Speaking For Kids

Early Childhood Education a Top Priority for Voters

On Wednesday, the First Five Years Fund and the Grow America Stronger coalition released findings from a national survey of registered voters to gauge public reception on early childhood education in the U.S. and the results should leave early childhood advocates shouting from rooftops.  The poll was done by a bipartisan research team – Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies – resulting in a high validity of poll results due to the spectrum of political viewpoints polled as well as the objective framing of the questions.  When asked about their top national priorities, 86 percent of voters polled identified children getting a strong start in life, coming in second only to increasing jobs and economic growth.  Coming in a close third was improving the quality of our public schools at 85 percent – demonstrating that a strong start coupled with high quality K-12 education is what voters want our nation to prioritize.  These all came in above reducing the tax burden on families, which is important to remember when discussing funding priorities with elected officials.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of the polled voters say that half or fewer children start kindergarten with the needed skills.  We know this translates to teachers spending more classroom time with children who start kindergarten under-prepared, which affects all children in the classroom not just the children who are behind.  This is particularly important to remember when we talk about providing high quality early childhood programming to the lowest-income children or children with the greatest risk factors – this is actually beneficial to all young children when they enter kindergarten together.

Seven-in-ten voters (including 60% of Republicans, 64% of Independents and 84% of Democrats) voiced their support of federal efforts to help states expand access to high quality early childhood education programs.  When reiterated that these same efforts would not add to the national deficit, support increased further, with 72% Republicans, 71% Independents, and 88% Democrats in support.

In Michigan, we know that there’s broad support among our state legislators for high quality early childhood education as evidenced by the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program. And, an opportunity to build off of our preschool efforts to expand quality early childhood education is possible through a deficit neutral early childhood education plan that is gaining momentum in Washington, D.C. and across the country.  This state-federal partnership would further leverage Michigan’s own efforts to expand four-year-old preschool and support additional efforts to build a more comprehensive early childhood system beginning at birth.  And with 63 percent of voters wanting Congress to act now on this issue, what are we waiting for?

Learn more about the poll results and the state-federal early childhood plan at the Grow America Stronger website.

-Mina Hong

Collaborating for a Great Start, Great Investment, and Great Future

Last month, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start (OGS) released its much anticipated report Great Start, Great Investment, Great Future: The Plan for Early Learning and Development in Michigan.  This report provides a clear road map on creating a comprehensive, coordinated early childhood system in Michigan that incorporates key principles – principles that Michigan’s Children strongly agrees with – as follows:

  • Children and families are the highest priority.
  • Parents and communities must have a voice in building and operating the system.
  • The children with the greatest needs must be served first.
  • Invest early.
  • Quality matters.
  • Efficiencies must be identified and implemented.
  • Opportunities to coordinate and collaborate must be identified and implemented.

Based on these key principles, Michigan has A LOT of work to do to build a system that serves the most challenged young children and their families to ensure a great start in life.  As a state, we made historic progress by significantly expanding access to evidence-based preschool through the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP).  However, much work remains – particularly around the principles of investing early and serving children with the greatest needs first.  And as the report clearly lays out, one clear path for this is to expand programs and services for our young children prenatally through age three through increased investment and improved coordination and collaboration starting at the state level.

Rather than repeat myself, please check-out this guest column that I co-wrote with Scott Menzel, Superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Chair of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrator’s Early Childhood Committee.  Our guest column praises Michigan’s expansion of GSRP and highlights the work left undone to support Michigan’s youngest learners.  It also provides a brief overview of some key programs that could maximize Michigan’s GSRP investment by supporting young children before they reach preschool.  As the OGS report states, “[r]esearchers have found that return on investment is highest for investments made when children are youngest.  Unfortunately, public investment is lowest for children from birth through age 4…” and particularly for birth through age three.  But more money may not be enough to get more children prepared for school.

The OGS, Department of Community Health (DCH), Department of Human Services (DHS), policymakers, parents, providers, and community members have a lot of work to do.  The OGS report highlights the need to improve coordination and collaboration across sectors to increase efficiencies and maximize services to families with young children.  This couldn’t be closer to the truth when talking about young children prenatally through age three – these services span across departments and agencies and some efforts are already underway to improve collaboration and coordination.  Locally, it’s seen through the Great Start Collaboratives and at the state level, it’s seen through the Great Start Systems Team and the Governor’s People, Health and Education Executive Group that includes the directors of DCH, DHS, and Civil Rights in addition to the state superintendent.  However, these efforts have not yet been able to transform Michigan’s early childhood system into the coordinated, collaborative system needed to best serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families.

As we focus on increasing investments for programs and services that support young children prenatally through age three in the fiscal year 2015 budget, we must also include incentives for the state and for local communities to continue to work towards a more comprehensive and coordinated system.  Some local communities are already doing this well, and there’s always room for improvement.  Educating legislators now about best practices to coordinate and collaborate across systems will ensure that they are prepared to continue conversations to strengthen and transform Michigan’s early childhood system in the next budget cycle.

-Mina Hong

Patriotism & Civic Engagement Doesn’t End on July 5th

The last remaining fireworks have been lit and leftovers of hotdogs, hamburgers, and potato salad have been consumed.  As the 4th of July has come and gone, many thoughts of patriotism have left people’s minds as we begin another full week back at work.  However, if anything, Independence Day should be a reminder that as residents of these United States of America, it is our duty to ensure that our independence, freedom, and voices are recognized by the elected officials who represent us year-round.

One prime example of the need for year-round civic engagement is budget advocacy.  While it seems like the ink has barely dried on Michigan’s fiscal year 2014 budget, advocacy efforts to increase investment for programs that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families in the fiscal year 2015 budget (which begins October 1, 2014) must begin now.

We know that there were many efforts in the fiscal year 2014 budget to increase opportunities for Michigan’s struggling children like a significant expansion of the state’s public preschool program, but a lot of work remains undone.  For example, supports for families with young children prenatally through age three continue to fall short of the significant need.  Too many students who struggle with school continue to lack access to evidence-based before- and after-school programming that can help them catch-up and stay on track.  And too many students who face multiple challenges between their home and school environments lack access to school-community partnership programs that can help them access basic needs while staying engaged in their educations.

Now is the time to make sure that elected officials understand that Michigan residents are grateful for their efforts around preschool but that there were some significant missed opportunities in the fiscal year 2014 budget.  Legislators are back in their districts for summer break and will be seen at many events around your communities.  Be sure to talk to them when you see them, attend their monthly coffee hours, or set-up a visit with them.  Now is the time to build or strengthen relationships with your elected officials and to make sure that they have a solid understanding of the programs and services that matter to your children, your family, and your community.  In most cases, waiting until the budget season gets underway in Lansing can be too little too late.  Educating legislators and building champions before the busy budget season can ensure that they are prepared to be a voice for the programs that matter to Michigan’s most challenged children and families.

As we reflect on the fun BBQs and beautiful fireworks displays, we must also look forward to ways to continue to actively engage in our patriotic duty of engaging with elected officials on issues that matter to us.  Let’s make sure that our patriotic spirit doesn’t end on July 5th.

Learn more about the decisions that were made in the fiscal year 2014 budget and how you can get involved in the budget-making process in Michigan by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

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