiston has already shown that he is committed to setting goals and working with others to achieve them. In a state where we ranked 37th of the 50 states in education in the last National Kids Count Data Book, this is essential. The Superintendent and the State Board of Education are spending some time over the next couple of months getting feedback about what it would really take to move Michigan to a top 10 education state.

Michigan’s Children is weighing in on that conversation with what we’ve talked about consistently for years – a focus on shrinking achievement gaps by investing in what works for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Six specific areas rise to the top, each with a myriad of strategies that can and must be forwarded:

Take responsibility for early strategies beyond pre-school by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximizing federal investment in Early On and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Support parents’ role in their children’s literacy by expanding initial efforts to help parents in their role of first and best teachers and to help them reach their own educational and career goals by better investments in Adult Education, workforce supports, and family literacy options so that parents can fully support their children’s literacy journeys.

Change school practice related to student and family trauma by providing school personnel the tools they need to recognize and deal with symptoms of trauma in their students and families and evaluating their ability to do so. It also includes building better connections with community partners who can assist.

Close equity gaps by integrating services and expanding learning opportunities. This includes building assurance that state and federal resources for service integration would go to the best models of service and that supporting services needed by children, youth and families would be available throughout the state. It also includes investing in after-school and summer learning at the state level, in addition to maintaining federal investment.

Give young people multiple chances to succeed by promoting attendance through adjustments in school discipline policies and investment in programs beyond the traditional, arbitrary four-years of high school. The effectiveness of these programs is increased when young people themselves are involved in planning and are clearly connected to a pathway leading toward college or career.

And finally, we suggested that the Superintendent and the State Board provide real leadership in this difficult work that often requires the efforts of many areas of expertise and many sectors of work, including the family and community resources. With so many things impacting a child’s ability to succeed in school and life – many of which are not within the walls of a school and the purview of education pedagogy – it is essential to bring efforts together.

As we’ve said many times before, our educational leaders have their work cut out for them, and as public and private partners available to help, we have our work cut out for us as well.

– Michele Corey

New Research Supports Proven Two-Gen Strategy

August 3, 2015 — There is no doubt that the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of Michigan’s most effective two-generation program strategies. It is proven to not only help working parents, but lifts more children out of poverty than any other public program and it improves their health and education outcomes. Helping families, it also helps communities by stimulating local economies. A sound investment for sure, based on research and evidence.

Now, there is new research pointing to its heavy lifting for moving more people out of poverty in ways greater than previously thought. The research, reported by the Center for Budget for Policy Priorities, points to impressive results in increasing employment and reducing welfare use for single mothers. In one study of single mothers (ages 24-48) with children and no college degree, researches found the number of such families lifted out of poverty nearly doubled due to the impact of the EITC. Sounds like a strategy worthy of investment?

Despite its proven effectiveness, the state EITC is on the list of funding sources that could be redirected from helping children and families and toward fixing Michigan’s miserable roads. This was a bad idea when it was raised in the dog days of the previous state Legislature, then becoming a cornerstone of the May 5 Proposal 1 campaign which opposed cutting EITC to fix roads, and it’s a bad idea yet again.

While Michigan’s EITC isn’t as sizeable as it once was, it is certainly true that combined with the federal credit – which amounts to $6,242 for families with three or more children — it helps supplement low-wage earners and makes a real difference in many households.

Overall, there are 820,000 families with 1 million children who benefit from the state’s EITC and many are single parents. Working full-time at minimum wage, a single parent with two children receives a tax credit of about $300 annually. Again, it wouldn’t be viewed as a windfall to someone in the middle- and upper-income groups, but it can amount to a full paycheck for the working poor.

Several years ago, the state’s EITC was more substantial, but in 2011 the then-new Snyder administration cut the credit from 20 percent to 6 percent of the federal EITC rate, effectively raising $285 million in taxes from the state’s lowest wage earners. Today, the average Michigan EITC return amounts to $143. Despite the cut in the state rate, the current state EITC alone keeps 7,000 working families out of poverty and helps all receiving families with basic needs or debt repayment.

Able to keep more of their earnings, families who qualify tend to spend more of their income on basic necessities, such as housing, child care and transportation, spreading those funds among local businesses and services, thereby strengthening local economies, as well. For a married couple with two children and adjusted gross income of $16,300, they would receive a federal EITC of $5,372 and a state EITC of $322. A single parent with two children and an adjusted gross income of $30,000 would receive a federal EITC of $2,741 and a Michigan EITC of $164.

