federal budget

Volunteer Your Time and Your Voice for Action

April 24, 2017 – National Volunteer Week is being acknowledged this week to celebrate the people who volunteer their time to make their communities better places to live.  Primarily, when people think about volunteering, they are thinking about connecting directly with someone or something – reading to a 3rd grader, mentoring a teen.  These things are important, and I do these things in my volunteer time too.  They change the circumstances of individual children, youth, families and communities – critically important work.

However, everyone who has done these things, read to a 3rd grader or mentored a teen, has also reflected on the barriers faced by the children and youth they are helping, barriers beyond what is possible to impact by doing those things alone.

What circumstances led to the 3rd grader not reading at their grade level?  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access Early On services for a developmental delay that was then not caught or treated until the child was in kindergarten.  It may be that their family’s literacy levels are not adequate to help their children excel, and with limited language spoken or read to the 3rd grader as a young child, they began school behind.  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access quality afterschool and summer learning programs, leaving the 3rd grader either home by themselves or without educational supports outside the school day.

What circumstances led to the youth needing mentoring?  It may be because the young person is in the foster care system, and has yet to find a home that lasts for more than a few months.  It may be that the young person’s parents had untreated mental health or substance abuse issues that resulted in the removal of the child from their family in the first place, and preclude their return.  It may have been that the adverse experiences (or ACEs) that the young person had in their earlier years exhibited in behaviors that proved difficult to teachers, social workers and foster parents, resulting school suspension or expulsion or multiple placements in care.

The volunteer actions taken in both of these situations are powerful for individual children and youth, improving their skills and giving them someone to count on and offer guidance toward success.  But, both of these stories lead us to wonder about the many others in similar circumstances.  What might be done to improve the odds for all children youth in these situations?  What might be done to prevent the 3rd grader from getting behind in school?  What might be done to prevent the family from losing custody of their child?

In both of these examples, there are evidenced investments that could have helped these two young people and many more like them.  In Michigan, often, there are great programs and initiatives that used to be funded, but aren’t any more; or that are funded for some, but aren’t available to every family around the state.  Elected officials at the state and federal level can change that situation.

Right now, discussions are taking place determining how we are investing our state and federal tax dollars.  Now is the time to invest a little more of our volunteer time to share what we know with the people having those discussions.  We are willing to take the time to volunteer our time to make individual life outcomes better.  Policymakers need to know that we are also willing to volunteer our time to let them know how to improve life outcomes for more children, youth and families in our communities.

Read more about Michigan’s Children’s budget advocacy, and commit some volunteer time this week to take action.

– Michele Corey

The ESSA Needs Our Help to Make Every Student Succeed

December 11, 2015 – In previous blogs, we’ve outlined the federal role in education policy falling squarely on promoting quality and innovation and promoting equity – mitigating the impact of students’ learning challenges on eventual educational success. After years of discussion and somewhat rare bi-partisan work in Congress, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed by the President yesterday, again setting the path for federal policy and investment in K-12 education. So, what do we see?

  1. Proven equity-building strategies remain intact. Investments that provide access to pre-school, integrated student services and expanded learning opportunities will continue. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that supports after-school and summer learning programs is well researched and provides evidence for this strategy that requires school-community partnership and goes well beyond just expanding hours in a school day or days in a school year. Newly titled, “Community Support for School Success” continues investment in full service schools and Promise Neighborhood grants. The use of Title I and Title II dollars for early childhood education beginning at birth is more explicit and requirements to improve school stability for young people in foster care are strengthened.
  2. New priorities reflect new evidence and recognition of specific needs. Despite opposition, the law expands requirements to track how different groups of students are doing and on what. Understanding what groups are doing well and which not so well is the first step toward building more equitable practice. States will now, for the first time, be required to consistently track and report outcomes for kids in the foster care system. It has been difficult for advocates to move better educational investments in that population without adequate information that could point to better strategies for practice and investment. States and districts will also have to start tracking critical outcome indicators beyond achievement scores like school climate and safety and student and educator engagement, improving their ability to address student needs.
  3. Some strategies proving ineffective are discontinued. What has been termed a “cookie cutter” approach to improve struggling schools has not served to improve very many of them, and this bill recognizes that there need to be a broader scope of possible strategies that are much more targeted toward local needs. We continue to contend that building investment in equity-promoting strategies have a stronger evidence base than simply removing school leadership and punishing educators for the woes of all systems that serve children, youth and their families.
  4. Additional state and local flexibility in other programs COULD increase equity in Michigan. Read on…

So, what are some of the early takeaways?

