Speaking For Kids

Supporting Effective, Equitable Investments in Education

Earlier this month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report reflecting what we’ve known and felt all over the state – that we in Michigan, similar to many states around the country, continue to disinvest in K-12 education.  Since our ability to successfully educate all of our children through K-12 and beyond is what our future economic status rests on, this is not good news for kids, communities or Michigan’s economic recovery.  We have definitely recommended an end to this trend, and will continue to do so.  However, let’s talk about how and where we need to invest to provide our best chance to close our growing gaps in educational success.

I’ve begun to hear economists pointing out that the achievement gap is the largest threat to our already struggling economy.  We are so glad that Michigan leaders have listened to the economists who have talked about the real economic gains that result from preschool investments.  Fortunately, this is also a key gap-closure strategy, and while there are still gains to be made there, progress is happening and investment is growing.

What other investments matter in gap closure?  Yes, I’ll say them again:

  • Year round extended learning opportunities that intentionally include resources dedicated to mitigating summer learning loss and engage young people of all ages through the school year.  Michigan has in the past dedicated state appropriation for these critical programs, but has not invested consistently despite the infrastructure that exists to support quality programs.
  • Better, more consistent use of the existing per pupil funding available to support young people who need a 5th and 6th year of high school to reach graduation, and better paths that connect GED success to postsecondary for the young people who fall so far behind even the 5th and 6th year will not get them toward a traditional diploma.

One that I haven’t talked quite as much about in recent blogs, but is equally important:

  • Direct supports for the most challenged students and families.  Michigan has a long history of acknowledging the need to use state funding to try to level the financial playing field between schools that serve smaller numbers of challenged young people and those who serve more than their share.  Michigan’s At-Risk funding supports supplemental programming within the school day – school breakfast programs, extra academic help, health and safety initiatives and many others.  This resource has never been “fully funded,” that is, it has never had the level of resource necessary to support the number of challenged students on whose behalf school districts receive the funding at the level intended.

As we suggest reinvestment in education, which we encourage everyone to do, let’s also think about smarter investment toward programs proven to improve equity.  As we move further down the path of tying school funding to certain priority practices, which is going to happen whether we recommend it or not, let’s use those incentives to promote more achievement gap closing strategies.

-Michele Corey

Post-Secondary Paths for More Young People

We’ve all agreed that the path to a self- and family-supporting job and career requires not only graduating from high school, but successfully starting AND completing some kind of post-secondary path.  We are so proud of all of the kids who finished high school last spring and are now on what we consider a traditional path to a four-year institution, though we certainly need to continue to pay attention to their successful completion and ensure affordability.  But, what I’m more concerned about are the most challenged young people in Michigan, who we also need to get on that post-secondary path.

We recently heard from a group of young people at a KidSpeak® event at Wayne State University, targeting kids aging out of the state’s foster care system.  They talked so eloquently about their unique needs, and our unique responsibility to them that we so often fail to provide.  They talked about how long it often took them to get through high school – getting behind because of frequent moves, credits failing to transfer and other life circumstances making it difficult to make their way through in four consecutive years of school.  We heard about how critically important transitioning services are to them, financial and otherwise, when they do make it on that post-secondary path – the importance of financial and other supports to help them make it all the way through to a degree.  This too can take longer than the time frames allowed by those programs.

For young people who need more time in high school, we are thankful for our system that finances the 5th and 6th year of high school.  We need to provide more support to those options that utilize post-secondary and workforce partnerships to successfully graduate challenged young people and smooth their transition.

For some, circumstances are so challenging or they just get so far behind that they need a GED option that ties directly to a post-secondary path.  We know that a GED alone doesn’t move you much beyond where you’d be without a high school diploma, but a GED can and should be used intentionally as a pathway to something beyond that credential.  There are programs around the state that utilize this path. When combined with real work experience, like through Youth Build programs in some of our most challenged communities, this different kind of support moves young people into the post-secondary trajectory that promotes success.

For everyone, we need to remove time from the equation of high school and post-secondary completion.

