Speaking For Kids

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

A Huge Win for Michigan’s Preschoolers

Earlier this week, the Legislature approved an historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten.  This $65 million increase – a 60 percent expansion of the program – will provide an additional 16,000 half-day slots, which is much needed considering the 29,000 eligible but unenrolled four-year-olds currently living in Michigan.

This year’s success was the result of the collective impact of many individuals and organizations who have entered into the early childhood education advocacy arena over the past several decades.

First off, this expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Michigan’s elected officials.  Broad support for preschool across both chambers, both parties, and the Governor’s office was expressed early on in the budget process, with some elected officials championing early childhood issues since they first took office well before the fiscal year 2014 budget process began.  These important leaders played critical roles in ensuring that the final budget bill included this significant expansion.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Center for Michigan – to not only uncover the unmet need of GSRP across the state through Bridge Magazine’s excellent journalism but to also provide support to the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM).  The CLCM, co-chaired by Doug Luciani of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Michigan’s Children’s own board member Debbie Dingell of d2 Strategies, corralled the business community in support of high quality early learning opportunities and did an effective job of communicating the research and the business argument for expanding access to GSRP.

Another significant player in this year’s efforts was the High Scope Educational Research Foundation, who has been evaluating GSRP since 1995.  Their most recent evaluation was released in March of 2012 and demonstrated the long-term benefits of young children participating in GSRP including fewer students being retained in K-12 and more students graduating on time from high school – both which save taxpayer dollars.  And of course, evaluation efforts like these have helped economists like Michigan’s own Tim Bartik and others across the country make the case for the high return on investment that quality early learning programs provide.

Finally, expansion of early childhood programming has been on the forefront of early childhood advocates’, parents’, and providers’ agendas for the past several decades.  This is evidenced by GSRP’s inception in fiscal year 1986 and its fairly steady growth since then.  At the same time, advocates have been working tirelessly to build an early childhood system that includes high quality child care, evidence-based home visiting, targeted early intervention services, and other family supports to ensure that all Michigan children get a great start in life.  While there is still much work to be done to continue to build a comprehensive early childhood system, we must take a moment to applaud our successes and thank those who have made it possible for more of Michigan’s most challenged four-year-olds to access a high quality preschool program.  Thank you from Michigan’s Children.

-Mina Hong

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