In this case, what’s good for local working families is good for communities and the state overall. So, how can you help?

  • • Talk to your elected lawmakers and urge them to continue to invest in the Michigan EITC and help keep more dollars in the pockets of working families who need them most.
  • • Employ the facts, using important data available about Michigan’s EITC and emerging research.
  • • And use your own observations about your community and its residents in stating your case. Every community is different and you know best the struggles faced by families around you in making ends meet.
  • • Most of all, remember that public policy decisions require public input. Local lawmakers rely on hearing from constituents like you to help make up their minds about decisions like the EITC.

 

Other resources:

Save Our EITC

An analysis of the Earned Income Tax Credit by the Michigan Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury (February 2015)

‘’Understanding the Impact of the State EITC infographic, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan”

 

— Teri Banas is a communications consultant working with Michigan’s Children.

The Federal Role In Education Policy, ESEA Update

July 22, 2015 – We have heard a lot about the fact that for the first time since 2001, both chambers in Congress have passed their recommendations to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB.) This is monumental, particularly since the kids who were starting kindergarten in 2001 are now 19- and 20-year olds, some still making their way through high school and others in post-secondary or career. 2001 was a long time ago in education years, and much has changed in homes and communities that should be reflected in schools and education policy.

What hasn’t changed is the primary role of the federal government in education. Because K-12 and post-secondary education are primarily resourced by states and localities, the federal role and investment emerged for one reason only: to ensure that everybody has equitable access to educational opportunity. That access takes several important forms:

Assistance for students, families, schools and communities facing the most challenges. We have to best support students who need special help and accommodation for learning, of which many of their needs are primarily addressed within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Beyond that, research has shown for decades that the most under-resourced students tend to go to the most under-resourced schools. Many students face multiple personal, family and community challenges that begin early, go beyond the school walls and impact education outcomes. However, schools alone cannot and should not be responsible for addressing those challenges but can be a great access point for critical services. Current cradle to career investments are not enough, and much more can and should be done to support evidenced programming.

Accountability requirements for our education investment. We know who we are supposed to be helping with additional assistance, so it is essential to understand how different populations of students are doing to evaluate how well we are doing it. This has been and will continue to be done by looking at student outcomes (test scores, graduation rates) and the reporting of those outcomes specifically for targeted population groups by race, income and other individual or family circumstances like disability, homelessness, participation in the foster care system, English Language Learners, etc. This is essential to continue to understand our successes and challenges with reducing achievement gaps.

Incentives for innovation.  We don’t always have all of the answers, and the times do change, so it is always important to encourage best practice and shifts in teaching and learning based on the specific needs of certain populations, or emerging research and practice. Recent federal efforts like Race to the Top, Investment in Innovation and Early Learning Challenge grants are examples of how federal investment can help states and districts make big, innovative changes in their education systems.

There are two different bills on the table to reauthorize the ESEA — the Senate Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) and the House Student Success Act (H.R. 5) . Michigan’s Children favors the Senate version, which keeps intact many essential programs supporting evidenced practice to best support struggling students. This includes supports like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, investments long before kindergarten and connections for students and their families to resources and services beyond the traditional K-12 system to support their learning and development. The House version intentionally combines many critical programs into block grants to the states. This approach would limit the ability of the federal funding to target proven equity-building strategies. I won’t belabor the details here, but you can find them all in all of the media coverage, from many of our advocacy partners and from the Congressional Research Office in great detail here.

Concerned with how all of this plays out? We are too. The good news is that this conversation is far from over, and we all have an opportunity this summer to get involved. A conference committee made up of legislators from both parties and chambers will be working into the fall to come to a resolution of the differences, and there is still time to influence them. Members of the U.S. House and Senate will be home in their districts next month. Use that time to let them know what you see challenging or helping with the success of students and families in your community. Help your elected leaders think about how best to address educational needs to build career and college ready kids in 2015 and beyond. If you run a summer program, invite them to join you to talk directly with young people, parents and staff.

While it is unlikely that members of our Michigan delegation will be sitting on the conference committee, it is critical that you encourage your members to talk with their conferee colleagues. And if you want help, Michigan’s Children is here to support your efforts. Now is the time.

