Speaking For Kids

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

A Mixed Budget for Equity

Last month, Governor Snyder signed the fiscal year 2014 (FY2014) budget into law.  The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities and can be used as a tool to improve opportunities for children and families or worsen disparities.  The FY2014 budget proves to be a mixed bag with some significant steps forward and some hugely missed opportunities.

A  big win for children is the $65 million expansion for the Great Start Readiness program.  This 60 percent increase will ensure that thousands of additional children will have access to a high quality preschool program and be better prepared to succeed in school, reducing the achievement gap.  We can also applaud the $11.6 million expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, which will ensure that 70,500 Medicaid-eligible children in Ingham, Ottawa, and Washtenaw Counties will have access to high quality dental care.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families.

There were some mixed results in the final budget.  For example, the final budget included $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  This level of funding to support the state’s plan is a step in the right direction, but falls short of the $11 million needed to fully implement the plan.  In a state where African American infants continue to be three times more likely than white infants to die during the first year of life, fully implementing the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan while ensuring that other supports that promote healthy pregnancy and birth are essential to mitigate this unacceptable disparity.

And there were some missed opportunities.  Efforts were made to increase support for school-community partnerships through the Communities in Schools program; and we know that incentives for schools to create community links aimed at strengthening schools, increasing parent involvement, and meeting children’s needs can improve student outcomes and reduce the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, support for CIS did not come to fruition in the final budget.  Also, the final budget provided no additional resource for before- and after-school programming which improve educational success for all students and demonstrate the greatest benefit for students who face the most extraordinary educational challenges; and no funding increases for opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school – additional years that have proven to increase graduation rates for students who struggle the most in school.

And of course, the battle to expand Medicaid still rages on.  While more children would not be insured, Medicaid expansion would benefit children in significant ways.  More than one out of four individuals covered by the expansion would be women of child-bearing age, one out of four would be young adults who might not otherwise have health insurance, and 91,000 additional parents would have health care coverage.  However, Medicaid expansion is not a lost battle.  The House has already passed a Medicaid reform package separate from the budget bill, which includes the expansion, and the Senate continues to debate this bill.  The Senate Government Operations committee met today to provide a brief overview of the Senate workgroup that will be working over the summer in the hopes that Medicaid reform and expansion can be approved by the Senate in the fall.  We encourage you to continue talking to you State Senators about the importance of Medicaid expansion for your family and your communities.

Learn more about the FY2014 budget and Medicaid Expansion by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

Conquering the Achievement Gap Is Worthy Goal: Take Steps to Make it Happen

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) hosted a summit yesterday, “Conquering the Achievement Gap:  The Promise of African American Males.”  The summit was an opportunity for the Department to discuss the work it has undertaken since the State Board of Education identified the reduction of the achievement gap as a priority in 2012. At the summit were national partners, state partners, and local partners all standing ready to address achievement gaps in new ways.

Michigan’s Children was asked to help MDE with one of the most critical pieces of this effort:  to make sure that the voices of young people themselves – their challenges, suggestions, perspectives and candor – are incorporated into any strategy development or implementation.  Two focus groups were held in Ingham County, which led to a commitment to facilitation of 30 more focus groups around the state.

While the bulk of the summit focused on work that has been done internally at MDE – a necessity to demonstrate that you are practicing what you preach – movement to end opportunity gaps in this state will require more intentionally coordinated efforts through state departments beyond education, and other private sector partners as well.  There is obviously plenty of work and responsibility to go around.  Clearly the educational system has to change – what we’ve been doing, prioritizing, investing in has contributed to the gaps in achievement, high school completion, and elsewhere for African American students and other challenged groups.  And what we’ve been doing, prioritizing and investing in elsewhere like health, human services, and other sectors, from cradle to career, has also contributed to these gaps, intentionally or unintentionally.

Equity gaps begin before birth and persist.  You’ve all heard me say it and I’ll say it again – by nine months of age we can see cognitive gaps forming, and without investments in initiatives targeting that gap, they persist and expand by the time that child reaches school, and continue to persist and expand through that child’s k-12 education and beyond.

Despite our good intentions, these gaps remain.  The voices of parents and young people can help us prioritize investment and better implement the strategies we pursue.

Lots of data was presented at this summit.  While the disparity data is always stark, the outcomes remain strikingly similar to those in place when I began in this field in 1990.  Beginning with a data and research base is important, but what we learn from the data and research needs to drive what we do next.  I’ll say this again as well.  There are clear research-backed strategies for investment that close opportunity gaps:  programs that support better economic and health security for the poorest among us; early learning supports; and supports for the most challenged students throughout their educational career to name just a few.  We passed a state budget this week that reflected very few of these things.  We need to make sure that we are matching our investment priorities with our good intentions.

We have another chance to provide resource to the kind of multi-sector approach necessary for reducing the achievement gap as we move forward, most importantly in the next fiscal year budget, and that work starts now.

-Michele Corey

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