advocacy

Needed: A Budget for Children, Youth and Families

June 27, 2014 — According to the recent release of the 2014 Children’s Budget from one of our great national partners, First Focus, we’ve spent right around eight percent of our federal budget resources on children in this country for the last five years. Because of overall cuts to federal spending, this has resulted in decreasing investment, particularly in the areas of child welfare and education. According to the report, since its peak in 2010, total federal spending on children has dropped 14 percent after adjusting for inflation, while overall federal spending decreased just 8 percent during the same period.

What do federal investments have to do with Michigan policymaking? Remember the state budget process that we’ve been talking about? Well, many of those decisions are dictated by the resources that Michigan receives from the federal government. Eighty percent of funding for the Michigan Department of Human Services comes from the federal government, which funds critical safety net programs, and virtually all of the state’s efforts that support nutrition, prevention of child abuse and neglect and the care for children and youth who have been removed from their families due to maltreatment. Two of every three dollars in the Michigan Department of Community Health budget comes from federal sources, much of which helps to fund the Medicaid program serving hundreds of thousands of Michigan children and youth, and supports school- and community-based health services for the most underserved children, youth and families. The Michigan Department of Education receives 71 percent of its funding from federal sources, much of that resource dedicated toward closing achievement gaps for the most challenged young people. Click here for more about the impact of federal spending in Michigan.

Included in the release were polling results, conducted by American Viewpoint. Polls have found that virtually all voters believed that protecting basic investments in children like health, education and nutrition was important. Three-quarters of those polled believe that the protection of these investment was highly or extremely important – the same share as those feeling similarly about the importance of debt reduction.

So, what’s the problem? Why do we have stagnant investment? The same polls revealed that voters don’t focus very much on children’s issues when they are voting, or later, when they are holding elected officials accountable for their decisions once in office. Even among parents, when asked to list the issue most important to them in deciding their vote for U.S. Congress, only 10% put children’s issues at the top. Of course, we can certainly tie the issues that voters do list first to our success or failure in investing in children and families. The number 1 priority: economic issues like jobs and the minimum wage (think career and college ready young people); and number 2: fiscal issues like government spending, taxes and the national debt (think return on wise investments).

The 2014 election in Michigan will be the most impactful in decades. We will again be electing the people who will be determining spending priorities in our state and our nation. Let’s make sure that they all know that we are expecting them to focus on making more young children ready for school, more children of all ages safe and secure, and more young people ready for college and career. Let’s make sure that they know that when they do that in proven effective ways, more young people are able to access family supporting career employment. When they target public spending on those programs with proven return on investment, public resources have more bang for their buck.

Find out more about how to get involved yourself and how to help others get engaged this election season by visiting the Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

Patriotism & Civic Engagement Doesn’t End on July 5th

The last remaining fireworks have been lit and leftovers of hotdogs, hamburgers, and potato salad have been consumed.  As the 4th of July has come and gone, many thoughts of patriotism have left people’s minds as we begin another full week back at work.  However, if anything, Independence Day should be a reminder that as residents of these United States of America, it is our duty to ensure that our independence, freedom, and voices are recognized by the elected officials who represent us year-round.

One prime example of the need for year-round civic engagement is budget advocacy.  While it seems like the ink has barely dried on Michigan’s fiscal year 2014 budget, advocacy efforts to increase investment for programs that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families in the fiscal year 2015 budget (which begins October 1, 2014) must begin now.

We know that there were many efforts in the fiscal year 2014 budget to increase opportunities for Michigan’s struggling children like a significant expansion of the state’s public preschool program, but a lot of work remains undone.  For example, supports for families with young children prenatally through age three continue to fall short of the significant need.  Too many students who struggle with school continue to lack access to evidence-based before- and after-school programming that can help them catch-up and stay on track.  And too many students who face multiple challenges between their home and school environments lack access to school-community partnership programs that can help them access basic needs while staying engaged in their educations.

