equity

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

Why Does Big Bird Matter?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Mitt Romney, Big Bird, PBS fiasco and all of the political hoopla that has resulted from Presidential Candidate Romney’s comment at last week’s debate.  And while we at Michigan’s Children like to avoid this type of hoopla, Big Bird does represent educational opportunities outside the classroom and brings to mind the impact that the elections will have on education.

Big Bird and Sesame Street epitomize the importance of having access to educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom – whether in high quality child care settings that provide engaging developmentally appropriate learning opportunities or in after-school programs that help connect what kids are learning in math class to real world experiences and careers.

In Michigan, we are starting to pay needed attention to our gap in academic achievement between low-income kids and kids of color and their peers – the equity gap.  Pressure from the Federal government and our own demographics are forcing this attention, as Michigan’s kids of color continue to make up larger and larger shares of all our children – our future parents, voters and workforce.

As a state, we rely heavily on federal funding to support programs serving kids and families who struggle to access high quality opportunities outside of the traditional classroom.  Much of our state’s efforts to provide these types of programs serve kids from low-income families and kids of color who struggle the most to achieve academically.  And these high quality programs are proven to increase educational equity by helping to reduce the academic achievement gap. So what types of programs are we talking about?  Federally funded programs in Michigan include:

  • high quality home visitation programs that help parents become the great parents they want to be,
  • high quality child care programs that allow parents to work while kids learn,
  • school-based health and nutrition programs that keeps kids healthy and hunger-free so they can actively participate in the classroom,
  • after-school programs that keep kids learning and engaged after the last school bell rings, and
  • partnerships with community colleges and workforce development that keep young people in school or reconnect them to education.

So what does this mean for the elections?  With the Congressional gridlock that we’ve seen, whether federal funding will continue to flow to our state for equity promoting programs is uncertain.  Thus, it is our responsibility to elect individuals who we believe will be good stewards of our public dollars and will ensure that these types of programs will, at a minimum, maintain their funding and hopefully increase to serve more kids and better prepare our future workforce.  At Michigan’s Children, we believe this means hiring (because that is what we’re doing when we elect public officials into office) individuals who believe in a fair approach to tackling the federal deficit that does not further cut programs that promote equitable opportunities to educational success.

In Michigan, we have a statewide Senate race and every single Congressperson is facing re-election this November.  So do you know where the candidates stand on these types of issues?  Learn how you can engage with candidates by visiting our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage.

-Mina Hong

Failing Michigan’s Youngest = Failing Michigan’s Future

Since its inception, Michigan’s Children has focused on children’s well-being from cradle-to-career – a concept that aligns with Governor Snyder’s P-20 education continuum.  With Executive support for this continuum; as a state, Michigan must put its money where its mouth is.  While the state has made efforts to support preschool-aged children through the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s half-day preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure, we have failed as a state to provide consistent support for Michigan’s youngest learners – those three years of age and younger.

It is well documented that the first 1000 days of life are critical for the healthy development of young children – a time when the brain is developing rapidly and early literacy and foundations for lifelong success can be solidified.  More importantly, the first three years of life are critical to prevent large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities that begin to emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life.  Disparities in child outcomes, particularly educational disparities, have huge consequences such as:

  • kindergarten teachers needing to spend more time with students who aren’t ready for school;
  • students repeating grades in K-12;
  • more students needing access to special education services;
  • disparities in on-time graduation rates; and
  • disparities in college and career readiness.

These outcomes combined will in the long run, take a toll on the state’s economy as we will not have a workforce prepared to take jobs of the future. Long-term disparities in educational success and their economic, social and fiscal consequences are profound.  However, taking advantage of the first three years of life by supporting families with young children to be their child’s first and best teachers can help reduce future taxpayer burdens associated with disparate child outcomes.

Michigan’s Children’s key priorities for the fiscal year 2013 budget are to improve educational outcomes and close equity gaps.  Creating a sustainable funding stream for children from birth through age three would provide the foundation for that improvement.  High quality supports for infants, toddlers and their families can help reduce and prevent equity gaps directly linked to the Governor’s Dashboard including infant mortality, child poverty, 3rd grade reading, and college readiness.

The State of Michigan used to support families with young children through the 0 to 3 Secondary Prevention Program.  0 to 3 Secondary Prevention supported community-based collaborative programs that fostered positive parenting skills, improved parent-child interactions, promoted access to needed community services, increased local capacity to serve families with young children, improved school readiness, and supported healthy environments.  It’s funding peaked at $7.75 million in 2001 before complete elimination in last year’s budget debates.  It is critical that Michigan reinvest in young children from birth through age three by creating a consistent source of funding for infants, toddlers and their families to truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Check out Michigan’s Children’s website to learn more about our early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

Mental Health Coverage: From a Parent’s Perspective

Case studies and personal testimonies have an incredible impact on policy decision-making. This strategy is crucial for many families who are not able to self-advocate or are underrepresented in the process because they are marginalized by poverty, geography, language barriers or by caring for a child with a disability.  At Michigan’s Children we seek these voices and want to bring them forward.

