children

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

Lame Duck, Why So Divisive?

Lame duck.  The time after the elections before the new Legislature takes office.  A time when outgoing elected officials have minimal accountability.  A time when public policymaking can be particularly active – whether for good or for bad.  This lame duck session is marked by little progress in Congress and serious divisiveness in both Congress and the Michigan Legislature.  What gives?

First, on Capitol Hill, Congress must decide how to handle the pending federal “fiscal cliff” before tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts take place – a fiscal disaster.  While media continue to cover the discussions taking place, a pragmatic solution for the lame duck would be to pass a temporary extension of the tax cuts and delay sequestration (the automatic spending cuts) to allow the new Congress – a Congress that will  face political ramification if an approach isn’t taken that satisfies both sides of the aisle – to tackle the fiscal debate in the new year.  While this is likely to occur, the political battle currently underway will continue to jeopardize the public’s approval of Congress during a time when everyone must come together to identify the best possible fiscal solution for the nation.

Here in Lansing, the lame duck has been extremely active pushing through legislation that is hugely divisive.  Right to Work, Personal Property Tax, Emergency Manager law, and education reform.  Whatever your position on these various policies, the reality is that they further divide the state during a time when we need to come together to do what’s best for children and families.  At Michigan’s Children, we worry that the flurry of activity taking place in the Capitol could set-up the new Legislature for even greater divisiveness.  This is particularly devastating since the new Legislature has many important policy decisions to make like passing a balanced budget and reforming the state’s education system – serious undertakings that need the best thoughts from both sides of the aisle.  During lame duck, there are so many other important public policy decision-making that could take place that are less divisive and more important for the betterment of our state than those that the state Legislature has decided to take up.  Perhaps this lame duck, Congress and the state Legislature should take a break from their respective Capitols, enjoy the last few weeks at home with their constituents hearing from them on the issues that matter, and consider the real work that needs to begin in January.

-Mina Hong

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

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Cliff?

The elections now seem like a distant past as talk of the federal “fiscal cliff” has taken over the media.  While the political showdown in Washington, D.C. may seem like typical hoopla, folks in Michigan should care about the looming fiscal cliff.  Why, you ask?

This so-called fiscal cliff would result in a significant increase in taxes you will pay while at the same time reducing spending for critical children and family programs (and other non-entitlement programs) through automatic sequestration – aka across the board cuts to federal programs.  While neither Republicans nor Democrats want to see the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff, the two parties have different perspectives on how to battle the expiring tax cuts while cutting spending at the same time.  So why does this matter to Michigan children and families?

We know that Michigan families have been harder hit by the recession than the rest of the country with the percent of Michigan children living in poverty having increased by 64% since 2000.  Now, nearly one out of four Michigan children live in poverty and the statistics are worse for children of color.  The connection to the federal fiscal cliff?  So many programs that protect child well-being during times of hardship will be jeopardized, and in fact, many of these programs are likely to see cuts.  The question that will be debated is by how much?

It’s also important to realize just how reliant Michigan is on federal funding.  In the current fiscal year, federal dollars support 41% of Michigan’s total state budget.  For the Michigan Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services budgets – departments that support Michigan’s most struggling children and families – federal dollars support 64% and 82% of these budgets respectively.  While Michigan’s education system is less reliant on the federal budget, federal funding supports most of the education programs that work to reduce the achievement gap – an achievement gap that begins early and grows over time.

Some of the federally funded programs that may see significant funding cuts if a balanced approach isn’t taken to tackle the fiscal cliff including the following.

  • The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Community Health Centers both fund a large percent of Michigan’s preventive health programs for children and families.
  • LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant support low-income families with basic needs like heating, housing, and nutrition.
  • Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant promote school readiness while supporting struggling families.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers and Title I target school districts with high percentages of students at-risk of school failure by supporting equity promoting education programs like high quality after school programming and high school dropout prevention efforts.
  • The Workforce Investment Act for Youth engages disconnected young people to education and workforce opportunities.

All of these programs are critical in Michigan and all are in jeopardy if the federal deficit reducing solution isn’t fair and balanced.  Talking to the people who represent your interests in Washington, DC about the importance of these programs to you, your families and your communities is essential.  You can find out who your Congressperson is, as well as contact information for members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, on our website.

-Mina Hong

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

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

Registered to Vote? Election Advocacy 101: Learn Candidates’ Positions on Children’s Issues.

Voter registration deadline is quickly approaching and the presidential debates begin this week.  It’s a perfect time to get swept up in the excitement (assuming you’re not already turned off by all of the rhetoric) and get engaged in election advocacy to make sure that children’s issues are a top priority this November.

Obviously registering to vote is the perfect first step.  It is critical for all eligible voters to go out to the polls this November 6th.  Efforts to drive voters – particularly voters of color – away from the polls are just scare tactics with no legal basis.  Ensuring that those most affected by public policy decisions – children and families from low-income communities and communities of color – have the power of their vote is critically important.  Be sure to register to vote by the October 9th deadline and check out the ACLU of Michigan’s Let Me Vote campaign for more information to ensure your vote counts!

After you register to vote, learn the candidates’ positions on children’s issues.  This Wednesday marks the first in a series of four presidential candidate debates.  The debates provide an opportunity to learn about the candidates’ positions on various issues to help you make an informed decision on November 6th.  Watch the debates and listen to the candidates’ positions on issues that will affect children and families in your community and those most challenged by their circumstances.

