July 2, 2014 — How will you spend our money?  This is a question that all candidates running for the Michigan legislature should hear between now and November.  The fiscal year 2015 budget was just signed into law by Governor Snyder early this week and provides a great tool for you to utilize to talk to candidates to learn about their priorities.  You can ask them what they are glad to see in the state budget and where they believe there is inadequate funding or inappropriate investment or disinvestment.

We often talk about the state budget as the state’s expression of its priorities and a tool to address disparities that we see in child and family outcomes by race, income, and other challenging factors.  Targeted investments can work to reduce disparities – or increase equity – and bad budgeting decisions can increase disparities that lead to more challenges for Michigan children and families who may already be struggling.  The same is true for the federal budget.

We’ve highlighted key strategies to increase equitable opportunities for Michigan kids in our latest Budget Basics publication – budget strategies that can reduce disparities.  If you get an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with a candidate, you may want to dig a little deeper with him/her to understand how they will be prioritizing equity-promoting strategies.  Here are some possibilities you may want to address.

  • Child poverty continues to rise in Michigan, though many elected officials like to talk about the state’s improving economy.  Why do you think poverty is on the rise and what strategies would you take to reverse this unacceptable trend?
  • Child abuse and neglect is on the rise in Michigan, and children of color continue to be more likely to be removed from their homes than their white counterparts even though they aren’t maltreated at higher rates.  How would you suggest that Michigan work to prevent child abuse and neglect, and how can the state tackle this unacceptable disparity?
  • Michigan has increased funding for four-year-old preschool by $130 million over the last two years.  This is a great strategy to reduce the school readiness gap.  However, research shows that the first signs of the achievement gap can emerge in infancy.  What budget strategies would you prioritize to ensure that our youngest children – our infants and toddlers – have a strong start in life?
  • Much attention has been paid to third grade reading, since too many Michigan kids fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade – particularly students of color and students from low-income families.  What strategies would you use to ensure more kids can read proficiently?
  • As you know, Michigan continues to struggle to ensure that all young people achieve a high school credential.  What strategies would you explore to ensure that more Michigan young people are on a path to college or career?

Asking candidates questions related to equity now will send them a clear message that you expect them to address these issues if and when they are elected into office.  Make sure your candidates know what your top priorities are and that you can be a resource to them when elected.

Learn more about the state budget and how it will impact Michigan children and families by visiting our Budget Basics library.  To learn more about how you can get engaged this election season, visit the Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website

-Mina Hong