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Children’s Advocates Need Political Leadership in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Matt Gillard

 

Post-Election Work for Michigan’s Young Families

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

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

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

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

-Mina Hong

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