Speaking for Kids

Let’s Learn from President Obama’s Early Learning Plan

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to reveal his budget recommendation for federal fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, 2013 and ends September 30, 2014.  With his budget proposal is expected more details on his early education plan – a plan that early childhood advocates have been touting since his State of the Union Address in February.  The details that we do know about his early childhood plan include:

  • a new federal-state partnership to expand prek to all middle- and low-income four-year-olds,
  • an Early Head Start–child care partnership to expand access to early learning for children before four-years of age, and
  • expanding evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs.

While most folks know that the Congressional divide makes it difficult for President Obama’s early childhood plan to gain any real traction, there is some real learning that states can take away from his plan.

First, to get all children school-ready, efforts must begin before kindergarten and even before preschool.  The President has laid out a clear path that not only addresses expansion of preschool for four-year-olds but also a plan that support the nation’s youngest learners – children prenatally through age three.  This is evidenced by his support to expand home visiting and programs targeting infants and toddlers through Early Head Start and high quality child care.  Here in Michigan, we’ve made great strides towards expanding preschool for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten but have struggled to keep our other early learning programs up to par.  While we’ve made progress by requiring all state funding to support only evidence-based home visiting programs, these programs continue to serve only a small fraction of all eligible families.  And our child care program continues to be one of the worst among the Great Lakes states and in the nation.  To see maximum benefits from the state’s efforts to expand the Great Start Readiness preschool program, increasing access to other high quality early learning programs before four-years of age is critical.

Additionally, President Obama’s early learning plan has been promoted by both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  This inter-departmental coordination and partnership to move the dime on children’s issues is a huge step in the right direction.  As Secretary Duncan put it, “it’s not too often that you find two government departments with overlapping responsibilities trying to work together hand-in-hand.” Luckily in Michigan, we are perfectly set-up to work across departments to tackle the multiple issues that children and families face.  First, Michigan has the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start whose goals don’t solely focus on educational outcomes but also health and development, since these are critical components to ensure that children can succeed in school.  Additionally, Governor Snyder created the “People Executive Group” to coordinate people issues across state departments including the Michigan Department of Community Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education, and Department of Civil Rights.  Both of these entities provide avenues to increase inter-departmental coordination and partnership to realize feasible strategies to address Michigan’s unacceptable outcomes for the most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families.  We know that one sector or one department alone can’t turn the tide for children and families nor should they be solely responsible for doing so.  This type of coordination across education, health and human services is already happening in some local communities in Michigan, but state-level leadership to coordinate across departments can set an example for communities across the state.

On Wednesday, I look forward to hearing more about President Obama’s budget plans to support early learning, and hope that inter-departmental coordination will continue to be a part of his early learning plan.  Perhaps Michigan can take a cue from the federal government and follow in their footsteps.

Learn more about President Obama’s early learning plan on the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

-Mina Hong

Authority and Evidence

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Educational Achievement Authority beyond the city of Detroit.  This is the most recent of a long line of conversations that educators, legislators and others have had over the years trying to build a path for struggling students, schools and communities to success.

Turning around the educational circumstances of our state does require that we focus some attention on the worst performers.  It is important that we do put additional resources, time and attention to those with the farthest to go – that is what it takes to improve equity in outcomes.  It is also important that we make sure that our efforts are steeped in what the research tells us will improve the educational circumstances of young people in our state.

Will shifts in who controls the decision-making for these students, schools and communities make a difference?  Perhaps.  Will shifts in control absent of other investment and strategy make a lasting difference?  Not on your life.  At the same time that the EAA conversation has been going on, we are facing more than a decade of state disinvestment and a failure to compensate for some particularly disastrous disinvestment from the federal government.  While philanthropic investment is certainly a critical piece, there is no consistent community opportunity to raise funds to compensate for lost public sector resource.

As the Senate takes up this legislation, we urge them to consider the following:

We know that young people face barriers to educational success that one system alone can’t solve – not the education system alone, not communities alone, and certainly not individual school buildings alone.  The Senate could include more direction about how resources to support extended learning, school-based health, positive behavior, and other services that have proven to increase student success would be targeted toward all schools facing restructuring demands.

Current actions that have diminished services for at-risk young people through cuts in the state budget are counter-productive to meaningful reform.  Disinvestment in the very communities the EAA legislation is attempting to serve does not promote innovation, partnership and reform.  Evidence-based support programs will need to be expanded in order to see real, sustainable improvement in school success for those most challenged schools, communities and young people.

