Speaking For Kids

The Work Has Just Begun

While some states are continuing to count their final ballots, here in Michigan, we already know who will be representing us at the federal, state, and local levels.  Hopefully you took the first step of learning what was on your ballot, researched the candidates and proposals, and waited in line and cast your vote on Tuesday.  But, that’s only the first step.  Now is the most opportune time to talk to your newly elected officials (even those incumbents who are continuing to represent you) about the issues that matter to you.  Now is the time that policy advocacy can make the biggest difference.

Why is that, you ask?  Because the first and most critical component of getting engaged is building relationships.  You know that you’re more likely to lend $5 to someone you know and trust rather than a stranger.  When it comes to policymakers, the same is true.  Over the next several months, your legislators will be hosting coffee hours, attending meet and greets, and doing everything they can to further understand the needs of their constituents.  This is the time to introduce yourself, show them around your program, do some basic education on the children and family issues that matter the most to you and your community.  No need to make the big ask, just begin to build the relationship and have them understand how and why you can be a resource to them.  And if you already have a relationship with your elected officials, congratulate them and reiterate that you are a resource.  If they don’t hear from you, how else will they know all of those critical things that you know that could really help them make the right decisions?

  • They will be deciding how to invest our tax dollars.  You can help them understand where these investments make the most difference, particularly for kids of color and from low-income families.
  • They will continue to explore the needs of Michigan families and continue to work to strengthen the economy.  You can help them understand what it takes for a struggling family to provide basic needs like food and housing for their children.
  • They will be changing the way that education is funded and structured.  You can help them understand that to reduce the academic achievement gap, children’s education must begin before birth and continue through to their successful career.
  • They will be changing how health care is provided in Michigan and must focus on reducing costly disparate health outcomes.  You can help them understand what it takes to make sure that pregnant women, babies, children, youth and their families stay healthy and what a difference their health makes to other life success.

Though the elections are over, our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage has resources you can use to assist in educating your legislators.  There, you’ll find some quick facts about the status of children in Michigan, templates you can use to contact your newly elected policymakers, and issue briefs on specific children’s issues.  Act now, and continue to act!

-Michele Corey

Will Your Vote Improve Educational Equity?

Last week, an AnnArbor.com news article highlighted the successes of Ypsilanti Public Schools with using the fifth and sixth years of high school to improve their high school completion rate.  As a Washtenaw County Resident, I was proud to see Ypsilanti Public Schools utilizing a strategy that has shown to reduce high school achievement gaps between white students and students of color – a strategy aligned with Michigan’s Children’s educational equity priorities.  And related to educational achievement outcomes, on November 6th, Ypsilanti and Willow Run residents will see a proposal on their ballot to consolidate the two school districts that, if passed, would lead to a re-envisioning of public education.

What does consolidation have to do with educational equity?  While the ins and outs of the consolidation in terms of financial implication is beyond Michigan’s Children’s purview, the notion of re-envisioning the current education system is one that we can get on board with.  These particular consolidated district plans would incorporate a cradle-to-career approach to education (similar to Michigan’s Children’s cradle-to-career strategy) that would redefine the notion that public education is a K-12 system that falls within the school walls.  The ballot proposal is one way of many that citizens from all over Michigan can get engaged in this re-envisioning conversation.

The Michigan Department of Education is already taking steps to expand beyond the K-12 tradition.  The Office of Great Start was established last year to bridge the gap between early childhood education and K-12 and to align the state’s early learning and development investments to increase school readiness and early literacy.  Research shows that investing in high quality early childhood programs that target young kids most at-risk of being unprepared for kindergarten is critical to reducing the educational achievement gap – a gap that can be traced to children as young as nine months of age.

But, we know that Michigan’s current level of early childhood investment does not reach all of the children who could benefit from high quality early learning programs, so efforts must be made to continue to focus on improving educational outcomes for all kids in K-12.  The State of Michigan’s ESEA Waiver (also known as the No Child Left Behind waiver) focuses on reducing gaps in all schools – between white students and students of color, students from upper-class families and those from low-income families, and even students that are highly proficient versus under-proficient regardless of demographics. In a nutshell, the state’s waiver focuses on reducing equity gaps – a strategy that cannot be done within the traditional K-12 system alone.

This takes me back to the beginning of my blog – a cradle-to-career education strategy much include components that take advantage of equity-promoting strategies like high quality early learning opportunities, access to before- and after-school programs that promote learning beyond the traditional school day, use of the 5th and 6th years of high school like in Ypsilanti Public Schools to increase high school graduation rates, and alternative education programs that may utilize online learning and/or link young people to college prep and workforce development opportunities.  Residents of Ypsilanti and Willow Run have a serious decision to make on November 6th that may lead to some of these strategies.  The rest of us do as well – how are the individuals we are electing into office going to ensure that Michigan is appropriately educating ALL of our children?

-Mina Hong

Michigan Policymakers in 2013 MUST do Better

Last week, our national partners at First Focus released a report in partnership with Save the Children called America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S. that gave a clear picture on the well-being of children in the U.S.  To put it bluntly, we’re not doing well.  The report gave an overall grade of a C- based on five “subjects” – economic security, early childhood, K-12 education, permanency & stability, and health & safety.  And we know that in our home state, Michigan children are faring just as poorly, if not worse.  In fact, according to the national 2012 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan’s overall ranking among other states was 32nd.  Are we going to allow Michigan to be in the bottom half of the states in a C- country?  Or are we going to demand action by ourselves and our decision-makers to not let that stand?

Our latest Issue Brief – Where Michigan Children Stand This Election Season – compares America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S. with Michigan’s ranking in the national Kids Count Data Book to give us a clear picture.  As a state, we MUST do better.

To give you a snapshot:

  • Economic Security:  U.S. Grade: D/ Michigan’s Rank: 36th
  • Early Childhood:  U.S. Grade: C/Michigan’s Rank:  Tied for 24th in Preschool Access
  • K-12 Education:  U.S. Grade: C/Michigan’s Rank:  33rd
  • Permanency & Stability:  U.S. Grade: D/ Michigan’s Rank: Tied for 38th for Confirmed Child Maltreatment
  • Health & Safety:  U.S. Grade: C+/Michigan’s Rank:  22nd

What does this all mean during an election season? The candidates that we elect will make an impact on child well-being, positively or negatively.  The public policies and budget decisions they make must focus on improving the well-being for Michigan children who are most challenged by their circumstance.  Children of color and children from low-income families face systemic barriers that do little to promote good health, school readiness, and academic achievement.  During this election year, it is critical that candidates who support investments in children are elected into office and we continue to hold those elected officials accountable for helping children and families succeed.  America’s Report Card has shown us that as a nation, we’re not doing well by our children.  And yet again, the news for Michigan is even more grim.

Elections provide a unique opportunity to change that course, but only if we are all engaged.  We can do better and we must expect better from those who make decisions about public programming on our behalf.  Take advantage of this opportunity to raise your voice for children, youth and families.

-Michele Corey

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