Building a Stronger Foundation for the Right Start

June 19, 2014 – This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released the annual report, Right Start in Michigan 2014: Maternal and Infant Well-Being in Michigan’s Legacy Cities.  Each year, this report looks at the status of babies and their mothers through a series of birth outcomes.   At the same time, Michigan’s Children updated our own look at high school graduation, High School Graduation Matters in the 2014 Elections.  Both of these documents clearly illustrate that in the next budget cycle and with the next Legislature, more needs to be done to improve graduation rates for our most challenged young people – particularly for young mothers.

As we’ve talked about many times, despite significant improvements over the last several years in high school dropout rates – those kids who leave or are pushed out of high school before graduation – Michigan continues to struggle with real improvement in our 4-, 5- or 6-year graduation rates.  We continue to see significant numbers of young people who are failing to graduate in a 4-year timetable, but are still trying to hang on toward a high school credential.  Unfortunately, we’ve also seen flat or falling investment in the very programs that work for older youth.

The educational attainment of mothers is a key predictor of future success for children.  Not only do parents with limited education have more limited income, but they may also face more challenges navigating systems like education and health care for their children.  In 2012, fully one in eight births in Michigan was to a mother without a high school credential.  We know that it will take young women who give birth in their teens, and often the young men who have fathered those children, more time and more flexible paths to succeed in high school, and we know that there are limited resources for adults who may want to come back to complete that credential after their children are a bit older.

This is unacceptable.   The impact is clear – high school graduation at LEAST is essential to navigate our current economy and society.  The more young people we leave behind because we haven’t provided enough flexible paths to help them build a strong educational foundation for their families; the more challenged Michigan’s communities, schools and economies will remain.  And as the Right Start report indicates, this includes leaving behind our youngest children who may then face subsequent challenges as well.

Luckily, the elections in August and November give all of us a bully pulpit to make sure that decision-makers understand that we expect educational success for everyone, and that we will be glad to assist them if they commit to that path once in office.  Be sure to talk to candidates about this issue if it is one you are particularly passionate about.  Learn more about how you can get engaged in the elections by visiting the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

Here’s to the Graduates

June 6, 2014 – A lot of attention is paid at this time of year to all of the young people who are graduating from high school, and that attention is well deserved.  The graduate that most folks picture is the 17 or 18-year old who has progressed through high school at a traditional 4-year clip and is now poised to move forward to college or career.  Michigan’s Children would like to add to that picture our congratulations for the young people who have taken a different path toward their graduation – those who are graduating after spending their 5th or 6th year in high school; those who have returned to a diploma path after having left or been pushed out of high school; and those who have gotten so far behind and had so many life circumstances in the way that they rightly chose to take a GED path to finish this initial credential.  We celebrate the success of these young adults who are also entering into the same job market and post-secondary options as those who took a traditional, consecutive 4-year trek to get to this point.

Recently released data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that by the year 2018, 62% of the jobs in Michigan will require postsecondary education.  This confirms that in order to hold self- and family-supporting jobs in the future, the learning trajectory for all young adults is just beginning.  As the Michigan College Access Network suggests, all graduates will need financial accessibility to post-secondary of course; but much more than that, they also need academic preparation, social capital, and knowledge to navigate the process.   We are glad for the attention paid to the need for more accessible post-secondary education, and we support those efforts for the most challenged young people in our state.

For those who will not receive their high school credential this spring, the future trajectory is much more uncertain.  We’ve known in Michigan for many years that once young people fall behind in school, or when they face significant personal and educational obstacles, a traditional high school setting is not always successful in reengaging them, yet few alternatives exist.  Once students have left school before diploma, for whatever reason, they need different options to re-engage.   Not enough young people have been able to take advantage of second and third chance programs for school credential and post-secondary paths because they are not consistently available across this state or consistently accessible for all young people who need them.

Michigan’s Children is interested in taking advantage of the sharp increase in recent attention and resources to improve college access in Michigan and help to better define high school and post-secondary paths for the most challenged young people.  Over the next year we will be developing a fiscal map of current resources that serve the 140,000 Michigan 18-24 year olds without a high school credential to create the best options for policy directions in FY16 state and federal budgets and beyond.  We will continue to utilize existing research to illustrate quality models and communicate that information through multiple channels.  And, we will continue to highlight best practice options for young adults that utilize community, workforce and post-secondary partnerships successfully to serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.

Here’s to the 140,000 potential high school graduates in Michigan.  Let’s build investment in their success.

-Michele Corey

Mother’s Day Reflections

May 12, 2014 – Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mom.  While I’ve been a mom for just under six months, there are so many supports that I am grateful to access that have helped my family.  Some of these same supports, unfortunately, too many moms in Michigan cannot access because our public policies and budget-making do not prioritize them.