Legislators can’t decouple the EAA conversation with the budget discussions in the Capitol over the next several months.  The path to success for the lowest performing students, schools and communities is the same as it has always been:  invest in proven strategies from cradle to career.

It is likely that the Senate Education Committee will take up this legislation quickly after returning from spring break.  Contact your Senators and let them know what you know to be true to increase the success of kids and schools; let them know that there are successful programs around the state that are assisting in this effort already and that those programs need to be available to more struggling young people and their parents.

At the same time, the Legislature continues to debate funding levels for critical programs that support educational success.  Those programs exist within the School Aid and Department of Education budgets, but they also exist within human services, health, workforce and higher education.  Let your Senators and Representatives know that without other investment, the EAA will not be able to show the kind of gains necessary for our state.

Learn more about the EAA legislation and what’s left undone in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.  To keep posted on the state budget process, visit our Budget Basics library.

-Michele Corey

Steps Forward, Steps Backward on Michigan’s Responsibility

As we debate public responsibility for many things, there cannot be any argument about our public responsibility for the children who we have removed from their families and placed in the care of the state.  In 2008, a Federal court oversaw a settlement agreement between the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and a national children’s rights group who asserted that we were not fulfilling our end of this bargain with children and families involved in our child protective services system.  This month, the sixth settlement progress report was released, assessing efforts made over the first six months of 2012.

We need to commend DHS for progress made, as cited in the federal monitors’ report:

  • Increased placements with relative guardians.  Under pressure to improve our record for permanent placements for children and youth removed from their families, DHS has stepped up their use of guardianship.  In fact, 70% of the children permanently placed out of foster care were placed under guardianship with relatives.  We know from research that when kids are removed, placement with relatives is generally less traumatic and more successful than placement with non-relatives.
  • Supporting youth “aging out” of foster care:   Continuing earlier practice, DHS committed to maintaining Medicaid coverage to youth after leaving foster care as independent – over 97% of the eligible youth were covered after their foster care case was terminated.  In addition, Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative (MYOI) programs continue to operate in counties around the state, funded and supported by the Jim Casey Foundation and other partners.  Though MYOI results in the three counties reviewed by the monitors were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.  The work of these initiatives is to provide information, training and supportive services related to education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, permanency, and social and community engagement.  Though MYOI results in the three counties were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.

Unfortunately, monitors noted that Michigan did not improve on the following crucial pieces:

  • Timeliness of reunification.   Often the best option for kids is placement back into the family after services are provided.  Michigan fell behind other states when it came to timeliness of reunification with the family following removal from home.
  • Length of stay in foster care.  Michigan kids stay an average of 11 months in foster care, compared to the national average of less than 8 months.
  • Opportunities for contact.  For children in foster care, there are few elements more critical than visits between caseworker and child, caseworker and parent, and child and their parents.  Michigan failed to meet agreed upon standards pertaining to frequency of these visits.
  • Availability of out-of-home placement options.  Michigan is lagging in licensing relative homes for placement, and is having difficulty meeting the standard of no more than three children placed in any single foster home.

The goal of the Department of Human Services, also demanded through the lawsuit settlement is to quickly connect families to services following a child’s removal to strengthen connections that result in either a child’s timely return home or safe placement as soon as possible.   Support for families must come from various community-based sources – sources whose support from state resources has been cut almost entirely over the last ten years.  In addition, the fact remains that the child welfare system continues to serve a disproportionate share of children from families living in poorer communities and from families of color.

According to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Databook, confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect rose by nearly 30% between 2005 and 2011, and over 80% of those cases involved neglect.  For families who struggle the most to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children, the need for early prevention programs has never been more critical.  The lack of adequate funding for home visiting and other family support programming and behavioral health services for adults and children, as well as the dismantling of basic financial support programs like food, cash and child care assistance runs contrary to what is necessary to improve outcomes in the child welfare system.

Fueled by the lawsuit, private philanthropic resources, and good administrative decision-making, DHS has made positive steps towards improving child protection services; but without adequate funding, Michigan cannot ensure that all families have the supports they need to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children.  The Governor did increase resource in his budget recommendation for DHS staffing, but did not increase investments in other areas of that budget.  The Legislature went on spring break without giving us a glimpse of what they are planning for DHS funding, but they have the opportunity when they return to promote investments that have proven track records in halting child maltreatment, particularly for those families most challenged by their circumstances.

To learn more about DHS’s progress towards improving the child welfare system, visit the DHS website.

To keep posted on the state budget process, see Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics.