– Michele Corey

A Great Budget for Kids, but Not for Struggling Families

June 30, 2015 – This month, the Legislature and Governor approved the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which goes into effect on October 1, 2015.  Overall, it was a great budget for kids.  But – and here’s a big but – if you take into the very important factor that children and youth are part of a family unit, the budget was only mediocre.

The big winners in the budget was in education.  The focus on improving third grade literacy led to a $31 million state investment towards those efforts that included a significant investment towards additional learning time for kindergarten through third graders struggling to read, a variety of teacher supports, and some resource for our youngest learners through parent coaching and support.  The focus also included some very important quality improvements to Michigan’s child care subsidy program to make high quality child care more accessible for the state’s lowest-income working families.

On the other end of the education spectrum, in addition to the first significant expansion in many years to support At-Risk learners, Michigan also put significant resource to expand career and technical education as well as an increase for adult education – both important dropout prevention and recovery strategies for young people to re-engage in their educations and obtain a high school credential and a path towards college or a career.  And, policymakers acknowledged the need for more time in high school for some young people facing extraordinary challenges by allowing districts to fund their education beyond age 20.

While these investments are significant wins for Michigan children and youth, we’ve continued to provide little support to families who face the most challenges in our state – often the same families whose children will benefit from these education investments.  The state budget made no efforts to reverse the recent harmful changes to FIP, FAP, and the EITC – Michigan’s cash assistance and nutrition assistance programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Instead, lawmakers are now looking to completely eliminate the state’s EITC to fix our roads.  Is this really a wise choice?

Similarly, Michigan’s child abuse and neglect rates continue to rise, but support for important family preservation programs have been flat funded with federal funding alone.  If we want to reverse this unacceptable trend of child maltreatment, Michigan must get serious about preventing abuse and neglect and supporting families with the most significant challenges so they can provide safe and stable homes.  This starts with putting in some state resource to bolster the federal investment.  In addition, educational and other life outcomes for young people involved in the CPS and foster care systems continue to fall short of success.  Efforts to better support families of all sorts – biological, kinship, guardians, foster and adoptive families – needs to be prioritized.

If we truly want to see more children reading proficiently by third grade and more young people graduating from high school, college and career ready, then we must not ignore the other systems beyond education that will impact education success.  The well-being of families directly impacts the well-being of children in families.  As a state, we must do better to support families with the most challenges to ensure that their children have equitable opportunities to succeed in school and in life.

To learn more about the recently approved FY2016 budget, visit Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

What’s Next for Third Grade Reading

June 22, 2015 – Governor Snyder’s Third Grade Reading Workgroup recently released its recommendations to improve Michigan’s lagging third grade reading scores. While almost every other state has seen reading proficiency rise, Michigan’s reading proficiency has steadily declined for the past 12 years. This troubling trend is even worse for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and students struggling with other big challenges like homelessness – all of whom are falling even more behind in their reading abilities.

For the academic success of all children and our state’s prosperity, we must do better.

To this end, Michigan’s Children is pleased to see much-needed, statewide attention on this critical benchmark for children’s learning. Failing to read proficiently by the end of third grade will lead to continued struggles in the classroom and long-term implications for students’ educational success.

The Third Grade Reading Workgroup provides a series of recommendations focused on the following strategies:

  • identify students who need reading support and then provide appropriate interventions,
  • ensure teachers have the tools they need to provide adequate literacy instruction,
  • give parents the information they need to support their children’s literacy,
  • implement a smart promotion strategy for kids as their learning progresses, and
  • have adequate data to track our state’s success.

It’s timely that many of these strategies are supported by new investments in the state’s fiscal year 2015-2016 education omnibus budget that the Legislature approved earlier this month.

However, we must point out that the Workgroup’s recommendations don’t go far enough, particularly in assisting the most challenged students. To build upon the Workgroup’s recommendations, we should consider the following.

Let’s start with the focus on parents. We know that gaps in early literacy can emerge as early as nine months of age and that parents are responsible for their children’s early learning skills. The Workgroup’s recommendations identify parent coaching and support through home visits and parent-child classes as great tools to assist parents in their child’s development. But what can we do for the parents who struggle to read? Young learners will face more literacy hardships if their parents cannot support them through their reading journey. For this purpose, the state’s $3 million expansion in adult education for FY2016 is a necessary step towards addressing parent support and early literacy, which Michigan’s Children applauds. And, we need more and better investments that support two-generation family literacy programs to effectively increase literacy for both parents and their children if we want to see ongoing improvements to the state’s third grade reading scores.

