Speaking For Kids

Why Health Insurance Matters to an Equitable P-20 System

Here at Michigan’s Children, we recently switched our health insurance plan, and I’ve been dealing with the headaches associated with it.  Mainly, finding a new physician (that the customer service folks at the health insurance company had confirmed twice was in-network) and then finding out that my doctor isn’t actually in-network when it came time to pay the bill.  Basically, meaning that I have to cover more of the doctor visit out-of-pocket rather than being covered by my insurance.  (Don’t worry, I’m still battling this one.)

While I’ve been navigating the hassles of our health insurance system, I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to be able to deal with this frustration.  I consider myself to be well-educated (read: I know how to use health insurance lingo), squarely in the middle class (read: if I absolutely had to, I could pay for the out-of-pocket costs), and my workplace gives me the flexibility to spend far too much time on the phone with the customer service agents at my health insurance company since, of course, they’re only open during regular business hours.

And then of course, since I am me, I think about how my experience relates to my work.  At Michigan’s Children, we focus on strategies that reduce disparities in child outcomes.  That means we’re talking about low-income families and families of color who may not understand the health insurance lingo nor have flexibility during working hours to deal with 9-5 frustrations.  When a system is built to work against the average citizen (read: me), it can only create larger barriers for the most challenged children and families.

My health insurance frustrations also make me thankful that the Governor is proposing to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid for low-income adults up to 133% of the federal poverty line, despite criticisms from his colleagues in the Legislature.  Sure, more people in Michigan will have to struggle with navigating Medicaid, just like I’ve been struggling for the past couple of days.  But in the end, being uninsured is far worse than dealing with the hassles of health insurance, and this expansion is a much better deal for Medicaid recipients and taxpayers alike.  And for adults of child-bearing age, having access to adequate health care is crucial to ensuring a healthy planned pregnancy and that all babies are born healthy – the first steps in a P-20 education system.

Governor Snyder’s proposed Medicaid expansion is one step towards improving outcomes for Michigan’s most struggling families.  Expanding access to preschool is another strategy towards reducing the achievement gap.  As a state, we must also focus on equity-promoting strategies across the P-20 continuum to truly reduce disparities in child and family outcomes.  These include strategies that support families with young children from birth through age three, and ensuring that students have access to the supports they need to succeed in school like high quality out-of-school opportunities.  We must focus on reducing disparities across the entire continuum, from cradle to career.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget and whether it’s promoting equity to ensure that all Michigan children can thrive.

-Mina Hong

We Shouldn’t Treat Preschool Like Valentine’s Day

Ahh Valentine’s Day.  The day of love.  The day when flower shops, candy shops, and restaurants do remarkably well.  But I must admit I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  Sure, I love reminding my loved ones how much I care about them on this day, but I also find it rather silly to single out one day a year that we express our love and appreciation for our loved ones who stand by us every day.  I have similar feelings about singling out four-year-old preschool in budget and program conversations about improving school readiness, and here’s why.

In President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, he called for universal access to preschool, and anticipated details of this plan include expansion to high quality early learning programs that span the birth to five continuum.  This comes on the heels of Governor Snyder’s state budget presentation for fiscal year 2014 that calls for a substantial expansion for the Great Start Readiness Preschool program (GSRP) – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of starting school behind.  (Learn more about what the Governor’s budget means for young children in our Budget Basics report).

We know access to high quality preschool is an evidence-based strategy towards reducing an achievement gap – a gap that begins early and can build over time without the appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.  GSRP has proven to reduce disparities in student achievement including reducing the readiness gap at kindergarten, improving reading proficiency for third graders (a critical benchmark for school success), and getting more young people to their high school graduations.  And in fact, children of color who participated in GSRP were three times more likely to graduate high school on-time than children of color who did not attend GSRP – proving its effectiveness in reducing disparities.

I am a huge supporter of preschool for four-year-olds, and I also think that focusing significant investment only towards four-year-olds is short-sighted.  Just like expressing love should be about more than one-day, we know that early childhood education should be about more than support for a single year.  While GSRP is geared towards four-year-olds, we know that disparities in cognitive development emerge in babies as young as nine months of age.  And for the babies and toddlers who struggled the most, one year of preschool is a huge help towards preparing them for kindergarten but it may not be quite enough to offset the challenges they faced early in life.  Even Governor Snyder acknowledges that education must focus on the entire P-20 continuum – that begins prenatally not at four-years-old – though he does not reflect this in his budget.

To lay the best foundation to build a successful education career and to reduce achievement gaps, we must begin at birth and provide support to the most challenged young families.  I applaud President Obama’s efforts to expand access to not just four-year-old preschool but also Early Head Start, quality child care, and evidence-based home visiting.  Perhaps as we advocate to ensure that the GSPR expansion stays in the final FY2014 state budget, we should also talk about some level of support for Michigan’s youngest learners – children from birth through age three – to prevent early disparities.  And perhaps as we discuss President Obama’s early childhood focus with our Congressional folks, we should discuss how any plan to offset the sequester must safeguard the federal programs that currently support infants and toddlers like the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Early Head Start.  Here at Michigan’s Children, we love preschool, and we also know that early childhood education begins before four-years of age.

-Mina Hong

Investing to Expand Minds and Opportunities in Michigan

Despite the crushing pressure of the fiscal cliff and the federal economy, I came back from Washington, DC last Thursday after spending several days with some Michigan colleagues and colleagues from around the country at the Afterschool Alliance National Network meeting feeling quite proud of my Michigan Congressional Delegation.

Some members of our delegation have been, of course, champions building extended learning opportunity (before- and after-school, summer learning, other opportunities outside the traditional school day) over their entire political careers.  Some are just beginning their careers in Washington and are thinking strategically about how support of extended learning may fit into their own political legacies.  And some, who are not always supportive of public spending, were indeed intrigued by the way that the largest federal investment in afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, maximizes federal investment by encouraging innovative and targeted partnerships geared toward the needs and strengths of each local community. These partnerships have demonstrated impact on the educational and life success of young people; provide support for families; and build stronger communities.

The evidence is crystal clear that high quality afterschool and summer programs accelerate student achievement, particularly for those most at risk of school failure – closing the achievement gap.  In case there was any doubt, the Afterschool Alliance has brought together literally decades of research that brings together best practices and the impact of those practices in a new compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities:  Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success.

Unfortunately, upon my return to Lansing, I was not so proud of the way that the Governor has again left off his priority list, as evidenced by the FY14 budget release last week, investment in one of the most powerful tools toward increased educational achievement and equity at his disposal – afterschool.  While I am extremely excited about the impact of the kinds of investments to our early childhood system he is proposing, these investments early will fail to reap all of the successes that they could without continued, targeted investment intended to build equity in outcomes throughout children’s educational careers.

Michigan’s Children will once again be working hard over the next months to ensure that we reinstate funding for extended learning opportunities – once funded at $16 million through the state budget.  Federal investment is not enough; we need to make this equity strategy a priority in our own budget as well, serving to make a dent in the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them.  In addition, any cuts to the Child Care subsidy Program, 40% of which supports elementary school participation in before- and after-school opportunities, should be taken with caution.

Now the Legislature has their chance to build Michigan’s investment in extended learning opportunities.  Join us in making sure that they do just that.

-Michele Corey

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