We agree with the Governor’s focus on education at Any Pace.  The benefits of supports at a variety of paces was clear in KidSpeak®, as was the need to build more consistent and appropriate opportunities available to more challenged young people in our state.  Budget conversations are beginning now in Lansing and critical decisions are being made in Washington, DC as well – decisions that can promote or impede opportunities to post-secondary success.  Michigan young people are reinforcing the Governor’s rhetoric.  If we focus on the goal, rather than putting parameters around the time it takes to get there, we’ll move more quickly toward a more economically secure state.

-Michele Corey

Federal Child Care Changes Will Benefit Michigan Children

Last week was the final week to submit comments to the federal Administration for Children and Families – Office of Child Care regarding proposed rule changes to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).  The CCDF is a federal program that provides a subsidy to child care providers to allow low-income parents work or attend training/education.  In Michigan, 27,700 families benefit from the child care subsidy to support care for their young children and before- and after-school care for children through age 12.  The CCDF currently gives states the flexibility to design subsidy systems that take into account local market dynamics, budgetary limitations and other factors unique to the local child care landscape which has resulted in significant differences in the child care subsidy system across states.  Many of the proposed rule changes would tighten up some of this flexibility based on research and data on what children and families need through a child care subsidy system.  The proposed rule changes would increase quality and access to child care for Michigan’s lowest-income families and would assist us in moving towards a more family-friendly child care system.

One of the proposed changes is to require rather than allow a period of job search for families receiving child care assistance who lose their jobs.  Michigan is only one of four states where families who receive the child care subsidy immediately lose this benefit if they lose their job.  In Michigan, where we’re continuing to rebuild our economy and struggle with unemployment rates higher than the national average, the lowest income earners are often the ones who have the least stability in their employment.  Thus, allowing some period for job searching can ensure that families retain their subsidy and that children can have some consistency in their care.

Another proposed change would require states to include a description of how their payment practices take into account the quality of child care and support high quality.  While the CCDF was set-up primarily as a work support, it does require states to spend at least four percent of their CCDF funds on activities designed to improve the quality of child care to promote healthy child development.  In Michigan, this has supported efforts to boost quality in child care settings for young children, but no efforts have been made to reform the payment structure to support higher quality settings.  This rule change would be a struggle for Michigan, since we’re one of three states that reimburse providers on an hourly schedule, with the vast majority of states providing daily, weekly, or even monthly payment structures that are more aligned with the current child care market.  Providing an hourly rate makes it more difficult for child care providers to provide quality care if they’re not receiving payment for times when a subsidized child is absent – times when private paying families would consistently be paying for their child care slot.  This inconsistency in payment makes it difficult for providers to rely on a consistent source of revenue to support their quality programming.

Furthermore, Michigan’s subsidy payments are sorely inadequate to ensure access to high quality child care.  Current CCDF rules require states to survey child care providers’ market rates every two years and recommend that rates be set so that families would be able to access 75 percent of the child care providers in their community (the 75th percentile).  However, this is currently a suggestion rather than a mandate.  In Michigan, payment rates vary between $1.35 an hour to a maximum of $3.75 an hour, depending on the age of the child and the setting for which s/he receives care – falling significantly short of the recommended 75th percentile.  For example, for a Michigan family to send their four-year-old to a child care center would cost, on average, $974 per month but with the child care subsidy, would only receive $433 per month.  Clearly these reimbursements are inadequate for parents to purchase high quality care.  If Michigan truly wants to provide a quality experience for low income children, providing a more robust reimbursement rate that aligns with the market would ensure that families can access the types of out-of-home learning environments they seek for their children.

Overall, the proposed rule changes to the CCDF are welcomed here in Michigan as we continue to build a comprehensive P-20 education system that also supports children in child care settings.  Access to high quality care can ensure that young children are better prepared for kindergarten and that students in elementary and middle school can access quality before- and after-school programming that promotes their learning.  Critical steps include: allowing families to maintain their subsidy when they lose their jobs and are seeking new employment; shifting the payment structure to daily, weekly, or monthly rates; and increasing the subsidy payment.  Regardless of the eventual rule changes, Michigan needs to work more proactively to provide a more family-friendly system that would allow families to access consistent, quality child care.

-Mina Hong

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