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

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