Now is the time to make sure that elected officials understand that Michigan residents are grateful for their efforts around preschool but that there were some significant missed opportunities in the fiscal year 2014 budget.  Legislators are back in their districts for summer break and will be seen at many events around your communities.  Be sure to talk to them when you see them, attend their monthly coffee hours, or set-up a visit with them.  Now is the time to build or strengthen relationships with your elected officials and to make sure that they have a solid understanding of the programs and services that matter to your children, your family, and your community.  In most cases, waiting until the budget season gets underway in Lansing can be too little too late.  Educating legislators and building champions before the busy budget season can ensure that they are prepared to be a voice for the programs that matter to Michigan’s most challenged children and families.

As we reflect on the fun BBQs and beautiful fireworks displays, we must also look forward to ways to continue to actively engage in our patriotic duty of engaging with elected officials on issues that matter to us.  Let’s make sure that our patriotic spirit doesn’t end on July 5th.

Learn more about the decisions that were made in the fiscal year 2014 budget and how you can get involved in the budget-making process in Michigan by visiting our Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

A Huge Win for Michigan’s Preschoolers

Earlier this week, the Legislature approved an historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten.  This $65 million increase – a 60 percent expansion of the program – will provide an additional 16,000 half-day slots, which is much needed considering the 29,000 eligible but unenrolled four-year-olds currently living in Michigan.

This year’s success was the result of the collective impact of many individuals and organizations who have entered into the early childhood education advocacy arena over the past several decades.

First off, this expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Michigan’s elected officials.  Broad support for preschool across both chambers, both parties, and the Governor’s office was expressed early on in the budget process, with some elected officials championing early childhood issues since they first took office well before the fiscal year 2014 budget process began.  These important leaders played critical roles in ensuring that the final budget bill included this significant expansion.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Center for Michigan – to not only uncover the unmet need of GSRP across the state through Bridge Magazine’s excellent journalism but to also provide support to the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM).  The CLCM, co-chaired by Doug Luciani of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Michigan’s Children’s own board member Debbie Dingell of d2 Strategies, corralled the business community in support of high quality early learning opportunities and did an effective job of communicating the research and the business argument for expanding access to GSRP.

Another significant player in this year’s efforts was the High Scope Educational Research Foundation, who has been evaluating GSRP since 1995.  Their most recent evaluation was released in March of 2012 and demonstrated the long-term benefits of young children participating in GSRP including fewer students being retained in K-12 and more students graduating on time from high school – both which save taxpayer dollars.  And of course, evaluation efforts like these have helped economists like Michigan’s own Tim Bartik and others across the country make the case for the high return on investment that quality early learning programs provide.

Finally, expansion of early childhood programming has been on the forefront of early childhood advocates’, parents’, and providers’ agendas for the past several decades.  This is evidenced by GSRP’s inception in fiscal year 1986 and its fairly steady growth since then.  At the same time, advocates have been working tirelessly to build an early childhood system that includes high quality child care, evidence-based home visiting, targeted early intervention services, and other family supports to ensure that all Michigan children get a great start in life.  While there is still much work to be done to continue to build a comprehensive early childhood system, we must take a moment to applaud our successes and thank those who have made it possible for more of Michigan’s most challenged four-year-olds to access a high quality preschool program.  Thank you from Michigan’s Children.

-Mina Hong

Our Work Doesn’t Stop After Star Power

Earlier this week, nearly 2,000 adults and children gathered in the Capitol lawn in Lansing to promote early childhood education.  There were just as many little ones as there were adults engaging in the festivities –getting their faces painted, doing the chicken dance, and meeting with legislators.  The hundreds of red t-shirts on adults and kids alike was a great visual reminder to legislators who stopped by the event or just walked in and out of the Capitol that lots of people care about early childhood issues in Michigan.  It was a great display of the momentum behind early childhood that has been building in this state over the past several decades.  And clearly, policymakers are getting the message with an historic increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program anticipated in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Star Power represented different steps of our collective advocacy strategy to strengthen public policies on behalf of Michigan’s youngest residents.  For folks who were entering into the advocacy arena for the first time, it’s a perfect first step.  Being with fellow parents, children, providers, and early childhood advocates takes a bit of the pressure off from meeting legislators for the first time.  And the first and best step towards becoming a strong advocate is to build a relationship with those who represent you.