Prior to my MSW Internship at Michigan’s Children, I spent a great deal of time advocating for families in the special education system.  By far the most challenging families were those from foreign, non-English speaking countries, low-income families of color, and migrant families.  Advocating for children with disabilities with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) was hard enough, but adding poverty, language and cultural barriers to the equation, made the work even more challenging.  These families needed wrap-around support, education and coaching, but instead often watched as their child was shuffled from school to school or classroom to classroom, because no one could accommodate their child in their current placement or home school. As a result, many students face multiple challenges including differential school discipline, connections to the juvenile justice system, and being at-risk of school dropout.

Three bills are before the Senate Committee on Health Policy that would mandate health insurance coverage of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  SB 414 and SB 415 provide the comprehensive language specifying the age parameters and treatment modalities, among other aspects.  SB 918 is a new bill, tied to the two others, which would create a fund to reimburse insurers for these expenses, as an incentive.

There is critical need for this coverage, which has been legislated in 29 other states to date.  At issue however, is whether this legislation should be a stand-alone policy that affects the estimated 15,000 Michigan families currently impacted by autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or if it should be an all-inclusive policy that would provide insurance coverage for all families with children with mental health issues.  43 out of 50 states currently have mental health parity (excluding  Michigan) and most of the legislation passed on autism coverage occurred after mental health parity was passed into law (25 out of 29).  ASD is commonly associated with other disorders (otherwise known as co-morbidity), including ADHD, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and/or Seizure Disorders, often developing as children mature and reach the age of puberty. It seems like we are creating a disparity  even within the ASD population. These autism bills will cover children up to age 18, but because we do not have mental health parity, older individuals with ASD will not be covered for either their primary disability, or any co-morbid conditions.

As a parent of a son with ASD, managing the care of a loved one with a disorder or disability is a long and exhausting road that never ends.    Finding physicians or mental health professionals with experience in working with children with disabilities can be a challenge all by itself.  With mental health parity, it would seem very likely that the pool of experienced practitioners would increase in Michigan. This, in and of itself, would be a welcome by-product of mental health parity law and even the current autism bills under discussion.

-Ann Telfer

Ann is an MSW student from the University of Michigan School of Social Work completing her field placement with Michigan’s Children.

Education for All

Coinciding with his State of the Union address, President Obama released a Blueprint for An America Built to Last. This blueprint contains several education based initiatives to “give hard-working, responsible American’s a fair shot.” Among these suggestions are:

  • Forging new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place 2 million skilled workers;
  • Attracting, preparing, supporting, and rewarding great teachers to help students learn; and
  • Keeping students in high school, which challenges all states to require all students to stay in school until their 18th birthday or they graduate.

In addition, Mr. Obama was in Ann Arbor last month to discuss his plan for keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. Included are plans to reform student aid to promote affordability; and more federal support to assist students, such as keeping interest rates on student loans down and increasing the number of work-study positions. The plan also calls on colleges and universities to keep costs down and colleges that can show they provide students with long-term value, would be given additional funds to help grow enrollment.

The President’s plan also includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Quality that would invest $1 billion to give states the incentive to:

  • Maintain adequate funding levels for higher ed to address long term causes of tuition increases;
  • Better align entry and exit standards with K-12 education to facilitate on-time completion; and
  • Revamp how states structure higher ed financing.

On their face, these sound like great plans to help keep tuition costs from rising astronomically, help teachers prepare students for post-secondary education, and give students the best bang for their educational buck. In addition, these initiatives, when taken together, encourage students to stay in school and move into post-secondary education.  However, even when states have tighter compulsory school requirements and tuition increases are small, many students, especially low-income students and students of color, end up over-aged and under-credited when it comes to high school graduation and need non-traditional pathways to graduation, as evidenced by data included in Michigan’s Children’s Building Michigan’s Future Workforce brief.

Additionally, Michigan law already pays to educate students up to age 20, but districts don’t consistently offer programs that re-engage dropouts, nor are they consistently developing and maintaining options for older students.  These options work best when they are built on community college and workforce partnerships which often lead to students earning a post-secondary credential. We know these programs work and there are examples of these innovative partnerships throughout the state.

