state of the state

How Can We Best Direct The Flowing River?

January 21, 2015 — Michigan families can be glad that the Governor talked so much last night in his 5th State of the State address about public resources helping individuals, rather than funding programs. Of course, this is what local service providers have been doing for a long time – often under very difficult circumstances – sorting out how to best address the multiple sets of challenges that children, youth and families face. We all know that treating single symptoms doesn’t actually provide opportunity. Service providers have been working in coalition and through collaboration to bring services together in ways that best serve families accessing them, so that the funding stream, eligibility criteria or administration aren’t apparent to the families themselves. But collaboration and coordination take time and resources to do well, and for service providers who have seen many cuts to their programs and often operate on a shoestring budget, they can prove difficult.

Michigan’s Children and others have advocated for years that public programs need to work better together, need to share data with one another, need to make things easier for organizations that know how to impact change in their communities and for the children, youth and families who are trying to move forward. Now, of course, as many people have said over the last 12 hours: the devil is in the details for the Governor’s proposals. It is clearly unnecessary to actually combine state departments or create commissions to make services work better for people, but if it these initiatives move Michigan closer to doing that, it will be a win for the most challenged among us.

Regardless of how things shake out with how public services are administered in Michigan, we will be doing what we can to help decision makers make investment decisions based on the following:

  1. What young people and families are saying about the barriers to their own success, and what they think might assist them.
  2. What research and evidence suggests about initiatives that work for children, youth and families in the most challenged circumstances.
  3. Consistent and sustainable availability of quality services throughout the state, regardless of the private economic or service infrastructure of individual communities.
  4. No gaps in services – making sure that there is seamless coordination across age groups, issue areas and eligibility criteria.

I have to admit that the “river of opportunity” image that the Governor used often in his address carries a connotation for me of a bunch of cool stuff flowing by children, youth and families that they can try to fish out, but not necessarily an intentional strategy to assess individual challenge, provide opportunities and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.  We will work toward a “river of opportunity” with efficiencies that simplify access to holistic services for children, youth and families.  We will also work toward a river that transfers any costs-savings from those efficiencies to actual, high quality service delivery since we know that services for children, youth and families continues to fall far short of what is actually needed for all families to succeed.

In this Legislative session and beyond, Michigan’s Children continues to challenge the Governor and members of the Legislature to make sure that the budget that will be proposed next month and debated over the next several months includes resources adequate to build effective public programs that result in what we all want: generations of highly educated, skilled, creative children and young adults who will attract jobs, raise healthy families and support strong communities. Join us!

— Michele Corey

Improving the State of our State

January 17, 2014 – The Governor’s annual State of the State address last night was his opportunity to talk about what he sees as the status of Michigan over the last year, and what he expects to prioritize over the next.  It is pretty easy to document the current state of our state:  rising poverty for kids and families, tied to many costly challenges from cradle to career; some economic progress in Michigan that, while on a positive note is improving the state of our budget revenues, is also a result of shifting economic realities that maintain low wage workers’ high unemployment, underemployment and tenuous connection to the workforce.

How can we change this circumstance?  Because education levels are so directly related to consistent, family supporting employment and the income tied to that employment, at least a part of that answer has to do with building college and career readiness in more of our young people.  At this point, some of our Michigan young people have it, and some don’t.  Why such disparity in this outcome?  High school graduation and subsequent success in post-secondary and career options are symptoms of the success and failure of many systems.  We choose which of these systems we are interested in supporting with public dollars and how they are supported by our public investment each year through our state’s appropriations process.

While the Governor’s budget recommendation (which kick starts the budget process each year) won’t come for a couple of weeks, his State of the State address last night gives an early glimpse into the priorities he will later work with the legislature to fund.  As last year, we are so excited about the Governor’s continued commitment to pre-school access.  It is an essential piece of a more comprehensive strategy for increased college and career success.  In addition to preschool, how should we expect some of the other main points that were made last night be translated into the budget recommendations to come to ensure that Michigan’s economic progress is felt by our most challenged children, youth, their families and communities?