First, I was able to access family-planning services prior to getting pregnant that allowed me to plan for my pregnancy; and when I did become pregnant, I was able to access comprehensive prenatal care.  A healthy start in life begins well before babies are born – with women being healthy prior to conception, having the appropriate support to plan for their families, and then to access comprehensive prenatal care when they do become pregnant.  Passing the Healthy Michigan Plan last year was an excellent first step for our state to ensure that more low-income adults can access health care.  And we know that more investments are needed to support family planning and prenatal care outreach, particularly for Michigan’s most challenged women.

Additionally, and I’ve talked about this before, three days after my son was born, I received a home visit by a registered nurse.  Fortunately, our policymakers recognize the value of evidence-based home visiting services, particularly for the challenged families who benefit the most from these programs.  Congress provided funds supporting evidence-based home visiting services in Michigan’s most challenged urban communities; and the State Legislature is set to provide a $2.5 million expansion of home visiting services to rural Northern Michigan and the U.P.  However, even with this investment and already existing funds for voluntary evidence-based home visiting, we continue to serve only a fraction of eligible families.

And finally, upon my return to work, we’ve been utilizing a combination of high quality child care – with my son spending a couple days a week at a five-star rated child care center and several days a week with his grandmother, who also happens to be a former early childhood educator.  Unfortunately, too many families cannot access high quality child care that promotes early learning and development.  Michigan is making steps in the right direction to improve its child care subsidy program for very low-income families.  First, the state has been awarded the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant that has a focus on improving quality among home-based child care providers.  Like me, this is an option chosen by many families.  And the Legislature and the Governor support  child care subsidy program improvements to better serve Michigan’s lowest-income families.  Supporting high quality child care will ensure that more kids are kindergarten-ready and can reduce the academic achievement gap.

These are just a few of the supports that I was particularly thankful for this Mother’s Day – supports that our state is working to expand for Michigan’s most challenged moms.  Unfortunately, in many areas, Michigan continues to fall short.  The policy changes that were made to the Family Independence Program (cash assistance) and Food Assistance Program (food stamps) have made it more challenging for low-income families to provide financially stable homes, and the children are suffering.  Child poverty continues to be on the rise in our state.  And, child abuse and neglect prevention programs have been significantly underfunded as evidenced by the unacceptable rise in child maltreatment over the past decade.  As legislators wrap up the fiscal year 2015 budget and head back to their communities to campaign for the upcoming elections, we must ask them and all candidates to prioritize the needs of Michigan’s struggling children and families.  We must hold them accountable so that all children can have a great start in life.

-Mina Hong

Appreciating What Works

May 8, 2014 – This week represents a time that we recognize two important groups of people in the lives of children, youth and their families – it is National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week.  The connection of these two weeks struck me as perfect, since good outcomes for either are completely interdependent.  In addition, we are bemoaning the fact that in Michigan so many of our high schoolers aren’t passing national reading and math tests, a reason to really talk about what works to improve educational outcomes.

So, there is the obvious that we won’t have a skilled nursing workforce if we don’t successfully educate our young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  The research is also clear on what the most challenged kids need to succeed in school and how we can reduce the achievement gap.  We need to provide more and multiple flexible learning options that can accommodate life challenges; build consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside and outside the classroom; utilize expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day for remediation, and to help young people better see their own strengths in STEM and other areas; and connect schools with services that are typically outside of the classroom to ensure that students are healthy, well-nourished, and can focus on their education.

State Legislators have the opportunity right now in the current budget conversation to better support two specific evidence-based practices that take advantage of the combination of talent that exists within school staff, who we appreciate, and within those who integrate other services for kids and their families resulting in better educational and life outcomes.

  1. Opportunities for learning outside the school day.  The Michigan House of Representatives included $3 million in the Department of Human Services budget to reinstate some support for quality afterschool and summer learning programs.  This is nowhere near the $16 million that the state used to invest in these programs and the children and youth they serve, but it is a move in the right direction.  The Senate didn’t include this resource.
  2. Opportunities to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children and youth through school-based and school-linked health centers.  While both the House and Senate maintained consistent support for these centers in their budgets, the House included over $37 million to support the recommendations of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission 2013 report, which specifically outlined the importance of expanding mental health services in school-based and school-linked health centers.  The Senate didn’t include any additional funding for these services.

As we honor professions and professionals working hard to make sure that our children, youth and families succeed, let’s also make sure that we are  investing in the very initiatives that assist them in that work.  Get in touch with your elected officials today and ask them to talk with their colleagues about supporting what we know can make a real difference for our state.

