Speaking For Kids

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Next Cliff?

Folks in Michigan are anxiously awaiting the release of the Governor’s budget on Thursday, with many hot issues already making the news in anticipation of the its release – a sizable increase in early childhood education funding, expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income children and families, or continued efforts around education reform.  While the buzz in Lansing is all about the Governor’s upcoming budget, it’s important to realize that everything that will be determined by the Governor and Legislature regarding state priorities is completely dependent on the federal budget.

Michigan’s Children’s latest Budget Basics publication takes a closer look at just how reliant critical programs in Michigan are on federal funding.  In the current state fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2012 and goes to September 30, 2013, over 40 percent of Michigan’s entire state budget is supported by federal sources.  However, a significantly higher reliance on federal funding supports budgets that serve Michigan children, youth and families – particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  Specifically, federal funds support:

  • two-thirds of the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) budget,
  • three-quarters of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) budget (note: this does not include the School Aid budget), and
  • four-fifths of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) budget.

Even more important to note is that these federal resources support Michigan’s efforts to address huge disparities in child and family outcomes – disparities that begin early in a child’s life and can continue to grow if not recognized and addressed.  Federal funds pay for equity promoting programs like Medicaid and school and community-based health services through DCH, nutrition programs and child abuse and neglect prevention efforts through DHS, and child care assistance and support for low-income and special needs students through MDE.  All of these programs work to reduce disparities in outcomes, and many could have an even greater impact if funded at levels that ensure program fidelity.

Unfortunately, the federal budget, like Michigan’s budget, doesn’t provide enough resource to ensure access to high quality programs for the most struggling children and families who would benefit from them.  This is evident by the latest Kids Count Data that show that our children continue to struggle and that disparities persist.  At the same time that we will be attempting to address our growing child poverty, increases in child maltreatment, and lack of progress on educational achievement; Michigan will surely be facing some cuts in federal support as a result of the second pending federal fiscal cliff.  The only question is, by how much?

Perhaps as we in Michigan prepare for the exciting budget debates that will soon begin in Lansing, we should also consider the implications of the federal budget and how deficit-reducing efforts may further increase the disparities that we already see in child and family outcomes.  And while we’re considering those implications, we may want to pass on our best thoughts on how to address the federal budget to Congress in a balanced way.

-Mina Hong

* The next fiscal cliff is a combination of the pending sequester as well as the expiration of the continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government through March 27, 2013.  Congress still must address a balanced approach to offset sequestration and pass a federal budget through the remainder of the federal fiscal year (which happens to be the same fiscal year as Michigan’s).  More information about the federal budget is available on our website.

Making Sure That Kids Count More in 2013

The Michigan League for Public Policy released the Michigan Kids Count Databook 2012, which again, like every year for the last two decades, illustrates just how children, youth and families are doing throughout Michigan.  This county-by-county report allows us to see how our communities are faring on economic well-being, health, safety and education and looks at how all of those areas together impact success.

This is great timing.  The Legislature is convening committees and leaders are making pronouncements about where their time will be prioritized over this session.  The Governor will be releasing his budget proposal in the next couple of weeks, where he’ll set his priority investments in our state.

As we know, good public policymaking can contribute positively to well-being, inadequate or misguided public policymaking also impacts well-being.  The findings in the Data Book once again point to the need for real commitment to supporting programs that lead to successful children, youth and families in Michigan – commitment that we have not seen at the state level in recent years.  In 2013, we are looking to policymakers for the following:

  1. Address the growing poverty faced by Michigan families and communities by reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 2012 levels;
  2. Address the growing shares of children who are confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect by increasing investment for family support services that reach families with infants and toddlers – those most likely to be impacted;
  3. Ensure continued improvement in 4th grade reading success by improving family access to quality early learning programs and strengthening connections between early childhood and the early elementary school years;
  4. Enable higher high school graduation rates by expanding access to alternative education opportunities that utilize a fifth or sixth year of high school and connect a high school credential to community college credits or real-world work experience.

Kids Count is a great tool to help encourage our policymakers to champion issues that are crucial for Michigan’s success.  Use it to insist that policy decisions strengthen our ability to ensure that ALL children can thrive in school, the workplace, and in life.

-Michele Corey

The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project. It is a collaboration between the Michigan League for Public Policy (formerly the Michigan League for Human Services), which researches and writes the report, and Michigan’s Children, which works with advocates statewide to disseminate the findings. Both are nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organizations concerned about the well-being of children and their families.

State of the Polarized State

Last night, Governor Snyder presented his third State of the State address to a Legislature that is still recovering from a bitterly divisive lame duck session.  The Governor attempted to provide some hope for reconciliation to get things done in a bipartisan fashion in 2013 by saying in his address “I appreciate that  people have different perspectives … I’m going to work hard to find common ground where we can work together and I hope all of you join me in doing the same thing.”  But, the partisan ways of lame duck haunted the State Capitol in last night’s address.  In a time when too many Michigan children and families continue to struggle, the Governor and legislative leadership must take steps to move past the polarization to build effective public policies for a better Michigan future.

So what did we hear in Governor Snyder’s State of the State?  Last week, we laid out what we hoped to hear in his State of the State and were disappointed that none of the items were addressed, nor did the Governor lay out any real details pertaining to the needs of children and families.  One silver lining was his mention to expand funding for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness preschool program to eventually ensure that all children who are eligible for the program can access it.  This program has proven to reduce the school readiness gap that affects too many children entering kindergarten and can help reduce the achievement gap throughout a student’s K-12 experience.  But, Governor Snyder did not discuss how this expansion would be funded nor did he discuss the role that early childhood education beginning at birth can play in reducing the achievement gap as well as other strategies throughout K-12.

The Governor must work with both our Republican and Democratic leaders to identify a feasible way to pay for an expansion of early childhood education programming that doesn’t jeopardize other important funding streams.  Both sides of the aisle must come together to discuss what Michigan needs to address the academic achievement gap in an effective way that better prepares Michigan’s future workforce.  Our legislators must have some honest conversations about how the partisanship of the lame duck session has built significant distrust among the legislature and begin to find ways to rebuild that trust for the betterment of Michiganians.

Policymakers must build on the fact that caring about children is universal.  This means continuing to invest in school readiness programs for young children from birth to age five; expanding support for effective strategies, like increasing access to before- and after-school programming, that move more young people to a high school credential; and continuing to ensure that education reform conversations focus on evidence-based best practices to reduce the achievement gap.

The Governor and legislative leaders must work together in 2013 to ensure that public policy decisions benefit Michigan children and Michigan’s future.

-Mina Hong

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