Speaking For Kids

Is Equity Still on the Table?

At the beginning of the current budget process, we laid out some of our expectations for the Governor and Legislators to help guide their deliberations.  We’ve shared those expectations through the last four months of conversation.  Now, here we are at the homestretch and the part of the budget process that is often most frustrating.

We adjust our understanding of how much money we have to spend.  Revenue estimating happened this week, and the news is good – nearly ½ a billion dollars more in the state’s coffers are predicted for the state’s fiscal year beginning this October.

Some priorities have already been decided – agreed on by members of the Michigan House and Senate.  The Governor is the only remaining player for those decisions, since he is still able to cut anything from the budget that he’d like at this point (though he can’t ADD anything that he’d like), with very little chance of enough Legislators banning together (they need a full 2/3 of the group) to over-ride his veto.

Some of the decisions already made will negatively impact equity.  There was again no acknowledgement of the need for stronger programs that support the very poorest families and children in our state to offset a decade of cuts and a decade of economic difficulty.  Specifically, we’ve retained the devastating cut to the state Earned Income Tax Credit; and despite evidence of their current inadequacy to serve everyone who needs them at a level that assists, failed to increase the state’s subsidy or quality in the child care program and removed further infrastructure from the Family Independence Program.

A small (VERY small) group of people get to hash out the state’s remaining priorities – those where there is still some disagreement about funding levels and program content.  There is quite a bit left to decide that impacts equity, including:

  1. Health promotion programs.  There is some disagreement about expanding support for several initiatives designed to prevent further problems and costs for the state’s children, youth and families, including:  infant mortality reduction, lead abatement programs, the Healthy Kids Dental Program, Mental Health Innovations, and many public health programs designed to improve health outcomes through the Health and Wellness Initiative.
  2. Pre-school expansion.  The good news=everybody wants to expand the Great Start Readiness Program – Michigan’s 4 year-old preschool program.  The devil is in the details, and several of those details have yet to be worked out.  Do we change the group who is eligible to this program in ways that serve the most challenged families?  Do we increase the amount that we pay providers for the program or require a higher level of quality so that they can continue to build the best classrooms for young children?
  3. Support for the most struggling learners.  With so much discussion about education reform, there is little in this budget to support proven strategies promoting educational equity.  But, there are a few.  The Senate included a very small pilot program serving foster kids over age 18 in the city of Detroit to help them reach a high school credential; and they included what they call a “placeholder” – no $$, but ensuring some conversation about possible support to build and strengthen school-community partnerships, a proven equity strategy.  The Governor and the House maintained some funding and language around what they term “best practice grants” for schools.  Some of these practices can improve the outcomes for the most challenged young people – dual enrollment and online or blended learning opportunities, and expanded physical and health education.  Districts around the state should be encouraged (and funded) to utilize them to build equity in their outcomes.

In a bit of a category by itself is health access expansion.  The Governor’s suggestion that we take advantage of new federal resources to expand Medicaid coverage to extremely poor adults, including parents and young people who are or will soon be parents, has not been supported by the Legislature so far.   There are a couple of avenues still open for that conversation, but it is definitely not a sure thing at this point.

It is still important to talk to your legislators and have them talk to their colleagues about these and other critical issues.  Improved revenue projections should translate into investment decisions that improve equity in our state.  And there is no time like the present to talk with them about the priorities that you expect for the next budget year.  No rest for the advocate!

Check out our latest Budget Basics publication on how the different budget proposals will impact equity.

-Michele Corey

Secretary Duncan, You Missed An Awesome Opportunity

Monday afternoon, early childhood advocates and fans filled a room at the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti to hear from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, Governor Rick Snyder on his efforts to expand preschool, and other experts on the value of early childhood education.  While Washtenaw County residents made-up a significant portion of the folks in the room, early childhood advocates from Detroit, Lansing and other communities also were in attendance to learn more about what Secretary Duncan had to say about the President’s historic effort to expand early learning opportunities across the prenatal through age five spectrum.