-Michele Corey

FY2015 Budget: An Opportunity to Address Equity

April 28, 2014 – Previously I blogged about the difference between equity and equality to reiterate the importance of focusing on equity-promoting strategies when it comes to public policy and budget decision-making.  As the Michigan Legislature continues to move the fiscal year 2015 (FY2015) budget proposals along, it’s important to keep track of what budget decisions they are making and how they will reduce disparities in child and family outcomes or increase them.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee both approved their budget proposals for FY2015, which begins on October 1, 2014 and ends September 30, 2015.  The budgets will now head to the House and Senate floors before heading to Conference Committee where differences will be ironed out.  The House and Senate budget proposals include some variations from the Governor’s budget proposal – differences that will affect how this budget impacts equity.

Here are just a few highlights.

  1. Only the House Committee included $3 million for high quality after-school programming, one of the most powerful tools to reduce disparities in educational outcomes.  The Senate Committee did not include this funding.
  2. Both the House and the Senate Committees included the Governor’s recommended $65 million for the Great Start Readiness Program – a program proven to reduce the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, neither include the Governor’s recommended $100 per-slot increase and instead focus on targeted funding for transportation services.  While transportation is a barrier for many challenged families who might otherwise benefit from GSRP, the current slot amount of $3,625 continues to be insufficient to cover the true costs of running this high quality program.  The Legislature should be focusing on increasing the slot amount while also providing additional funds to support transportation.  Furthermore, the Legislature should be looking at ways to support community-based providers so that they too can be a GSRP provider that parents can choose.  While the House included language to provide additional guidance on how Intermediate School Districts work with community-based providers to expand GSRP, the Senate did not include this language.
  3. Both the House and Senate Committees include funding for pilot programs – one for a school-community partnership in Northern Michigan and another for the Michigan Reading Corps to get more kids reading proficiently by third grade.  While both of these are steps in the right direction, instead of minimal funding for small pilots, Michigan needs consistent funding to support what we already know that it takes to ensure that our most challenged students can succeed while reducing the achievement gap – a high quality education experience that partners with communities and families to provide basic, health, mental health, and other services that students need to succeed.
  4. Both the House and Senate Committees include additional funding for non-Medicaid community mental health, recognizing that Medicaid Expansion (aka the Healthy Michigan Plan) wouldn’t result in the savings the Governor’s recommendation anticipates.  This is a step in the right direction because we know that having access to mental health services is not only critical for challenged children and youth but also their parents to ensure a stable and healthy home environment. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee increased funding for non-Medicaid Mental Health but only included a placeholder to implement the recommendations of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission.

See our latest Budget Basics for a full report on how the Governor, House, and Senate budget proposals will work to shrink or increase equity gaps.

-Mina Hong

Race for Results in the State Budget

April 7, 2014 – Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Michigan League for Public Policyreleased Race for Results – a policy report exploring the role of race when it comes to child well-being in our nation.  The report features the Race for Results index, which compares how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups at the national and state level.  The findings for Michigan are not surprising.  Our African American children fare significantly worse than their national peers, with Michigan ranking as the third worst state in the nation when it comes to the well-being of African American children.  And, African American children fare significantly worse than their peers of other racial and ethnic backgrounds here in our own state.

For this reason – inequitable child outcomes that we know have existed for many years – here at Michigan’s Children we are dedicated to strengthening public policies in the best interest of children who face the most challenges.  We often talk about challenged families being families of color, low-income families, and families who struggle to provide safe and stable home environments – the same families whose children face too many barriers to succeed in school and in life.  The Race for Results findings prove to me and my team that our mission – to be a trusted, independent voice working to reduce disparities in child outcomes from cradle to career through policy change – is right on target as we strengthen public policies that will remove barriers to opportunity and lead to success for all children.

At Michigan’s Children, we focus on three opportunities – improving school readiness, ensuring safety at home, and improving college and career readiness – opportunities where we know that African American children continue to fare worse than children of other races.  We’ve been focused on some key priorities, like increasing state investments to support families with infants and toddlers since we know young families are more likely to be living in poverty and struggling to provide stability for their children.  The Race for Results report reaffirmed this priority, showing that too many African American children in Michigan live in low-poverty neighborhoods.  And because the academic achievement gap continues to be unacceptable – and was another major indicator in this report – Michigan’s Children continues to focus on increasing support for expanded learning opportunities to ensure that students who are behind academically have opportunities to catch-up outside of the traditional school hours and school year.

Right now, the Michigan Legislature is on spring break.  Many legislators are back in their districts listening to the concerns of their constituents.  When they return, they’ll be finishing up the state budget for fiscal year 2015 – a budget that could include increased investments for programs that support Michigan’s most challenged children and families.  One promising opportunity is to increase state funding for high quality after-school programming – a strategy proven to reduce the achievement gap.  Another is a $65 million increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s successful preschool program for four-year-olds.  Please take advantageof the spring break and potential for new money today by letting your legislators know the persistent inequities in child outcomes outlined in Race for Results is unacceptable to you and should be for them.

-Matt Gillard

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