Speaking For Kids

The Budget, A Tool for Equity?

The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities.  Where public taxpayer dollars are spent tells a whole lot about what public programs and services our state-level policymakers think are worth supporting.  And where the state chooses to invest public dollars can help increase or reduce racial/ethnic disparities.

With the next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan needs to allocate its scarce resources in ways that ensure that ALL children can thrive – from cradle to career.  And we know what children need to thrive:

  1. To be born healthy and have continued access to high quality health care services.
  2. To be raised by parents or caregivers who have the supports needed to be their child’s first, consistent and best teachers.
  3. To be assured a high quality education that begins in early childhood, extends through a career, and leads to economic self-sufficiency.

So how did the Governor’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal promote equity in these key areas?  He offers a mixed bag.

There are some positive areas such as an expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program, which increases access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children.  However, some of his proposals offer mixed results such as a small expansion of funding for infant mortality prevention – a funding increase that will be inadequate to truly address the massive disparity in infant mortality, particularly among African American babies.

The Governor does nothing to restore last year’s harmful changes to critical family support programs such as the Family Independence Program, the Food Assistance Program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit though he does recommend small increases in child abuse/neglect and family support programs, but not nearly enough to offset the deep cuts these programs have suffered over the last decade.

And finally, he offers a mixed bag in the P-20 educational continuum.  The Governor reduces funding for the child care subsidy program as a result of anticipated caseload reductions and fails to invest those savings into quality improvement initiatives – quality improvements that can ensure the healthy development of young children and prepare them for school.  And while funding for early childhood education programs are maintained, he doesn’t provide additional resources to those programs that have shown to reduce the educational equity gap that emerges before children reach kindergarten.  And after a decade of disinvestment, the Governor provides no further funding increases for programs that build educational equity, including extended learning programs and opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school.

As Michigan continues to face increasing poverty rates and increasing disparities in child outcomes, failing to restore huge cuts to public programs that work to reduce and ultimately close these gaps will be detrimental to the future of Michigan children of color and low-income children.  With ever increasing need, working to close disparity gaps is a critical component of the state’s economic recovery.  Adequately funding public programs that strengthen opportunities and capabilities of ALL of Michigan’s future leaders and workers is vital.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget fails to do so.

See Michigan’s Children’s latest brief on the Governor’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget and how it may impact equitable outcomes for children.

– Mina Hong

Policymakers Need Your Help

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After School Partnership.

Do you want to see better things happening for more children and families in your community?  Do you know what could be done differently to make things better?

As we speak, the Michigan Legislature is determining how we will distribute tax dollars – what will we invest in, and what we leave out of those investments.  Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.  Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   We are the ones who can help them.   Policymakers need our expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

The good news is that we already have most of the tools that we need to influence policymakers.  We all influence people every day – our children, parents, neighbors, teachers, spouses, and many others.  This is advocacy.  We just need to use those same skills to influence policymakers.

You are THE expert in what is going on in your community – the needs of the young people and their families who you serve, how your program addresses some of those needs, and how other needs aren’t adequately addressed.  When you use what you know and tell it to the people who are in the position to change things, great things can happen!  We have a lot of power to make changes happen, especially when we talk clearly, give solutions and understand what influences the people who can make change.  Knowing what would really fix the problems you are facing in your communities helps us get our message across.  Getting to know your elected officials better helps us put together the best argument.

Information about your community from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book and other sources is also a useful conversation starter.  Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have helped?  How have the efforts of your programs contributed?  How could programs like yours contribute even more if adequate investments were made?

You Are Not Alone.   Many different people want the same changes you do.  Lots of them are working hard to make changes every day.  Utilize the Michigan After-School Partnership to help you tell your story, find the facts to support your argument, know the best time to impact your issue, and the best people for you to target.

-Michele Corey

Taking Advantage of Michigan’s Opportunity

One of the good news pieces in the Michigan 2011 Kids Count Data Book released last week is that the high school dropout rate in the state fell between 2007 (the first year that Michigan went to the new cohort system that tracks the diploma or GED status of individual young people through 4, 5 and 6 years of high school) and 2010, the most recent information available.  These improvements did not happen by chance.  They happened because of concerted and strategic partnership efforts by schools, districts, cities and towns, health departments, after-school programs, human service agencies and yes, state departments.  They happened because of private philanthropic investment.  They happened because the state overwhelmingly decided that everyone should be in high school until they reach credential.

They also happened because of fear – a broad acknowledgement that the economic and social consequences of dropping out are high and far-reaching.  Costs borne by the young people themselves, our schools, our communities and our state.  As we all know, young people lacking a high school diploma face a labor market that is becoming more and more difficult to successfully navigate.  And, young people without a basic education are less likely to have the maturity and skills needed to parent effectively or the resources to promote the well-being of the next generation.

Despite the fact that this decline in dropout has not resulted in a corresponding increase in “on-time” graduation rates, there is an ever growing group of over-age and under-credited young people who are still connected to school but need more time to finish.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.  Michigan law allows state payment for educating young people toward a high school diploma until they are 20 years old (under certain circumstances, until age 22), resourcing school and community efforts to continue programming through the 5th and sometimes 6th year of high school.

A healthy economy can’t survive our current inequity in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, and additional time in high school improves equity.  Graduation rates increase for all groups after those additional years, but the fifth and sixth years of high school are particularly beneficial for low-income students and students of color.  This is great news.  We can take advantage of the opportunity to align State and Federal policy to better support young people who are not dropping out by providing multiple pathways to graduation that include more time and flexibility for students.

This year, as every year before, we hope that policymakers use their positions as caretakers of our tax dollars to invest smart from cradle-to-career.  High school dropout is a symptom of success and failures in systems serving kids and families throughout their lives.  Gaps in educational achievement and eventual high school completion between groups of young people experiencing different level of challenge can be traced to the earliest years of a child’s life and continue to grow through their educational careers.  Legislative and Administrative actions over the last several years have diminished services for young people.  Their state budget decisions have placed Federal funding at risk.  This is counter-productive to innovation, partnership building, meaningful education reform, and to a robust economy in Michigan.

There is leadership, however.  In 2008, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flannigan, issued a challenge to schools in Michigan – to curb high school dropout by doing what works.  The Challenge is for all schools: elementary, middle and high, to identify 10-15 young people who aren’t doing so well with the early warning signs of attendance, behavior and coursework and change their trajectory.  The data suggests that schools involved in the Challenge, who intentionally work to prevent high school dropout by utilizing early warning signs and research-based interventions, have lower dropout rates than those who are not part of the Challenge.  This is heady stuff.  Again, opportunity abounds.  We know what works.

We should be encouraged by the possibility of graduating more young people from high school and make sure that the 2013 budget supports that work.

-Michele Corey

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