For some attendees, it provided a chance to reconnect with legislators who they already had long-standing relationships with.  Continuing to maintain that strong relationship is just as important as building it in the first place.  And for those who already had long-standing relationships with legislators, they used the opportunity to get insight on what’s at play in current budget negotiations and strategies to use with key legislators.

There are many more steps to be taken.  While the informal nature of Star Power made it challenging for folks to make those difficult asks to key decision-makers, it provided a great opportunity to connect with legislators and to engage in policy advocacy.  However, the work doesn’t stop after Star Power.  While the budget process feels like a short several months, budget-making and policy advocacy happens year-round (learn more about this in our Budget Basics fact sheet on the budget process.) Building a relationship with the elected officials who represent you and educating them on the issues that matter to you, your children, and your community by inviting them to visit local programs in their district; having children and families benefiting from those programs speak to legislators in their districts (like at legislators’ coffee hours); continuing to reinforce the importance of these programs, policies, and public funding all year long; and thanking them for their successes are also part of the advocacy process.  Our jobs don’t stop when we get back on the bus to head home after Star Power.

If you participated in Star Power, I thank you for your participation.  And, I hope that you’ll follow-up with your legislators about the importance of specific budget issues that still need to be decided.  Learn more about what’s still at play in the fiscal year 2014 budget in our latest Budget Basics publication.

-Mina Hong

Opportunities Toward Empowerment

In the last two months as Michigan’s Children’s new intern, opportunities toward empowerment have surfaced as a main theme that permeates the work I have witnessed here.

One of Michigan’s Children’s key advocacy strategies is to participate in the education of constituents and community leaders all over Michigan. On our webpage we offer budget breakdowns, arrange overviews on gaps in educational and racial equity, and provide resources for contacting legislators.  We create opportunities for empowerment of youth voice such as our annual KidSpeak© event, which brings youth to the Capital and provides a space for their perspective and opinion to be heard by legislators.

We also meet with community groups or organizations and present on a variety of topics concerning children’s issues.  In a recent meeting with The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County (TCC), a community group centered on promoting optimum well-being of all people in their county, the dynamics of cooperation, knowledge and collaboration give way to an impressive response.

During a presentation by Mina Hong, our senior policy associate, TCC was encouraged to gather into groups and create an advocacy strategy.  From a knowledge that only comes with an eagerness to be involved in the multiple issues facing their community, TCC members identified key issues, they came together and brainstormed multiple people in power that they could influence, and they identified community members with strengths that could be effective at communicating. What I saw that morning was a group of community leaders come together, cooperate, communicate and build on one another.

After a couple of weeks of observing policy being created and interviewing mothers of disadvantaged children (stay tuned for a publication based on those interviews in the following weeks), it can be easy to feel a little weighed down by the inherent complexity of advocacy work and the stories of struggle of some of our most vulnerable children. But of course, as we often find out, these are not the only stories being told in Michigan.  TCC demonstrated that and I learned a valuable lesson, that there is a wealth of strength and power in our communities and in our people.

This brings me back to my reflection on our work, that through the encouragement and provision of information to constituents, we have the opportunity to build upon what was already there: strong people doing hard things for the benefit of their neighbors. 

-Ben Kaiser

Ben is a BSW student at Cornerstone University completing his practicum with Michigan’s Children

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

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

What a Difference Our Voices Make

This week, the Legislature finished their work on the fiscal year 2013 budget.  While it is still possible that funding for specific programs and initiatives, as well as language directing state departments in their implementation, could be vetoed by the Governor in his final budget approval, we can assume what has passed out of the Legislature is pretty close to what we’ll be working with beginning in October.