  1. Evidence and advocacy matter. Some positive shifts were the result of coordinated, strong advocacy efforts in Michigan and around the nation, like the coordinated efforts to maintain the 21st CCLC program and supports for integrated student services, as well as expanding initiatives before kindergarten. Some negative shifts were too, but those who were talking with their elected officials had definite impact on the final negotiations.
  2. Funding will obviously matter – this law outlines what COULD be funded by Congress. We still don’t have an actual federal funding bill for the current fiscal year, and continue to operate under resolutions that maintain FY2015 spending levels. This has avoided the disinvestment proposed by some conservative members of Congress, but also avoids any conversation about shifting or increasing investment strategies.
  3. Engagement at the state and local levels will matter more than ever before. For example, Congress increased the ability to address learning challenges early by allowing a variety of funding to be used for activities before kindergarten. Additional flexibility was added for the Title 1 program, which provides consistent and significant investment in the most challenged schools. There is always risk and opportunity in this flexibility to avoid taking resource from evidenced programming for one group of students to pay for expanded programming for others.

At this moment, Michigan’s Children and others are engaged in the Superintendent’s call for suggestions on how to move educational success in our state over the next decade. With more flexibility in federal education spending, being a part of state priority conversations becomes more important than ever. And, of course, we have already begun another state budget conversation where we will need to continue to fight to keep and build critical state investments while still not seeing education funding levels return to where they were before the recession in 2008. And with other budget pressures resulting from continued disinvestment in our most challenged school systems and spending decisions mandated by road funding compromises, our voices are critically important to ensure that our state is providing equitable educational opportunities for all students.

– Michele Corey

Additional Resources

More on Early Learning: Every Student Succeeds Act and Early Learning
More on Expanded Learning: Senate Passes ESEA, 21stCCLC: Sends to President for Signature 
More On Foster Care: President Obama Reauthorizes ESEA, Affording Groundbreaking Provisions for Children in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems 
More On Integrated Student Services: Community School Prominent in Every Student Succeeds Act 
More on Equity Building Strategies: ESEA Reauthorization Shows Promise
More on Accountability: The president just signed a new ed law that teaches the naysayers a thing or two
More on Local Decision Making: President Signs ESEA Rewrite, Giving States, Districts Bigger Say on Policy 

Addressing the Risk and Taking the Opportunity

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

March 23, 2015 – It is such an exciting time in Michigan for expanded learning. The recent recognition from the Governor’s Office that expanded learning is part of the answer to our 3rd grade reading dilemma was step one (and a result of many discussions and great partners.) In his budget proposal being discussed now by the Legislature, he included $10 million to expand learning opportunity for kids in K-3. In addition, the Governor proposed some serious increases in At-Risk funding for local districts to help them serve their most challenged students – specifically those who are having trouble reading by the 3rd grade and those eventually either not graduating at all, or graduating with limited college and career readiness, which could also open the door for more resource for evidenced expanded learning programming.

Unfortunately, this good news is seriously tempered by the challenge before us in Congress. Michigan has relied almost entirely on federal funds to support our expanded learning efforts through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. This has been invaluable, in that it has allowed us to do a whole bunch of research, so we know a lot about what works in expanded learning. One thing that works is to make sure that there is a consistent level of quality for programs that are funded, and that those programs have access to technical assistance and support. That happens because CCLC funding is specifically targeted toward that program – it comes with some strings attached, and that’s a good thing. Those strings have allowed our expanded learning programs to grow their evidence and improve their practice. At this point, Congress is talking about eliminating specific funding for CCLC, and best case scenario, rolling it back into grants that would go to local educational agencies to spend on any number of priorities. Not pulling out that money specifically for CCLC, which results in quality, evaluated, supported before- and after school and summer learning programs is the wrong approach.