Additionally, Michigan needs to better support kids and families served by Early On. Early On provides parents of infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities with early intervention services and tools to help their young children’s development. Adequate services can help many children develop skills at a level equal to their peers by age three. In fact, 40 percent of infants and toddlers who receive appropriate early intervention services do not need special education at preschool and kindergarten entry. It’s clear that Early On makes a huge difference in child development, but Michigan continues to be in the minority of states that fails to invest in Early On, leaving many students trailing when they enter kindergarten. This must change.

A huge step in the right direct is the inclusion of a $17.5 million initiative in FY2016 to provide additional learning time for students in grades K-3 who lack reading skills. But, for these funds to have the greatest impact, they must be applied to best-practices modeled by the federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program designed for high-poverty, low-performing schools. Through partnerships with schools and community-based groups, it provides enhanced before-school, after-school and summer-learning opportunities that have proven to increase student performance in reading and math, increase student participation and engagement in their education, and promote students’ development in other areas needed for success in school and life.

We must take advantage of the Governor and Legislature’s focus to improve literacy by building upon that momentum to ensure that all Michigan children are reading proficiently.  Won’t you join us in those efforts?

– Mina Hong

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on June 16, 2015.

Reverse the Lost Days of Summer and Help Build Education Equity

Join in and Celebrate #KeepKidsLearning on Wednesday

June 15, 2015 – Schools are out for the summer but should learning take a break? To prevent “summer slide” and the achievement gap, students struggling in the classroom need more time to master skills needed for college and career including summertime opportunities to catch up and stay on track.

To that end, advocates for children and families should be aware of a new advocacy opportunity on Friday, June 19. Sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association, it spotlights the need to reverse summer learning loss and close the achievement gap. Everyone is invited to join in – schools, parents, educators, policymakers, businesses – by visiting the Association’s website and making a pledge to #KeepKidsLearning. Won’t you?

For social media users, a simple thing we can all do to advocate for expanded learning and summer learning programs, including those that keep kids safe and nutritionally healthy, is to raise our voices in a loud chorus in the Association’s Thunderclap starting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 17.

From an equity standpoint, access to high quality summer programs are particularly critical for students from low-income families, student of color, and students experiencing significant challenges that subsequently struggle in the classroom. For children at-risk of falling behind during the summer, the “summer slide” can cost as much as two months in grade level equivalency in both math and reading. Meanwhile, more affluent children who do have access to summer enrichment tend to make gains during these months.

By the time a child from a low‐income family reaches sixth grade, he or she has spent an estimated 6,000 fewer hours learning than a peer from a wealthy household, including 4,385 fewer hours in after‐school, summer and other extracurricular activities.

Research has shown us that expanded learning opportunities including summer programs are important strategies for reducing the achievement gap among our state and nation’s children.

Recognizing the importance of summer learning opportunities, many state and community coalitions around the country have prioritized summer learning to erase gaps in early literacy, boost 3rd grade reading proficiency, and improve high school graduation rates – all which are essential for children’s long-term success. Grade level reading proficiency has gained renewed importance in education reform in our state, too, where half of low-income students are not reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. And the statistics are worse for African American and Latino students. The Michigan Legislature earlier this month approved a FY2016 spending plan that includes new investments in early literacy.

Of course, summer learning is part of a bigger picture of expanded learning – a term that incorporates high-quality before- and after-school programs that expand the school day and summer opportunities to expand learning beyond the traditional school year. Together, these programs work to close achievement gaps by driving competency in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas, supporting reading skills across the K-12 spectrum, and ultimately improve high school graduation rates.

Michigan’s Children has been at the forefront on this issue, fighting to improve public policies and funding for expanded learning for kids who struggle in school. Recognition by the Governor and Legislature that expanded learning should be part of the strategy to improve 3rd grade reading was an important development this year, particularly because it came with an added $17.5 million investment for fiscal year 2016. Michigan’s Children is glad for this investment, and hopes to see this funding further targeted in the future to high-quality, evidenced programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers model. These programs have been funded under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Coincidentally, a bill with bipartisan support to reauthorize the ESEA, which is long overdue, is expected to be debated on the Senate floor starting June 22.