The state budget, as the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities, is a tool for either improving equity or widening gaps.   Michigan’s Children advocates for many programs, initiatives and strategies during the budget process each year, and this year put some strategic focus on two items that prove critical to improving educational equity:

  1. supporting an expansion of funding for the state’s preschool program (GSRP) and ensuring that some of those dollars would be directed towards Michigan’s youngest children from birth through age three; and
  2. reinstating funding for extended learning opportunities (before- and after-school programs) that was once funded at $16 million through the state budget.

Staff worked with partners, local advocates, Legislators and their staff through each stage of the budget conversation to make sure that those investments were included or protected.  Countless community allies reached out to their Legislators to encourage them to lend their support.

Here’s the verdict:  voices are heard.   The Legislature chose to prioritize additional funding for pre-school programming allowing nearly 1,500 more children to be served in the next school year.  Even though language was not included in this budget to dedicate some of that new language for programs supporting younger children and their families, Legislators and staff have improved understanding and critical ground work was laid.  Another verdict:  as advocates always say, this is a marathon, not a sprit.

The Legislature also chose to prioritize extended learning beyond the school day by including $1 million for the kids who need it most, those in families whose income is below twice the poverty line.  While this was not the $5 million that was originally proposed by champions in the House of Representatives, nor is it even a fraction of the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them, but it is a victory – again, a marathon.

We thank the Legislature for valuing programs that improve educational equity in our state, and we (of course) ask that the Governor not utilize his line-item veto power to remove those investments before signing the appropriations bills into law.

These investments were made because advocates and Legislative champions persisted.  The verdict for this election season:  it matters who is elected to office.  That leads to the need for all of us to understand where our candidates stand on supporting strategies that lead to better and more equitable outcomes for kids and families all around this state.  After the best candidates are elected this fall because of our votes, we continue the marathon.

-Michele Corey

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

Advocates Need Legislators to Know That Kids Count in Michigan

Every year the Michigan League for Human Services produces the Kids Count Data Book, an annual review of child well-being with a profile of every county and the city of Detroit.  The book can be purchased or downloaded from the League website.  As a project partner, we’ll be posting blogs highlighting critical information outlined in the 2011 Data Book and pointing toward related policy strategies.  But, before we get into that, let’s talk about the most important take-away from this release.

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.   This further complicates the huge challenge they face to invest in critical policy and program in the face of our economic crisis in Michigan.  Policymakers will need your expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

Data from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book provides a broad picture of the status of children and families and connects the dots between outcomes for kids and the systems that serve them well or fail to do so. This information is a useful conversation starter as you are talking to your elected officials.  If you’ve never talked with them before or if you talk with them routinely, local Kids Count data can help to frame your conversation.  Asking policymakers what they think about the data, and what plans they have to help address some of the issues of concern is a good place to start. Helping policymakers understand the context behind some of the numbers is even more valuable. Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have impacted the situation? Or have there been cuts in programs and services that have resulted in worsening data in an area?

Constituent conversation with policymakers is critical! Kids Count project staff provide copies of the Data Book to each legislative office, and utilize the information in conversation with legislators and their staff throughout the year. However, when surveyed, legislators say that the way they find out about children and families in their area is from their constituents. Most were familiar with the Kids Count data, but the legislators who really utilized the information were those who had discussed it with their constituents.

There are many examples of decision making indicating that policymakers need our help.  One example is the unrelenting data about increases in child poverty, (including unacceptable increases in children and families living in extreme poverty, with incomes below half of the federal poverty level) and equally unrelenting evidence that time spent in poverty contributes to a myriad of challenges faced by children throughout their lives.  Despite this, the Legislature decided to:  1. virtually eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit – a program that has successfully moved families with children out of extreme poverty and in many cases out of poverty all together; 2. remove the assistance life-line of thousands of poor families who simply found themselves unable to find a job for too long a time in our current unfriendly economy; and 3.  determined that owning reliable transportation in a state that requires the use of a car to successfully navigate nearly every community, deemed a family unworthy of basic Food Assistance, regardless of actual income.

We need you to weigh into policy decisions.  Contact Michigan’s Children’s staff for more information about talking with your elected officials.  We are here to help.  Access our library of materials to help you make your case, and stay involved with us through our Action Networks.

-Michele Corey

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