We need a strong CCLC program to help grow stronger state investment for expanded learning – both depend on the other. Join Michigan’s Children, others in the Michigan After-School Partnership (MASP) and many advocates across the country in talking with your U.S. Representative and our U.S. Senators. Let them know that there is value to the CCLC program the way that it is, and if you are a CCLC grantee, invite them over and show them why. OR, if you aren’t a grantee, invite them over and show them what could be done if there was more funding for that program to go around.

Also join us in talking with your Michigan Representative and Senator. Let them know that it is high time that Michigan put some state investment in evidenced practice, like yours. Invite them over and show them how your program helps kids read by the 3rd grade, and helps families help their own children learn. Have them talk with students who can tell them directly how your programs are working with their schools so they will be more college and career ready.

– Matt Gillard

Read our recent Issues for Michigan’s Children: Expanded Learning Opportunities are Critical to Improve 3rd Grade Reading.

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

Let’s Learn from President Obama’s Early Learning Plan

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to reveal his budget recommendation for federal fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, 2013 and ends September 30, 2014.  With his budget proposal is expected more details on his early education plan – a plan that early childhood advocates have been touting since his State of the Union Address in February.  The details that we do know about his early childhood plan include:

  • a new federal-state partnership to expand prek to all middle- and low-income four-year-olds,
  • an Early Head Start–child care partnership to expand access to early learning for children before four-years of age, and
  • expanding evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs.

While most folks know that the Congressional divide makes it difficult for President Obama’s early childhood plan to gain any real traction, there is some real learning that states can take away from his plan.

First, to get all children school-ready, efforts must begin before kindergarten and even before preschool.  The President has laid out a clear path that not only addresses expansion of preschool for four-year-olds but also a plan that support the nation’s youngest learners – children prenatally through age three.  This is evidenced by his support to expand home visiting and programs targeting infants and toddlers through Early Head Start and high quality child care.  Here in Michigan, we’ve made great strides towards expanding preschool for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten but have struggled to keep our other early learning programs up to par.  While we’ve made progress by requiring all state funding to support only evidence-based home visiting programs, these programs continue to serve only a small fraction of all eligible families.  And our child care program continues to be one of the worst among the Great Lakes states and in the nation.  To see maximum benefits from the state’s efforts to expand the Great Start Readiness preschool program, increasing access to other high quality early learning programs before four-years of age is critical.

Additionally, President Obama’s early learning plan has been promoted by both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  This inter-departmental coordination and partnership to move the dime on children’s issues is a huge step in the right direction.  As Secretary Duncan put it, “it’s not too often that you find two government departments with overlapping responsibilities trying to work together hand-in-hand.” Luckily in Michigan, we are perfectly set-up to work across departments to tackle the multiple issues that children and families face.  First, Michigan has the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start whose goals don’t solely focus on educational outcomes but also health and development, since these are critical components to ensure that children can succeed in school.  Additionally, Governor Snyder created the “People Executive Group” to coordinate people issues across state departments including the Michigan Department of Community Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education, and Department of Civil Rights.  Both of these entities provide avenues to increase inter-departmental coordination and partnership to realize feasible strategies to address Michigan’s unacceptable outcomes for the most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families.  We know that one sector or one department alone can’t turn the tide for children and families nor should they be solely responsible for doing so.  This type of coordination across education, health and human services is already happening in some local communities in Michigan, but state-level leadership to coordinate across departments can set an example for communities across the state.

On Wednesday, I look forward to hearing more about President Obama’s budget plans to support early learning, and hope that inter-departmental coordination will continue to be a part of his early learning plan.  Perhaps Michigan can take a cue from the federal government and follow in their footsteps.

Learn more about President Obama’s early learning plan on the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

-Mina Hong

March Madness

March Madness – the excitement of the best college basketball teams competing for the national championship spot.  As a University of Michigan alumna, I can’t help but get a little hopeful that the Wolverines might have some exciting success in this year’s tournament (particularly after a disappointing Big Ten Tournament run).  At the same time that sports fans across the country are filling out their brackets and placing their bets, Congress and the President are racing to another finish line – trying to find a way to continue to fund the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year.  And this, my friends, is true madness.