One important way you can speak up in support of expanded learning is to contact your members of Congress to urge greater federal investment through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Another valuable thing to do is to talk to your state legislators about the importance of expanded learning. Thank them for supporting additional instruction time in the FY2016 state budget for K-3rd students, but also remind them that it doesn’t go far enough to ensure the students with the most challenges receive the types of high-quality programs – programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers – that we know can help them catch up, stay-on-track, and succeed.

Fortunately, specialized events such as Summer Learning Day encourage and educate all of us to push on for positive change – federally and in Michigan – to make a real difference in the educational success of all of our children.

Therefore on Wednesday, send a Tweet in support of #KeepKidsLearning and then come back on Friday to take the pledge to #KeepKidsLearning.

Here are some Sample Tweets for the Thunderclap:

#SummerLearning programs critical to reduce the #AchievementGap #KeepKidsLearning tinyurl.com/q92dfp4  bit.ly/SLDPledge

#SummerLearning loss is a significant contributor to the #AchievementGap. #KeepKidsLearning bit.ly/SLDPledge

Kids from low-income families can lose 2 mos reading while higher-income make gains in the summer. #KeepKidsLearning bit.ly/SLDPledge

Kids in low-income communities struggle to access high quality learning during the summer. #KeepKidsLearning bit.ly/SLDPledge

Teri Banas

Teri is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Learn more:

Expanded Learning Opportunities are Critical to Improve 3rd Grade Reading,” a Michigan’s Children Issues brief.

Expanded Learning Opportunities for Michigan’s Most Challenged Children and Youth,” by Michigan’s Children.

Read the latest Michigan-specific data on summer learning from America After 3 pm.

 

 

 

Putting the Needs of Children and Youth First

June 15, 2015 – Administratively, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) allows adoption agencies to deny services to potential adoptive parents for any reason they see fit. Last week, June 11, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that made a section of that DHHS practice state law. Specifically, Governor Snyder codified the practice of allowing adoption agencies to reject potential adoptive families based on sincerely held religious beliefs. So what does this mean? Now all adoption agencies have the right to deny services to any family for any reason that “goes against their religious beliefs” including but not limited to same-sex and unmarried couples.

DHHS reports that at any given time approximately 13,000 Michigan children and youth are being served by the foster care system, with approximately 4,000 eligible for adoption. Children and youth in the foster care system need safe and nurturing homes until they can return to their families; and the children eligible for adoption need a stable permanent home. Homes where children have a loving supportive adult to help guide them. Michigan already faces a deficit of quality placements for children in out-of-home care, and putting limits unrelated to researched practice only further limits the number of forever family options for the children most in need in our state.

Through a recent KidSpeak forum in January, 2015, Michigan’s Children had the opportunity to speak with youth from the foster care system. The youth all expressed a common desire, one that research has shown to be common among many children in the foster care system – they want ways to make permanent, meaningful connections with a loving adult(s) who will help them access opportunities for success, and resources to help address the trauma they have experienced. They need these things now and for the rest of their lives. Michigan law should not define who the loving adults will be in ways unsupported by research or best practice.

Michigan’s Children hopes that from this attention and debate we take a closer look at how we are working toward building permanent options for all of the children and youth in our care. Instead of passing bills decreasing the options for children and families in need, why don’t we spend time and invest resources in recruiting, maintaining and supporting more successful foster and adoptive parents? Additionally, the state should invest much more in programs that support families struggling to provide safe and stable homes for their children; family reunification; and more out-of-home placement options for children unable to remain with their birth families, such as placing children with relatives and others as guardians or kinship parents.

Michigan, let’s invest in options that put the needs of children, youth and their families first. Let’s explore options to keep families together, and when that is not possible let’s expand the number of options for children, not limit them!

Learn more about what young people in the foster care system say they need to best support their unique circumstances and challenges.

-Cainnear Hogan

Cainnear is an intern for Michigan’s Children.  She is currently completing her MSW at the University of Michigan – School of Social Work.

Ensuring All Students Have Community Connections

June 2 – Raising kids isn’t easy.  All families need support to take care of their children, regardless of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, or geography.  And we know that all kids need the support of the community around them to ensure that they are healthy, developing appropriately, and learning the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.  For the average family, this means regular appointments with pediatricians; regular communication with child care and k-12 teachers; confiding in a family member, close friend or member of the clergy when times are particularly challenging.