-William Long

William is the former Interim President & CEO of Michigan’s Children, former Executive Director of the Michigan Federation for Children & Families, and current Eaton County DHS Board member.

What Will You Be Doing This Spring Break?

Over the next two weeks, Michigan’s Legislature is on spring break.  Sure, many legislators may be, literally, taking a break with their families but this also provides a great opportunity to connect with your legislators in your community – in their districts.  And boy, is there a lot to talk about.

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittees approved most of their budgets for fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), which begins October 1 of this year and goes through September 30th of 2014.  The subcommittees made many changes from the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2014 – particularly in the Community Health budget – and many will continue to be topics of debate as the budget process continues.  We know that good health is critical to education and life success, and in fact, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start agrees as demonstrated by their first objective to ensure that all children are born healthy.  With children of color disproportionately challenged by access to consistent, high quality health care, changes made to the Community Health budget will have the greatest impact on them.

House changes that will affect child and family health disparities include the following.

  1. Medicaid Expansion: The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Community Health did not include the Governor’s proposed Medicaid Expansion in their budget proposal.   This expansion would’ve insured more than 320,000 adults who are living at 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below (that’s an annual income of $25,975 for a family of three), and we know that African American and Latino Michiganders are more likely to be uninsured than their White counterparts.  As a result, Medicaid expansion is important for Michigan children of color as we know that low-income adults are often parents or caregivers of young children and that many uninsured young adults are still working to complete their high school credentials.
  2. Infant Mortality Reduction: The House Subcommittee eliminated the Governor’s proposed $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  In a state where African American babies are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies, this elimination of funding is unacceptable.
  3. Healthy Kids Dental Program: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposal to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program to an additional 70,500 children and youth in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties.  This program increases provider reimbursement rates, encourages provider participation and helps more children receive the high quality dental care they need.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families who lack access to sufficient dental care.
  4. Mental Health Innovations: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposed $5 million to support his new Mental Health Innovations, which would’ve supported comprehensive home-based mental health services for children, a pilot high intensity care management team for youth with complex behavior disorders, and mental health “first aid” training to recognize mental health problems in youth and connecting them to professional help.  These efforts could assist in ensuring that children – particularly children of color – who struggle with mental health issues get  appropriate intervention services rather than being mislabeled as youth with bad behavior at-risk of school suspension.

This spring break provides opportunities to connect with legislators on these important health programs that reduce disparities and ensure that children are on-track to succeed in school and life.  Though the House Subcommittee made these inequitable changes to the Department of Community Health budget, the full House Appropriations Committee has yet to adopt these recommendations.  Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Health has yet to finalize their budget for FY2014 and is expected to do so shortly after the break.  Now is the time to talk to your legislators in both the House and Senate about these important health programs and what they mean to your children and your community.

-Mina Hong

March Madness

March Madness – the excitement of the best college basketball teams competing for the national championship spot.  As a University of Michigan alumna, I can’t help but get a little hopeful that the Wolverines might have some exciting success in this year’s tournament (particularly after a disappointing Big Ten Tournament run).  At the same time that sports fans across the country are filling out their brackets and placing their bets, Congress and the President are racing to another finish line – trying to find a way to continue to fund the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year.  And this, my friends, is true madness.

Before I get into the details of this madness, let me provide some context before we get into the nitty gritty.  We know that Michigan’s next workforce is set to be its most diverse yet.  In fact, I just read a statistic last week that 2011 was the first year in which more infants of color were born in the U.S. than White, non-Latino infants – perhaps this didn’t hold true for Michigan but we are moving in a similar trajectory.  The federal budget continues to be the single most powerful expression of the federal government’s priorities.  Thus, protecting the most challenged families and communities from devastating cuts should be the priority in any budget agreement.  And we know the impact of the sequester is devastating to Michigan children and families.

As you may recall, the infamous sequester was triggered on March 1st when Congress failed to reach an agreement on how to offset the across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs.  As our national affiliate, Voices for America’s Children put it, the deep budget cuts will disproportionately impact communities of color that are already struggling with not having enough resources.   Now, a new deadline is quickly approaching – Mach 27th – when the Continuing Resolution or C.R. that is currently funding the federal government expires.  Congress must agree to a budget for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which goes through September 30, 2013.  This provides an opportunity to undo some of the harmful cuts of the sequester or do nothing at all to offset them.