Before I get into the details of this madness, let me provide some context before we get into the nitty gritty.  We know that Michigan’s next workforce is set to be its most diverse yet.  In fact, I just read a statistic last week that 2011 was the first year in which more infants of color were born in the U.S. than White, non-Latino infants – perhaps this didn’t hold true for Michigan but we are moving in a similar trajectory.  The federal budget continues to be the single most powerful expression of the federal government’s priorities.  Thus, protecting the most challenged families and communities from devastating cuts should be the priority in any budget agreement.  And we know the impact of the sequester is devastating to Michigan children and families.

As you may recall, the infamous sequester was triggered on March 1st when Congress failed to reach an agreement on how to offset the across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs.  As our national affiliate, Voices for America’s Children put it, the deep budget cuts will disproportionately impact communities of color that are already struggling with not having enough resources.   Now, a new deadline is quickly approaching – Mach 27th – when the Continuing Resolution or C.R. that is currently funding the federal government expires.  Congress must agree to a budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which goes through September 30, 2013.  This provides an opportunity to undo some of the harmful cuts of the sequester or do nothing at all to offset them.

The House has passed a budget that shifts around funding for military and defense – in essence, prioritizing certain programs and overriding the sequester’s across-the-board approach to cuts for those agencies – while maintaining the across-the-board cuts to education, health, and human services.  The Senate, on the other hand, offset some of the damaging cuts to the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start – equity-promoting programs focused on families with young children.  While it is known that the entire sequester will not be reversed, offsetting deep cuts to these critical programs that serve the country’s and Michigan’s most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families – is necessary to ensure the economy can continue to recover.  Now is the time for Michiganians to continue talking to our U.S. Representatives and urge them to adopt the Senate budget for the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year, which will better serve our struggling children and families.

Learn more about the federal budget and what it means for Michigan children and families on our website.

And Go Blue!

-Mina Hong

Super Committee, What’s the Deal?

What is really the deal with the Congressional Super Committee and are they actually going to come up with a deficit reduction plan that both sides of the aisle can agree upon?

The answer: no one knows.

The deadline for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – aka the Super Committee – is today and it seems they are years away from identifying a ten-year plan that would reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.  Senate Democrats on the Super Committee have proposed a plan that would reduce the federal deficit by up to $3 trillion by cutting critical safety net programs like Medicaid and Medicare but also raising new revenues from tax code changes.

However, the proposal was a no-go as soon as the Republican Super Committee members saw it because of the tax changes.

If the super committee fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight, sequestration takes place.  Sequestration would trigger across the board cuts for all discretionary programs while preserving mandatory programs.  (Don’t know the difference between discretionary and mandatory programs?  Learn more at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)  The across-the-board cuts would begin January 1, 2013. If the Super Committee successfully votes out a plan by tonight, the plan then goes to Congress.  The plan must be voted on by December 23, 2011; amendments and filibustering are not allowed and only a simple majority is needed.

So why does all this matter to children and families in Michigan?  The Super Committee has full jurisdiction to make any changes to discretionary and mandatory programs to reduce the deficit.  This means that critical entitlement programs could be at risk such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, SNAP (aka food stamps), free- and reduced-lunch, child care, etc.  But if the Super Committee fails to reach an agreement and sequestration takes place, then education programs such as Title I funding and Head Start, health programs such as the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and community health centers, workforce development programs and the like would be decimated.  Either way, it could be bad for kids.  Thus, a smart deficit reduction plan would address needed revenues and prioritizes sensible and effective investments in low-income children and families.

Here’s the catch.  If the Super Committee doesn’t identify a plan triggering sequestration, Congress has an entire year to “fix” the problem.  Congress could pass a law that would reverse sequestration and revert to traditional methods of determining the federal budget rather than succumbing to the across-the-board cuts.

So in the end, what does this all really mean for children and kids?  I still don’t really know but I’m keeping my eyes on it and telling Representatives Camp and Upton – Michigan’s two Congressmen who sit on the 12-member Super Committee – that federal dollars are important for Michigan children and families.  Learn more on Michigan’s Children’s federal budget page.

-Mina Hong

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