But what happens when parents are so incredibly challenged that they can no longer provide for their kids?  What happens when their children no longer have access to that community support to ensure their well-being?  Unfortunately, this is what happened to Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry – the children whose story we all know from their tragic deaths when their mother used homeschooling as an excuse to keep them away from important community supports to abuse and ultimately murder them.

In response to their deaths, Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) introduced HB 4498 that would provide some level of oversight for families who choose to homeschool their children.  This bill would require families to register with the Michigan Department of Education so that their children would be counted on the homeschooling registry.  This would put Michigan on the same level as the rest of the nation, as one of the few remaining states that doesn’t require homeschooling families to register with their education system.  And the bill would require twice-a-year in-person check-ins with a community support person of the parents’ choosing that could range from a doctor to a social worker to a child care provider to a member of the clergy.  This would help families and kids – regardless of whether they are educated in a school building or at home – connect to the supports they need to receive healthy, safe, and enriching educations.

The tragic deaths of Stoni and Stephen and the subsequent introduction of Rep. Chang’s bill has spurred a lot of conversation at Michigan’s Children – as the state’s co-chapter lead of Prevent Child Abuse America – about what families truly need to provide safe, stable and nurturing homes for their children.  What happened to Stoni and Stephen are the anomaly.  But any child’s death is a stark reminder that Michigan needs to do more to support its most severely challenged families.  This means ensuring that parents have what they need to provide safe and stable homes including access to mental health services for kids and parents alike; ensuring that when families are identified by Child Protective Services as Stoni and Stephen were, that the child welfare system has sufficient resources to provide families with adequate and appropriate wraparound services; and truly acknowledging the trauma that parents and children experience and how to appropriately intervene with both in a trauma-informed way.  To do this, Michigan needs adequate investment in the intensive community-based services that CPS case workers could refer families to that would help families address things like mental health conditions, deep and persistent poverty, trauma and other major stressors.

Rep. Chang’s bill is a small step to make sure all kids and families have consistent connections to community support.  And we must take a closer look at the successes and challenges faced by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to ensure that they have what they need to do their jobs well so that all families have the tools they need to adequately provide for their kids so that all children can succeed.

-Mina Hong

Goal Setting=Good; Investing Toward Goals Starting Now=Better

May 26, 2015 – Last week the new State Superintendent-elect and the Education Trust Midwest announced new educational goal-setting priorities in Michigan. The purpose of these new state efforts is to improve educational outcomes that in recent years have moved further and further away from the most successful states. The new educational goal-setting priorities aim to put Michigan back on a trajectory that will lead to more success for our kids, schools and communities.

Statewide goals for improving education?  Great, let’s give that another try. There have been many state and federal goals for improving educational outcomes over the years – most recently, those goals have come with both carrots and sticks for the schools and communities who serve those lowest performing students. The Ed Trust’s Michigan Achieves initiative suggests that we continue some current efforts that have shown success, and that we also take a closer look at the efforts of states who have better outcomes than we do.  And the new Superintendent publicly agrees.

A great step, right? You set a goal for improvement, and then you shift your program investments to be able to meet that goal. Michigan’s Children is all in. As I’ve certainly said too many times to count, we absolutely know what it takes to improve educational and other life outcomes for children, youth and families. We have decades of research, we have innovative and effective practice from other states and from within our own. What we have not had is appropriate investment in what works to improve equity in these outcomes.

Relatedly, members of Congress introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to set goals for reducing child poverty – similar to what took place in the U.K. over the past several years with impressive results. The impact of economic insecurity on the well-being of children, youth and families can not be overstated. Research has shown that poverty (particularly extreme poverty and living in poverty for many years) is tied with nearly every negative outcome. Everyone from all ends of the political spectrum recognizes this. Some members of Congress are suggesting that instead of wringing our hands and continuing to pay for the consequences of those outcomes, we set a goal and move to change the situation.

What really struck me here was the intimate connection between these two goals – the clearest path to better economic security is educational success, so we won’t reach the poverty goal without focusing on the education goal. In addition, we are unlikely to move the needle on educational goals without tackling challenges that families face outside of the school building, day and year as well.

