The Governor’s third annual State of the State address set for next Wednesday, January 16th is the first opportunity in the new year for our elected officials to prioritize the best interest of children and families who are struggling the most in our state. We all know that children and youth are our future teachers, scientists, artists and elected officials. As a state, our strength and future prosperity depends on ensuring that children who struggle the most become successful learners and leaders. With our next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, the policy decisions that our new legislature makes in 2013 must also close equity gaps to ensure that ALL children can thrive in school, the workplace, and in life.
Successful navigation of the education system is of course, the best path toward life success. But as we see in the disparities by race, ethnicity, family income and other life circumstances, too many children are not served well by our current system. Michigan and the nation must adopt a learning model that prepares students for the 21st century, but the education system alone cannot mitigate the challenges that children and youth face outside the classroom. These challenges have resulted from Michigan’s unacceptably high rate of poverty – a rate that disproportionately affects children of color – layered on top of structural barriers to success-promoting opportunities, including more than a decade of disinvestment in the very programs and initiatives that work. In 2013, we hope to see the following policy issues addressed to ensure that all children have equitable opportunities for success.
- Reduce childhood poverty by reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to fiscal year 2012 levels. The EITC promotes economic opportunity and helps hardworking, low‐income families make ends meet. Modeled after the federal EITC, it is an effective anti‐poverty tool that reduces the number of children living in poverty.
- Give children a right start in life by increasing investment for family support services that reach families with infants and toddlers (children from birth through age three) to ensure that parents from struggling backgrounds have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teacher.
- Strengthen connections between early childhood and the early elementary school years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-12 to create seamless transitions between early learning and primary education, reduce educational achievement gaps, and ensure better outcomes for all kids.
- Reform K-12 education in a way that acknowledges educational disparities and intentionally focuses on increasing educational equity by promoting and incentivizing school-community partnerships that holistically address challenges that students face beyond the school walls – an approach that doesn’t rely solely on the K-12 education community. In whatever form this takes, a laser-like focus on increasing educational equity must be the priority.
- Give all young people, not just the most successful, meaningful connections to higher education or workforce development 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.
As a business person, Governor Snyder surely understands the connection between children, education, workforce development, and Michigan’s future economic success. And as child advocates, we know that prevention is always more cost-effective than intervening later on. Ensuring that the children who struggle the most today have the opportunities to thrive in the future is what we as a state must focus on in 2013. We’ll be watching Governor Snyder’s address next Wednesday evening to see what his plans are to ensure all Michigan children have equitable opportunities to success. Will you?