  1. Easing the tax burden for hard working folks.  Well, that is easy enough.  Reinstate earlier cuts to the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  Improve the structure and resources directed to our child care subsidy program to increase its ability to serve as an effective work support.
  2. Improving truancy and school safety.  Reward educators for building better bridges to families and community resources that strengthen the ability of parents to support their children’s education, including their consistent attendance at school.  Reward the utilization of best school discipline practice that doesn’t result in loss of educational time.
  3. Expanding education year-round.  Provide year-round educational options for kids beyond the school building by better supporting extended learning opportunities to mitigate summer learning loss and assist in skill building and engagement, particularly those that focus on community, higher education and workforce partners.
  4. Assessing educators and education well.  Assess, support and reward educators, schools and communities for the ability to connect early and often with children, youth and their families and for the ability to make sure that the most challenged students are progressing.  Expand responsibility for educational success beyond the school doors, and support that responsibility accordingly.  Support current work that allows for more competency-based assessments – taking time out of the equation for school success.  Work that has broad agreement through the K-12, workforce and higher education communities.

Other priorities of Michigan’s Children that we expect to see addressed in the Governor’s budget conversations in the coming weeks?   We are really just expecting that our investments match the facts about children, youth and families:

  1. The trajectory toward college and career success begins before birth through disparities in maternal health and education.  Disparities in literacy are evident as early as nine months, and much of the brain is wired by the age of three.  To capitalize on the essential investment the state is making in 4-year old preschool, investment needs to be made earlier.
  2. College and career success is dependent on a variety of factors far beyond the reach of educators and schools.  Consistent support for integrated services like physical and mental health, basic needs, and other things that help kids and their parents focus on education; and providing 2nd and 3rd chances for high school graduation for those who need that extra time and different kinds of opportunities to succeed are also essential.

Michigan’s Children looks forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to put our public resources behind proven effective strategies that will indeed improve the state of our state.

– Michele Corey

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

What Will be the 2013 State of our State?

The Governor’s third annual State of the State address set for next Wednesday, January 16th is the first opportunity in the new year for our elected officials to prioritize the best interest of children and families who are struggling the most in our state.  We all know that children and youth are our future teachers, scientists, artists and elected officials.  As a state, our strength and future prosperity depends on ensuring that children who struggle the most become successful learners and leaders.  With our next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, the policy decisions that our new legislature makes in 2013 must also close equity gaps to ensure that ALL children can thrive in school, the workplace, and in life.

Successful navigation of the education system is of course, the best path toward life success.  But as we see in the disparities by race, ethnicity, family income and other life circumstances, too many children are not served well by our current system.  Michigan and the nation must adopt a learning model that prepares students for the 21st century, but the education system alone cannot mitigate the challenges that children and youth face outside the classroom.  These challenges have resulted from Michigan’s unacceptably high rate of poverty – a rate that disproportionately affects children of color – layered on top of structural barriers to success-promoting opportunities, including more than a decade of disinvestment in the very programs and initiatives that work.  In 2013, we hope to see the following policy issues addressed to ensure that all children have equitable opportunities for success.

  • Reduce childhood poverty by reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to fiscal year 2012 levels.  The EITC promotes economic opportunity and helps hardworking, low‐income families make ends meet. Modeled after the federal EITC, it is an effective anti‐poverty tool that reduces the number of children living in poverty.
  • Give children a right start in life by increasing investment for family support services that reach families with infants and toddlers (children from birth through age three) to ensure that parents from struggling backgrounds have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teacher.
  • Strengthen connections between early childhood and the early elementary school years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-12 to create seamless transitions between early learning and primary education, reduce educational achievement gaps, and ensure better outcomes for all kids.
  • Reform K-12 education in a way that acknowledges educational disparities and intentionally focuses on increasing educational equity by promoting and incentivizing school-community partnerships that holistically address challenges that students face beyond the school walls – an approach that doesn’t rely solely on the K-12 education community.  In whatever form this takes, a laser-like focus on increasing educational equity must be the priority.
  • Give all young people, not just the most successful, meaningful connections to higher education or workforce development 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.

As a business person, Governor Snyder surely understands the connection between children, education, workforce development, and Michigan’s future economic success.  And as child advocates, we know that prevention is always more cost-effective than intervening later on.  Ensuring that the children who struggle the most today have the opportunities to thrive in the future is what we as a state must focus on in 2013.  We’ll be watching Governor Snyder’s address next Wednesday evening to see what his plans are to ensure all Michigan children have equitable opportunities to success.  Will you?

-Michele Corey

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