Speaking For Kids

Policymakers Need Your Help

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After School Partnership.

Do you want to see better things happening for more children and families in your community?  Do you know what could be done differently to make things better?

As we speak, the Michigan Legislature is determining how we will distribute tax dollars – what will we invest in, and what we leave out of those investments.  Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.  Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   We are the ones who can help them.   Policymakers need our expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

The good news is that we already have most of the tools that we need to influence policymakers.  We all influence people every day – our children, parents, neighbors, teachers, spouses, and many others.  This is advocacy.  We just need to use those same skills to influence policymakers.

You are THE expert in what is going on in your community – the needs of the young people and their families who you serve, how your program addresses some of those needs, and how other needs aren’t adequately addressed.  When you use what you know and tell it to the people who are in the position to change things, great things can happen!  We have a lot of power to make changes happen, especially when we talk clearly, give solutions and understand what influences the people who can make change.  Knowing what would really fix the problems you are facing in your communities helps us get our message across.  Getting to know your elected officials better helps us put together the best argument.

Information about your community from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book and other sources is also a useful conversation starter.  Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have helped?  How have the efforts of your programs contributed?  How could programs like yours contribute even more if adequate investments were made?

You Are Not Alone.   Many different people want the same changes you do.  Lots of them are working hard to make changes every day.  Utilize the Michigan After-School Partnership to help you tell your story, find the facts to support your argument, know the best time to impact your issue, and the best people for you to target.

-Michele Corey

Taking Advantage of Michigan’s Opportunity

One of the good news pieces in the Michigan 2011 Kids Count Data Book released last week is that the high school dropout rate in the state fell between 2007 (the first year that Michigan went to the new cohort system that tracks the diploma or GED status of individual young people through 4, 5 and 6 years of high school) and 2010, the most recent information available.  These improvements did not happen by chance.  They happened because of concerted and strategic partnership efforts by schools, districts, cities and towns, health departments, after-school programs, human service agencies and yes, state departments.  They happened because of private philanthropic investment.  They happened because the state overwhelmingly decided that everyone should be in high school until they reach credential.

They also happened because of fear – a broad acknowledgement that the economic and social consequences of dropping out are high and far-reaching.  Costs borne by the young people themselves, our schools, our communities and our state.  As we all know, young people lacking a high school diploma face a labor market that is becoming more and more difficult to successfully navigate.  And, young people without a basic education are less likely to have the maturity and skills needed to parent effectively or the resources to promote the well-being of the next generation.

Despite the fact that this decline in dropout has not resulted in a corresponding increase in “on-time” graduation rates, there is an ever growing group of over-age and under-credited young people who are still connected to school but need more time to finish.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.  Michigan law allows state payment for educating young people toward a high school diploma until they are 20 years old (under certain circumstances, until age 22), resourcing school and community efforts to continue programming through the 5th and sometimes 6th year of high school.

A healthy economy can’t survive our current inequity in graduation rates for low-income students and students of color, and additional time in high school improves equity.  Graduation rates increase for all groups after those additional years, but the fifth and sixth years of high school are particularly beneficial for low-income students and students of color.  This is great news.  We can take advantage of the opportunity to align State and Federal policy to better support young people who are not dropping out by providing multiple pathways to graduation that include more time and flexibility for students.

This year, as every year before, we hope that policymakers use their positions as caretakers of our tax dollars to invest smart from cradle-to-career.  High school dropout is a symptom of success and failures in systems serving kids and families throughout their lives.  Gaps in educational achievement and eventual high school completion between groups of young people experiencing different level of challenge can be traced to the earliest years of a child’s life and continue to grow through their educational careers.  Legislative and Administrative actions over the last several years have diminished services for young people.  Their state budget decisions have placed Federal funding at risk.  This is counter-productive to innovation, partnership building, meaningful education reform, and to a robust economy in Michigan.

There is leadership, however.  In 2008, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flannigan, issued a challenge to schools in Michigan – to curb high school dropout by doing what works.  The Challenge is for all schools: elementary, middle and high, to identify 10-15 young people who aren’t doing so well with the early warning signs of attendance, behavior and coursework and change their trajectory.  The data suggests that schools involved in the Challenge, who intentionally work to prevent high school dropout by utilizing early warning signs and research-based interventions, have lower dropout rates than those who are not part of the Challenge.  This is heady stuff.  Again, opportunity abounds.  We know what works.

We should be encouraged by the possibility of graduating more young people from high school and make sure that the 2013 budget supports that work.

-Michele Corey

Repercussions of F.D.R.’s G.I. Bill

Last week in President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about how the G.I. Bill after World War II helped build a strong economy including a healthy middle class.  However, what President Obama failed to mention was the disparate effect the G.I. Bill had on White veterans compared to veterans of color.  The G.I. Bill essentially built a healthy middle class for White families but limited access to benefits that would have facilitated the rise of communities of color into that same middle class – a disparate effect that has not been corrected through subsequent policy decisions.

The G.I. Bill was open to all veterans, but its implementation proved to be discriminatory.  Congress had agreed that G.I. Bill supports – which included job training, college tuition, and home loans – could be administered locally.  Local implementers maintained the racially discriminatory actions that characterized local public and private sector behaviors prior to the war.  These included admissions policies that made it difficult for people of color to access higher education as well as rampant redlining practices by mortgage lenders.  Since discriminatory policies within housing and higher education were not addressed in the G.I. bill, many veterans of color were unable to access these benefits.  Thus, while the White middle class flourished after World War II, middle class communities of color failed to keep pace and the U.S. continues to see the repercussions today.

So what are those current repercussions?  The G.I. Bill has led to disparities in homeownership, community resources, education, health and wealth passing through subsequent generations.  We cannot deny the residential segregation that plagues the country, particularly in Michigan – home to one of the most racially segregated regions in the nation.  And while residential segregation may partially be a result of choice for some communities such as immigrant communities (as in, families of the same racial/ethnic background seek to live with others who share their culture, language and customs), the G.I. Bill clearly played a critical role in limiting the economic and residential mobility of veterans of color.  By providing resources for new home construction only, it served to help create suburbs while ensuring no investment or wealth accumulation in existing urban housing.

This type of segregation has allowed policymakers to target communities for investments and disinvestments in ways that layer disadvantage upon disadvantage, whether intentionally or not.  Today in Michigan, we see communities of color that have limited access to high quality early childhood education programs, top performing schools, well-resourced health care facilities, adequately paying jobs, and safe neighborhood spaces.  Michigan’s legislators need to better understand the long-term effect that their decisions make on communities, families and children of color and how strategic investments can help reduce racial disparities while continued disinvestment will further widen the race equity gap.

Learn more about Michigan’s Children’s equity work.

-Mina Hong

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