Speaking For Kids

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.

 

 

 

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