Speaking For Kids

E is for Education, not Expulsion

Students in Michigan are being stripped of educational opportunity and future economic security because of school expulsion and suspension. Michigan’s Children applauds a recent Resolution adopted by the State Board of Education that begins to address district disciplinary policies that are stricter than state and federal law.

Michigan law currently requires school expulsion in certain circumstances, including zero tolerance for guns, arson, or committing criminal sexual conduct in a school building or on school grounds.  However, both state law and the State Board Resolution remind school boards that they are NOT required to expel a student possessing a weapon if any one of the following is established:

  1. The student did not intend on using the object as a weapon, or to give to someone else to use as a weapon.
  2. The student did not know they had the weapon.
  3. The student didn’t know the object was a weapon.
  4. The student had permission to carry the weapon from school or police authorities.

We applaud the Board for acknowledging that certain groups of students – students from communities of color and children with disabilities – are more likely to be suspended and expelled, as well as their encouragement to local districts to review discipline policies that are more stringent than the law.

But they didn’t go far enough.

The Resolution encourages using alternatives to expulsion and suspension, like restorative justice and peer mediation, as well as increased professional development for teachers and administrators alike. However the Resolution fails to recognize the vast number of community resources available to assist with school behavior issues, particularly for students with mental health needs beyond the capacity of traditional school counselors.

The Resolution states that “students that have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning,” and the Board missed an opportunity to encourage alternative options to expulsion that would not end a students’ educational career. [They even say the word in the sentence.]

The Resolution fails to suggest what might be done differently when a student does need to be suspended or expelled. Alternative Education options all over the state are meeting the needs of former “behavior problem” students, with great success. The State Board could encourage districts to develop a plan for students to continue their education, even when the traditional school system isn’t working and thus eliminating a major part of the school-to-prison pipeline.

School Boards and Assistant Principals, typically responsible for school discipline issues, need to utilize the alternative education options in their communities and where there aren’t enough available, work with other local principals, districts, ISD’s and community agencies to develop the educational options they need to keep the kids in their communities in school.

For information about communities that have built programs that work, check out this Focus on Michigan’s Communities piece.

-Beth Berglin

Early Childhood Development = Workforce Development

As discussed a few weeks ago on our blog, a coalition of 100 business leaders organized by the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM) called for significantly greater investment in early childhood education, linking the connection between access to high quality early education and the state’s economy.  The CLCM’s two early childhood policy planks are to expand access to the Great Start Readiness Program – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure – to all kids who are eligible for GSRP, and to assure the healthy growth of children from birth through age three.

The timing of the business leaders’ call to action couldn’t be better.

Last week, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation and the Michigan Department of Education released its evaluation of GSRP from 1995-2011 that includes high school graduation and grade retention outcomes for students who participated in GSRP.  The 2011 evaluation results make the case for why GSRP works.  It found that more GSRP students graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants and even more telling, that more GSRP students of color graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants.  Access to high quality preschool reduces the high school completion gap that is seen across our state.   This evaluation comes after the state Legislature finalized the state budget for 2012-2013 which includes a $5 million increase for GSRP.

And next week, the Committee for Economic Development and ReadyNation will be in Detroit to release their latest report “Unfinished Business: Continued Investment in Child Care and Early Education is Critical to Business and America’s Future”.  Business leaders across the nation are taking a stand on the importance of high quality early care and education, knowing that it’s more cost-effective to do right by kids from the very beginning rather than investing in remediation later down the road.  And they recognize that Michigan is a key state where dedication and investment to workforce development starting in early childhood can show huge gains as the state transforms its economy.

As Michigan residents, it is critical for us to recognize this momentum that is occurring in our state.  As we enter the thick of campaign season, we must be mindful of who we elect into office and whether they too, will follow in the footsteps of business leaders across our state and our nation.  Are candidates talking about the importance of high quality early education?  Do they recognize the connection between access to high quality early learning programs and Michigan’s economy?  Will they “put their money where their mouth is” when they are negotiating the state budget next year by listening to the business leaders’ call to action to significantly increase funding for early childhood programming in our state?

It is imperative that we take advantage of this opportune time – the election season – to ensure that individuals we put into office to represent us understand our priorities.  Is expanding access to high quality early education one of them?

-Mina Hong

Babies Today, Business Leaders Tomorrow

Last week, the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM) released their early childhood business plan at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference.  And though the CLCM didn’t explain how their business plan would be funded– whether from private investments or from targeted public revenue sources – a statement from business leaders calling for significantly increased investment in early childhood education for the betterment of Michigan’s future workforce is a big deal.  So what exactly would an early childhood business plan mean for children and families in Michigan?

The CLCM is a group of business leaders from across Michigan who are committed to ensuring that all children arrive at school healthy and ready to learn.  Since its founding, the CLCM has advocated for expanded resources so that all young children eligible for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure – can access the program.  Currently, 38,000 four-year-olds eligible for GSRP aren’t able to access the program due to limited state funds.

Having business leaders call for fully funding GSRP is great news because we know that the program works.  The GSRP program has proven outcomes.  In addition to a high return on investment, high quality preschool programs like GSRP ensure that young children are ready for school, improve student achievement and ultimately contribute to higher high school graduation rates, all while narrowing the achievement gap.

BUT, four-year-old preschool alone is not enough.  The other half of the CLCM’s platform is to strengthen efforts to assure the healthy growth of children from birth through age three.  At Michigan’s Children, we know that laying strong foundations beginning at birth are essential to help young children prepare for school and to succeed in life.  When cognitive disparities emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life, taking advantage of the first three years of life when the brain is rapidly developing is critical to prevent these large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities.  And the business leaders who are part of the Leadership Council agree with this science.

Michigan’s Children continues to suggest that at least twenty percent of any new money for preschool be set-aside to serve infants, toddlers and their families.  Whether these new funds are from public or private sources, dedicating a portion of new funding to serve children from birth through age three would truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Michigan’s Children applauds the early childhood business plan and will continue to work with the Children’s Leadership Council towards their goals to expand preschool and birth through three services to prepare a strong and diverse workforce for the future.  Growing preschool and birth through three programs concurrently will show the greatest gains in terms of healthy development, school readiness, and return on investment all while preventing and reducing the achievement gap and strengthening the workforce of tomorrow.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

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