Note to Gov. Snyder: Look Out for Kids and Families in New Budget Year

February 10, 2015 – Applying the imagery of a “River of Opportunity,” Gov. Rick Snyder outlined the importance of using public resources to help people in his State of the State address last month. We couldn’t have been happier to hear that. This week, we’ll learn how he plans to support the “needs of people, rather than programs” when he delivers his FY 2015-2016 budget address.

On Wednesday, we’re counting on the Governor to prioritize kids and families and the critical programs that ensure their well-being – particularly as he’s pressured to fix a $325 million hole in the state budget. In that vein, here’s where Michigan’s Children believes investments should focus.

The governor’s recognition of the importance of “pre-natal through 3rd grade (P-3) as one of the important metrics in someone’s life” is right on. We agree with him when he says there’s nothing to be proud of when 30 percent of our children can’t read for understanding by the 3rd grade. We also expect to see strong investments in proven strategies to reduce 3rd grade reading disparities – strategies that don’t focus solely inside the school walls.

So, first, let’s start with our youngest children.

We’ve started by investing in 4-year-old preschool. The governor’s commitment in recent years to the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s preschool program for low-income children, has made great strides, and we should continue to build on them.  Now we need to see important investments even earlier. We know that investments in babies and toddlers do have significant impact towards reducing the “achievement gap” and also saving taxpayer dollars on necessary intervention programs needed over time when children fall behind.

These investments are supported by research. Research tells us that gaps in literacy skills are evident in children as young as 9 months old. The weight of this important information should underscore the need for remedies that address the gaps early and throughout children’s school-age years. Opportunities matter. Before- and after-school and summer programs as well as services geared to family support go a long way toward strengthening learning by the time a child reaches 6th grade.

If we were Gov. Snyder, we’d also put some of our political muscle into working with the state Legislature to improve school funding in the K-12 years, as well. Have we ever seen a time when so many school districts have become busted, broken and in debt? It’s no surprise their problems have followed reductions in school funding and in other programs supporting children, youth, families and communities that support learning.

As a start, we do hope the Governor takes action to build a more equitable model for funding education for our kids. One element of this equity conversation is to acknowledge that more and varied resources are required to educate the most challenged learners. The recent $40 million increase in the state’s At-Risk categorical is a start, but much more needs to be done. We hope that a portion of any increases in that fund will be targeted toward specific, evidence-based practices that leverage community and other resources beyond School Aid.

On Wednesday, therefore, take out your scorecards and let’s see how Gov. Snyder’s budget plan adds up on that “River of Opportunity” for children, youth and families on the dashboard for children, youth and families.

– Matt Gillard