Let’s start now, in the current budget conversation. There are stark differences in state budget proposals that will be decided on by small numbers of legislators over the next few weeks. Three that we’ve pulled out that will take us closer to both goals:

  1. Investment in 3rd grade reading. The Senate included additional investments in 3rd grade reading success. Particularly important for equity is the Senate recommendation for $10 million to expand learning opportunities for the most challenged kids. This isn’t enough (we’ll be going for at least $50 million moving forward), but it is certainly a start.
  2. Investments in the most challenged kids, schools and communities. The Senate included an additional $100 million to fund programs specifically for learners with identified barriers. The House didn’t include this increase.
  3. Investments in family literacy. We will not reach either poverty or education goals if we don’t make sure that every parent can assist every child as their first and best teacher. With 34,000 young adults in Michigan (ages 18-34) without even a 9th grade education we need more investment. The Senate included an increase in the adult education program, while the House eliminated it all together.

Let’s keep talking. Moving beyond the current budget year, our Legislature and Congressional Delegation need to prioritize many supports for the most challenged, including: services that prevent later problems like child abuse and neglect prevention, home visiting support and Early On; services that improve outcomes for young people in the state’s care through the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice systems and their families; and services that best support college and career success like early learning, expanded learning, family literacy and integrated student services.

Let’s talk about setting goals and let’s keep working to meet them.

— Michele Corey

Support Kids in Families of All Kinds

May 21, 2015 — During this year’s Foster Care Awareness Month, the National Kids Count project released a report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success. The report suggests that Michigan overuses congregate care options when a family setting would better serve children in our state’s foster care system. The report puts forth three simple recommendations:

  1. Expand the service array to ensure that children remain in families. Michigan has experienced several decades of disinvestment in programs that strengthen families, and has eliminated most state funding from abuse and neglect prevention programs. One bright spot – the recent focus on investments in home visiting programs, proven to identify needs early and connect families to necessary support. Better investments in preventing and intervening with some of the most common reasons for removal are essential. We need to invest more in keeping families stable in the first place, helping parents rebuild their lives, and supporting reunification once situations have improved.
  2. Recruit, strengthen and retain more foster families, and increase the utilization of family members other than parents as caregivers for foster children. In Michigan and elsewhere in the United States there have not been enough available and trained foster families or relatives; and not enough supports for family placements. The Michigan League for Public Policy, who directs the Kids Count in Michigan project, outlines this well in their blog about the recent release.
  3. Support decision making that ensures that children removed from their homes are placed in the least restrictive setting. The public and private systems in Michigan need to be held accountable for developing and maintaining appropriate placement options for children and youth depending on their needs, and adequately investing in these options. In addition, we need to reframe more restrictive care settings as a treatment option, where custody during that placement remains intact with a parent or foster parent, and remove impediments to maintaining existing caregiver relationships during those placements.

Michigan’s Children has talked to many young people over the years, some who have experience in the foster care system (see our most recent guest blog from Ronnie Stephenson, and discussions from a recent KidSpeak on the issue.) All of the young people Michigan’s Children has spoken to about the foster care system talk about the need for the stable support that comes with family ties, including a stable place to call home and adults who are committed to their success for the long-term. Many talk about the need for adequate treatment and intervention settings where necessary. They also talk about wanting to help direct their own services within the foster care system, including establishing or maintaining connections with their birth families and others in their home communities. In addition, young people want better access to the same opportunities for involvement in their learning, peer group and community that other young people do – access to what is now termed as a more “naturalized” environment – whether they are in foster homes, group homes, other congregate care or supervised in their own homes.

In part due to the powerful voices of young people expressed over the last several years, through our work, the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative and Fostering Success Michigan and the work of many other partners, Michigan’s Children met this week with a bi-partisan group of Legislators, staff and other advocates to begin to frame out changes that Michigan needs to make in order to better support the range of families that care for young people – their birth families, their foster and adoptive families, and other relatives who serve as caregivers. While Michigan has recognized some deficiencies in its child welfare system, there is still a long way to go before we are giving all children the best chance for success. The Departmental merger between Community Health and Human Services and the Governor’s articulation of the need to better connect services to serve families are opportunities to further this work. Recognizing that reform needs to center around providing family support in whatever way possible for those young people we are responsible for is a necessary step for moving in the right direction. Michigan’s Children is very excited to be part of this effort.

— Michele Corey

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