The House has passed a budget that shifts around funding for military and defense – in essence, prioritizing certain programs and overriding the sequester’s across-the-board approach to cuts for those agencies – while maintaining the across-the-board cuts to education, health, and human services.  The Senate, on the other hand, offset some of the damaging cuts to the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start – equity-promoting programs focused on families with young children.  While it is known that the entire sequester will not be reversed, offsetting deep cuts to these critical programs that serve the country’s and Michigan’s most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families – is necessary to ensure the economy can continue to recover.  Now is the time for Michiganians to continue talking to our U.S. Representatives and urge them to adopt the Senate budget for the remainder of the 2013 federal fiscal year, which will better serve our struggling children and families.

Learn more about the federal budget and what it means for Michigan children and families on our website.

And Go Blue!

-Mina Hong

Does GSRP Have the Wrong Intentions?

Last week, the Michigan House and Senate education committees heard from Susan Broman, Deputy Superintendent of the MDE – Office of Great Start, and others on the Governor’s proposal to expand the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program (GSRP).  That’s right, in case you’ve missed it, the Governor has proposed an unprecedented expansion of Michigan’s public preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being under-prepared for kindergarten.  Specifically, he’s calling for a $130 million increase over the next two years starting with a $65 million increase in fiscal year 2014, the budget that the Michigan Legislature is currently developing.  And all who attended the hearings got the first real public glimpse of opposition to this GSRP expansion.

I will say, I wasn’t surprised by the questions asked, and if anything, most of them helped to make the case about why we really need to invest in high quality early learning programs.

The Mackinac Center argued that the highest return on investment was seen in programs like the landmark Perry Preschool Program in Ypsilanti that served at-risk three- and four-year old African American children.  And it’s true.  The highest returns are seen in programs that invest in quality (the Perry Preschool Program cost on average $12,270 per child in 2013 dollars).  Luckily, GSRP is also a high quality early education program that’s significantly cheaper than the Perry Preschool but has improved student outcomes while saving taxpayer dollars.

Legislators rightfully asked about the eligibility requirements for GSRP, questioning whether serving families up to 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL) creates a middle-class program rather than targeting the families who need it most.   The answer is no.  GSRP specifically prioritizes children in families at 200% FPL or below – 200% FPL being $47,100 for a family of four.  Families above 200% FPL are only eligible for GSRP if the child faces serious risk like a developmental delay, serious behavioral issues, primary home language not being English, child abuse/neglect, etc.  For families above 300% FPL (less than 10% of GSRP recipients are currently above 300% FPL), their child must face at least two risk factors to be eligible for the program.  So, we’re not talking about expanding a middle-class program, but rather serving children who are most at-risk of starting school behind.  (Want to know more about GSRP eligibility?  Check out this eligibility flow chart from MDE.)

Other legislators questioned whether GSRP was essentially taking children away from their homes and taking away parental responsibility.  Again, the answer is no.  Parents understand the benefits of preschool, which is why the majority of middle- and upper-income families send their children to pre-k programs.  Children and families who would benefit the most from high quality early childhood programs (as evidenced by Perry Preschool and GSRP evaluations) are children of color and children from low-income families with multiple risk factors who face difficulty accessing these programs.  (Today, there are about 16,000 four-year-olds below 200% FPL who are not accessing GSRP.)  Additionally, GSRP programs are required to have a family engagement piece built right-in, such as providing a minimum of four family contacts per year to involve families in the children’s education at school and to help them provide educational experiences for the children at home; and including GSRP parents in the programs’ regional advisory committees.  (See more information about parent involvement requirements in GSRP.)

Finally, there was much confusion among legislators about the Head Start Impact Study that showed a third-grade “fadeout” and if this might mean that GSRP shouldn’t be expanded as well – demonstrating confusion about how the two programs interplay.  Study after study have confirmed the significant long-term benefits that Head Start graduates experience compared to their peers such as high school completion, college attainment, secure employment, and healthier lives.  And in fact, for the most at-risk Head Start graduates – English language learners, foster kids, children of color, and children with special needs – fadeout was not evident.  If anything, any “fadeout” demonstrates the need to strengthen early childhood programs at the same time as strengthening K-12 education.  The federal government is already working to improve Head Start quality through re-competition.  Michigan must also step to the plate by continuing to support high quality early learning experiences through GSRP expansion while also strengthening our K-12 education system to better serve our most challenged students.

