Speaking For Kids

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.

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