Overall, President Obama’s goals of attracting and rewarding great teachers, keeping students in high school, keeping tuition low and thus, getting more students into and completing college are noble. However, unless all students, regardless of income or district which they are enrolled, are allowed multiple pathways to graduation and encouraged to achieve a post-secondary education, far too many low-income students and students of color will still be left behind, and with a rapidly diversifying child population, do we really want our children of color, who will be the workforce of the future, unprepared for family and community sustaining employment?

-Jacqui Broughton

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

Repercussions of F.D.R.’s G.I. Bill

Last week in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about how the G.I. Bill after World War II helped build a strong economy including a healthy middle class.  However, what President Obama failed to mention was the disparate effect the G.I. Bill had on White veterans compared to veterans of color.  The G.I. Bill essentially built a healthy middle class for White families but limited access to benefits that would have facilitated the rise of communities of color into that same middle class – a disparate effect that has not been corrected through subsequent policy decisions.

The G.I. Bill was open to all veterans, but its implementation proved to be discriminatory.  Congress had agreed that G.I. Bill supports – which included job training, college tuition, and home loans – could be administered locally.  Local implementers maintained the racially discriminatory actions that characterized local public and private sector behaviors prior to the war.  These included admissions policies that made it difficult for people of color to access higher education as well as rampant redlining practices by mortgage lenders.  Since discriminatory policies within housing and higher education were not addressed in the G.I. bill, many veterans of color were unable to access these benefits.  Thus, while the White middle class flourished after World War II, middle class communities of color failed to keep pace and the U.S. continues to see the repercussions today.

So what are those current repercussions?  The G.I. Bill has led to disparities in homeownership, community resources, education, health and wealth passing through subsequent generations.  We cannot deny the residential segregation that plagues the country, particularly in Michigan – home to one of the most racially segregated regions in the nation.  And while residential segregation may partially be a result of choice for some communities such as immigrant communities (as in, families of the same racial/ethnic background seek to live with others who share their culture, language and customs), the G.I. Bill clearly played a critical role in limiting the economic and residential mobility of veterans of color.  By providing resources for new home construction only, it served to help create suburbs while ensuring no investment or wealth accumulation in existing urban housing.

This type of segregation has allowed policymakers to target communities for investments and disinvestments in ways that layer disadvantage upon disadvantage, whether intentionally or not.  Today in Michigan, we see communities of color that have limited access to high quality early childhood education programs, top performing schools, well-resourced health care facilities, adequately paying jobs, and safe neighborhood spaces.  Michigan’s legislators need to better understand the long-term effect that their decisions make on communities, families and children of color and how strategic investments can help reduce racial disparities while continued disinvestment will further widen the race equity gap.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s equity work.

-Mina Hong

Hearings on Deaf Ears?

On October 1, 2011 over 11,000 families and nearly 30,000 children were removed from the state’s Family Independence Program (FIP) caseload in Michigan. However, a federal judge ordered a temporary injunction halting these cuts saying that the state did not give enough notice to the families being removed from cash assistance of the state’s intent to remove them. On November 1, 2011 however, approximately 40,000 people lost their cash assistance, which averaged just over $500 a month, just as the cold weather moves in and the holiday season is upon us.

It is possible for families to appeal their loss of benefits and receive a hearing to look into it. This sounds as if some families may be given the chance to at least understand the rationale as to why they have lost assistance, or even have the decision to cut off their assistance overturned. However, with so many appeals coming in, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has taken to reviewing cases this week—over 500 cases a day, under a “rocket docket” approach.

While it is a nice gesture to allow families to appeal their case closure, doing so in such a rapid manner gives families a false sense of empowerment and does not allow for real answers for families that are already wondering how to pay rent next month.

The timing on this couldn’t be worse. While the October 1 deadline missed the start of the school year, the loss in cash assistance benefits for so many children and families comes just as the temperatures fall. In addition, unemployment remains high, wages remain stagnant and in turn, the poverty rate continues to rise. Unfortunately, this means that communities of color, and therefore, children of color, will be hit hardest by losing assistance.

In Michigan, the African American unemployment rate has been more than double that of whites and many of those who are unemployed have children who depend on their income, or lack thereof. This goes hand in hand with data from DHS which states that of all children who were slated to lose assistance, approximately 90 percent are children of color. Families, and children in those families will be pushed even deeper into poverty and it has been shown time and time again that childhood poverty has a direct negative impact on future outcomes. This fact is striking across every racial/ethnic group, but particularly among children of color.

As people look for assistance in their community, United Way 2-1-1 call centers, a resource families were originally directed to check into, may be bearing the brunt of it. While this will place more stress on agencies that are already stretched to the bone, ranging from workforce development agencies to homeless shelters, working with 2-1-1 and other community partners may be the best way to figure out how this devastating policy changes will impact families once their cases have been closed.

-Jacqui Broughton

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