Next week, the House is expected to unveil their recommendations for fiscal year 2014; and the Senate is expected to do the same at the beginning of April.  We must continue to talk to our legislators about the benefits of GSRP to our children, our family, and our community.  To assist in your conversations, take a look at our GSRP Q&A fact sheet with legislators’ commonly asked questions. And check-out our guest column in Bridge Magazine talking about the benefits of GSRP within the larger P-20 education continuum.

-Mina Hong

Opportunities Toward Empowerment

In the last two months as Michigan’s Children’s new intern, opportunities toward empowerment have surfaced as a main theme that permeates the work I have witnessed here.

One of Michigan’s Children’s key advocacy strategies is to participate in the education of constituents and community leaders all over Michigan. On our webpage we offer budget breakdowns, arrange overviews on gaps in educational and racial equity, and provide resources for contacting legislators.  We create opportunities for empowerment of youth voice such as our annual KidSpeak© event, which brings youth to the Capital and provides a space for their perspective and opinion to be heard by legislators.

We also meet with community groups or organizations and present on a variety of topics concerning children’s issues.  In a recent meeting with The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County (TCC), a community group centered on promoting optimum well-being of all people in their county, the dynamics of cooperation, knowledge and collaboration give way to an impressive response.

During a presentation by Mina Hong, our senior policy associate, TCC was encouraged to gather into groups and create an advocacy strategy.  From a knowledge that only comes with an eagerness to be involved in the multiple issues facing their community, TCC members identified key issues, they came together and brainstormed multiple people in power that they could influence, and they identified community members with strengths that could be effective at communicating. What I saw that morning was a group of community leaders come together, cooperate, communicate and build on one another.

After a couple of weeks of observing policy being created and interviewing mothers of disadvantaged children (stay tuned for a publication based on those interviews in the following weeks), it can be easy to feel a little weighed down by the inherent complexity of advocacy work and the stories of struggle of some of our most vulnerable children. But of course, as we often find out, these are not the only stories being told in Michigan.  TCC demonstrated that and I learned a valuable lesson, that there is a wealth of strength and power in our communities and in our people.

This brings me back to my reflection on our work, that through the encouragement and provision of information to constituents, we have the opportunity to build upon what was already there: strong people doing hard things for the benefit of their neighbors. 

-Ben Kaiser

Ben is a BSW student at Cornerstone University completing his practicum with Michigan’s Children

Will Michigan Leaders Rise to the Sequestration Challenge?

I know, I know.  We are all a bit fatigued by the Sequestration conversation.  The word itself is too complicated and irritating, and the public is so fed up with reports of partisan bickering and inactivity in Washington, DC that they just expect that our elected officials won’t reach any solution to yet another stage of our country’s ongoing fiscal crisis.  However, on the day that without further action, the federal government will remove millions of dollars directly from Michigan coffers, I felt the need to talk about it one more time.

We rely so heavily in Michigan on federal funding, particularly for the programs that do the most to promote equity in our state – those that directly target disparities present by race and ethnicity, by income, or by other characteristics like speaking English as a second language or needing Special Education services; and others that don’t specifically target particular populations but still successfully reduce the equity gap.  In the face of a future workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan leaders have spent the last decade or so disinvesting state resource in the kinds of programs that are proven effective in closing equity gaps – resulting in deeper and deeper reliance on federal funding.

The State Budget Director reflected his concerns about the potential cuts in assistance to poor families, low-income pregnant women, young children – really the most vulnerable among us.  He also reflected that the state is in no position to offset federal reductions to these and other engines of economic recovery, like education, job training and college scholarships, which we all would have surmised.

As the Legislature discusses the Governor’s proposal for how we finance operations in the state of Michigan, they aren’t basing their priorities on the changing Federal playing field, but they really need to start.  I can point to several places where we will need to rise to this unprecedented budgeting challenge that will be faced by everyone, but faced more acutely by the children and families who experience the greatest challenges themselves.  You’ve heard all of these from Michigan’s Children before:

  • reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit to fiscal year 2012 levels;
  • increasing investment for family support services that reach struggling families with infants and toddlers; and
  • include equity building strategies of preschool, after-school and more time for high school graduation in any education reform and financing decisions.

Unfortunately, I can point to only one strategy where they are discussing the kind of investment necessary – the proposed increase in the state’s proven effective preschool program.  This increased funding is more important today than it was even yesterday, but it is certainly not enough.

Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand.  The impact of sequestration cuts will have devastating effects on our state’s budget and on the state’s ability to close equity gaps in income, health and educational success.  We have to keep talking to our Congressional Delegation about the impact of federal funding in this state, and remind them that they still have an opportunity to reverse the sequester cuts in budget discussions for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.

