Speaking For Kids

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

What a Difference Our Voices Make

This week, the Legislature finished their work on the fiscal year 2013 budget.  While it is still possible that funding for specific programs and initiatives, as well as language directing state departments in their implementation, could be vetoed by the Governor in his final budget approval, we can assume what has passed out of the Legislature is pretty close to what we’ll be working with beginning in October.

The state budget, as the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities, is a tool for either improving equity or widening gaps.   Michigan’s Children advocates for many programs, initiatives and strategies during the budget process each year, and this year put some strategic focus on two items that prove critical to improving educational equity:

  1. supporting an expansion of funding for the state’s preschool program (GSRP) and ensuring that some of those dollars would be directed towards Michigan’s youngest children from birth through age three; and
  2. reinstating funding for extended learning opportunities (before- and after-school programs) that was once funded at $16 million through the state budget.

Staff worked with partners, local advocates, Legislators and their staff through each stage of the budget conversation to make sure that those investments were included or protected.  Countless community allies reached out to their Legislators to encourage them to lend their support.

Here’s the verdict:  voices are heard.   The Legislature chose to prioritize additional funding for pre-school programming allowing nearly 1,500 more children to be served in the next school year.  Even though language was not included in this budget to dedicate some of that new language for programs supporting younger children and their families, Legislators and staff have improved understanding and critical ground work was laid.  Another verdict:  as advocates always say, this is a marathon, not a sprit.

The Legislature also chose to prioritize extended learning beyond the school day by including $1 million for the kids who need it most, those in families whose income is below twice the poverty line.  While this was not the $5 million that was originally proposed by champions in the House of Representatives, nor is it even a fraction of the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them, but it is a victory – again, a marathon.

We thank the Legislature for valuing programs that improve educational equity in our state, and we (of course) ask that the Governor not utilize his line-item veto power to remove those investments before signing the appropriations bills into law.

These investments were made because advocates and Legislative champions persisted.  The verdict for this election season:  it matters who is elected to office.  That leads to the need for all of us to understand where our candidates stand on supporting strategies that lead to better and more equitable outcomes for kids and families all around this state.  After the best candidates are elected this fall because of our votes, we continue the marathon.

-Michele Corey

The Workforce Investment Act – Supporting Multiple Pathways Since 1998

The role of the Federal government in local programs is often murky, but whether through funding or regulation, the sustainability of programs that strive to provide options for children of color, families in poverty and undereducated-underemployed young adults rely on the political will and support of members of Congress.

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA), originally passed in 1998, is set to expire in August and is the largest source of federal funding for workforce development. WIA created a nationwide system of one-stop career centers – intended to provide training and employment assistance for low-income adults and youth. Programs funded by WIA provide a wide range of services, including connecting workers with other education and training options to create multiple pathways to success.

Programs in Michigan that provide youth an opportunity to gain education and career skills focus on a group of youth that are ages 16-24, have little to no high school credits, and limited employability. These youth are often referred to as disconnected, undereducated/underemployed, and Opportunity Youth by the US Department of Labor. Community-based programs strive to build a career path for youth and emphasize obtaining a high school diploma, or GED, as a critical step on that path.

Education ReConnection, in Kalamazoo, is an example of a program in Michigan that has a primary goal of re-engaging disconnected youth through a WIA-funded program and leads to high school completion. The model is unique in that it provides access to education and workforce development programming targeted to disconnected youth and supports students with a mentoring program offered through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Education ReConnection is uniquely funded through the Kalamazoo RESA, foundation grants and WIA funding targeted for youth.

WIA reauthorization is also an opportunity to readdress the needs of the employment sectors in communities and ensure that employers have workers with the skills they need to succeed. Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of CEO’s of the state’s largest corporations, continue to argue for increased funding for higher education because they know we need a million more bachelor’s degree holders by 2025 – the year children entering kindergarten this fall will graduate. The training and education made available by WIA reauthorization will provide long-term economic growth for Michigan by maintaining programs that provide access to family-sustaining employment.

There are currently two WIA reauthorization bills available for review – but they do not support youth programs equally. One of the bills, HR 4297, combines funding for youth programs with adult and provides no requirements that states utilize the funds to support youth programs. The funding in jeopardy serves low-income and youth of color and is particularly critical when fewer than 20% of them are able to find summer employment and more than 50% drop out of high school. Youth focused programs strengthen the skills and abilities of youth necessary to succeed in local labor markets, lead to career opportunities capable of sustaining a family, and support growth of our current and future economy.

Overall, WIA reauthorization must:
▪ Support attainment of post-secondary degrees and career credentials;
▪ Align education, job training, and higher education to support career pathways;
▪ Maintain separate funding streams for youth programs.

For more information about WIA reauthorization, check out:
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
The National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC)
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
The National Skills Coalition (NSC)

-Beth Berglin

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