Here are a handful of children’s issues that are critical to ensure that all children – particularly children of color and those from low-income communities – have equitable opportunities to succeed in life.  Listen for the following topics to come up during the debates; and if they don’t come up, what does that tell you?

  • A Healthy Start: Too many young children do not get a healthy start in life.  Nearly 1,000 Michigan infants die in the first year of life, and African American children are three times more likely to die before age 1.  Ensuring all children have a healthy start in life by increasing access to infant mortality prevention and parent support programs like home visitation can help reduce Michigan’s unacceptable infant mortality rate.
  • Access to Basic Needs: Michigan experienced a 64 percent increase in childhood poverty between 2000 and 2009, with nearly one of every four children in the state now living in poverty.  High poverty rates are even more prevalent for children of color. Access to poverty-prevention programs such as cash assistance, food assistance, and housing assistance protects children from the detrimental impacts that poverty may have on child development.
  • Child Abuse/Neglect Prevention: The number of victims of child abuse and neglect has grown by 21 percent in the first decade of this century. Family preservation and child abuse/neglect prevention programs can help turnaround these figures and keep Michigan kids safe.
  • Early Education:  A 2009 survey of Michigan kindergarten teachers found that one-third of children entering their classrooms are not ready to learn, and the lack of opportunity to attend a preschool program is a primary reason that kindergartners are trailing behind their peers.  Access to high quality early learning programs can help young children be prepared for educational success.
  • High School Completion:  Nearly 35,000 Michigan young people did not receive a high school diploma in the spring of 2011 – more than one-quarter of the students who began high school four-years earlier.  Young people of color or those from economically disadvantaged families remain the least likely to graduate “on-time” with their peers.  Expanding access to strategies outside of the traditional four-year high school experience can help many students reach graduation and prepare for the workforce.
  • Access to a Consistent Source of Medical Care: Too many Michigan families have lost their employer-sponsored health care or are under-insured resulting in more children becoming reliant on public insurance programs like Medicaid or MIChild. Unfortunately, too many children are being denied access to services that keep them healthy due to chronically low Medicaid reimbursement rates.  Luckily, due to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid rates will go up in Michigan starting in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, increasing access to a consistent source of medical care and keeping Michigan kids healthy.

See Michigan’s Children’s Election Advocacy Toolkit and stay tuned for regular blogs between now and the elections to learn more about how you can get engaged in election advocacy.

-Mina Hong

Will Kids Benefit From the 2012 Elections?

Elections are an opportune time to ensure that elected officials prioritize the needs of children and families.  Decisions to vote for one candidate over another can change or maintain the trajectory of the government and the decisions that will take place over the next two, four, or six years – decisions that may have significantly longer implications.

Televised debates provide an opportunity for large portions of the population to hear from candidates on key issue areas.  Thus far, televised debates for the 2012 elections have been among the Republican Presidential candidates and priorities related to children have been practically nonexistent from the conversation.  A recent report by Voices for America’s Children – Michigan’s Children’s national affiliate – found that in the first twenty Republican Presidential debates, of the over 1000 questions asked by moderators, less than two percent have focused on child policy issues.  This is despite the fact that the federal budget includes over $374 billion in investments in child health, safety, education and security.

Why should candidates be talking about key children’s issues like high quality early childhood education, K-12 education, high school dropout prevention and recovery opportunities, access to health care, and family security?  The single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  Growing educated and skilled workers and leaders in the 21st Century starts at birth and extends through young adulthood – from cradle to career.  The right mental, emotional and physical supports make all the difference in preparing children to succeed in school and life.  Unfortunately in Michigan, we struggle to do this.

Twenty-two percent of Michigan children live in poverty and even more devastating is the one in ten children who live in extreme poverty – this means that in an average size classroom, about three students are living in households with an annual income of $8,784 or less (for a family of three).  Child poverty rates are even higher for children of color and the correlation between poverty, race/ethnicity, and child outcomes is clear – low-income children and children of color have less opportunities to access a consistent source of medical care, high quality early childhood programs, and a high quality K-12 education and are more likely to struggle in school and life.  Improving child outcomes for all children by strengthening public policies is critical to Michigan’s economic recovery and should be a top priority for elected officials.

So how do voters learn about candidates’ positions on key children’s issues?  Candidate information is everywhere during an election year – on TV, on billboards, in the news, on the radio, and even at your door as they and their supporters canvass neighborhoods.  But the best way to learn candidates’ positions is by talking directly to them to learn their views and policy priorities; and once elected, the relationship is already in place to continue to have conversations with elected officials on issues that matter to constituents.  Unfortunately, this level of relationship building isn’t an option that’s feasible to many individuals – particularly children and families of color most affected by public programs – who for a variety of reasons are disengaged from the process.

In the upcoming months, Michigan’s Children will work with our federal, state and local partners to keep you updated on election advocacy opportunities.  We’ll be working with our national partners to ensure that child policy issues are included in televised debates, we’ll be providing you with an easy-to-use to toolkit on how to get engaged in election advocacy and we’ll work with our partners to inform you of opportunities to engage with candidates in your local communities.  And most importantly, Michigan’s Children will continue to promote your routine engagement in policy discussions after the elections and beyond.

Stay tuned for more!

-Mina Hong

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

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