While the excitement around preschool is much deserved and grounded in solid research, I can’t help but feel that Secretary Duncan missed an opportunity to promote the comprehensive nature of the President’s Early Learning Plan.  For starters, the President’s plan doesn’t focus purely on four-year-old preschool, but rather encompasses the entire early learning experiences that are needed prenatally through age five.  Specifically, Obama’s plan calls for investments to expand evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, investments in high quality Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships that serve young children from birth through age three, high quality preschool for four-year-olds, and full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds.  This is what a comprehensive early learning plan looks like.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation yesterday revolved around preschool with only one mention to home visiting.

When Secretary Duncan was sitting next to Governor Snyder, I wish he had emphasized these other critical components to the early learning plan.  Preschool is a critical component and one that we know helps reduce disparities in school readiness.  We also know that for the children and families who are struggling the most in Michigan, more comprehensive services beginning prenatally that connect to a high quality preschool program ensures that more children will be better prepared for kindergarten.

And while we’re at it, there was quite a bit of discussion about universal preschool, with talk by Washtenaw residents who volunteered to pilot a universal preschool model in their county.  I would argue that this is antithetical to the early childhood system, which was created to serve the most challenged children and families.  In fact, all of the research supporting the return on investment for high quality early learning experiences is based on programs that serve very low-income children whose families often faced multiple challenges.  Rather than jumping to four-year-old preschool for all children, Michigan should first build a comprehensive early childhood system similar to the President’s proposal so that more kids are ready to succeed at kindergarten and beyond.  In Michigan, we need to expand access to voluntary home visiting and other services prenatally through age three, bolster our child care system (which is one of the worst in the nation), at the same time that we expand access to preschool for low-income children.   This is how we prevent the school readiness gap, prevent the achievement gap that we see in K-12, and ensure that we get the greatest return on our taxpayers’ investment – not by providing preschool for all children.

As Secretary Duncan continues to travel the country to promote Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, I would urge him not to shy away from discussing the details of the President’s plan.  He had a great opportunity this week in a room full of early childhood advocates who understand that the early childhood system doesn’t begin with preschool – he can help us move the public discourse towards a more comprehensive early childhood system.

-Mina Hong

Medicaid Expansion Matters to Michigan Children

Governor Rick Snyder made a huge step in a healthier direction for the state when he proposed to expand Medicaid access to Michigan residents by taking advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Under the ACA, states can choose to expand Medicaid to uninsured individuals living at 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or below, $31,322 for a family of four.  This expansion would not cover additional children under the age of 19 since they are already covered by Medicaid or MIChild up to 200% FPL.  However, it would have a significant positive impact on the well-being of Michigan children from cradle to career.

One major group of young people who will benefit from the Medicaid expansion is young adults – young people between the ages of 19 and 24 would make-up one-quarter of the individuals covered by the expansion.  There are many young adults who work beyond the traditional four years toward completing their high school diplomas – 18% of low-income students in Michigan utilize a 5th or 6th year of high school to graduate, and are unlikely to have access to workplace health insurance during this time.  Expanding Medicaid will allow young adults to continue to work towards their high school credential while having access to affordable health care and can continue to have access to health care as they transition into the workforce, expanding those options.

Additionally, many young adults in the 19 to 24 age range are also parents of young children.  Medicaid expansion would improve more young parents’ health and subsequently their ability to keep consistent employment and provide for their children.  Currently, the Michigan Medicaid program covers parents below 50% FPL, leaving many low-income parents without access to care.  Yet studies show that insured children with insured parents are more likely to receive check-ups and other health care than insured children with uninsured parents.  And for those young adults without children, having access to health insurance means access to family planning services to plan for their futures and behavioral health services to assist them in their success.  This includes planning for future pregnancies and ensuring that they are healthy before becoming pregnant so that they can have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies.  In a nutshell, expanding access to health insurance for parents and young adults leads to better health outcomes for Michigan families.

So what’s the status of Medicaid expansion in Michigan?  Neither the House nor Senate has included this expansion in their budget proposals for fiscal year 2015.  However, the Senate Appropriations Committee is continuing to discuss the possibility of including Medicaid expansion in their version of the Department of Community Health budget bill before they pass it out of committee.  Now is the time to reach out to the Senate Appropriations Committee members about the importance of Medicaid expansion for you, your children, your family, and your community.

Learn more about Medicaid expansion and what it means for Michigan children in our Budget Basics fact sheet.

-Mina Hong

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