We also have to demand that our Governor and State Legislature step to the plate to increase investment in the programs that matter to the future of Michigan.

-Michele Corey

Why Health Insurance Matters to an Equitable P-20 System

Here at Michigan’s Children, we recently switched our health insurance plan, and I’ve been dealing with the headaches associated with it.  Mainly, finding a new physician (that the customer service folks at the health insurance company had confirmed twice was in-network) and then finding out that my doctor isn’t actually in-network when it came time to pay the bill.  Basically, meaning that I have to cover more of the doctor visit out-of-pocket rather than being covered by my insurance.  (Don’t worry, I’m still battling this one.)

While I’ve been navigating the hassles of our health insurance system, I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to be able to deal with this frustration.  I consider myself to be well-educated (read: I know how to use health insurance lingo), squarely in the middle class (read: if I absolutely had to, I could pay for the out-of-pocket costs), and my workplace gives me the flexibility to spend far too much time on the phone with the customer service agents at my health insurance company since, of course, they’re only open during regular business hours.

And then of course, since I am me, I think about how my experience relates to my work.  At Michigan’s Children, we focus on strategies that reduce disparities in child outcomes.  That means we’re talking about low-income families and families of color who may not understand the health insurance lingo nor have flexibility during working hours to deal with 9-5 frustrations.  When a system is built to work against the average citizen (read: me), it can only create larger barriers for the most challenged children and families.

My health insurance frustrations also make me thankful that the Governor is proposing to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid for low-income adults up to 133% of the federal poverty line, despite criticisms from his colleagues in the Legislature.  Sure, more people in Michigan will have to struggle with navigating Medicaid, just like I’ve been struggling for the past couple of days.  But in the end, being uninsured is far worse than dealing with the hassles of health insurance, and this expansion is a much better deal for Medicaid recipients and taxpayers alike.  And for adults of child-bearing age, having access to adequate health care is crucial to ensuring a healthy planned pregnancy and that all babies are born healthy – the first steps in a P-20 education system.

Governor Snyder’s proposed Medicaid expansion is one step towards improving outcomes for Michigan’s most struggling families.  Expanding access to preschool is another strategy towards reducing the achievement gap.  As a state, we must also focus on equity-promoting strategies across the P-20 continuum to truly reduce disparities in child and family outcomes.  These include strategies that support families with young children from birth through age three, and ensuring that students have access to the supports they need to succeed in school like high quality out-of-school opportunities.  We must focus on reducing disparities across the entire continuum, from cradle to career.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget and whether it’s promoting equity to ensure that all Michigan children can thrive.

-Mina Hong

We Shouldn’t Treat Preschool Like Valentine’s Day

Ahh Valentine’s Day.  The day of love.  The day when flower shops, candy shops, and restaurants do remarkably well.  But I must admit I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  Sure, I love reminding my loved ones how much I care about them on this day, but I also find it rather silly to single out one day a year that we express our love and appreciation for our loved ones who stand by us every day.  I have similar feelings about singling out four-year-old preschool in budget and program conversations about improving school readiness, and here’s why.

In President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, he called for universal access to preschool, and anticipated details of this plan include expansion to high quality early learning programs that span the birth to five continuum.  This comes on the heels of Governor Snyder’s state budget presentation for fiscal year 2014 that calls for a substantial expansion for the Great Start Readiness Preschool program (GSRP) – Michigan’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of starting school behind.  (Learn more about what the Governor’s budget means for young children in our Budget Basics report).

We know access to high quality preschool is an evidence-based strategy towards reducing an achievement gap – a gap that begins early and can build over time without the appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.  GSRP has proven to reduce disparities in student achievement including reducing the readiness gap at kindergarten, improving reading proficiency for third graders (a critical benchmark for school success), and getting more young people to their high school graduations.  And in fact, children of color who participated in GSRP were three times more likely to graduate high school on-time than children of color who did not attend GSRP – proving its effectiveness in reducing disparities.

I am a huge supporter of preschool for four-year-olds, and I also think that focusing significant investment only towards four-year-olds is short-sighted.  Just like expressing love should be about more than one-day, we know that early childhood education should be about more than support for a single year.  While GSRP is geared towards four-year-olds, we know that disparities in cognitive development emerge in babies as young as nine months of age.  And for the babies and toddlers who struggled the most, one year of preschool is a huge help towards preparing them for kindergarten but it may not be quite enough to offset the challenges they faced early in life.  Even Governor Snyder acknowledges that education must focus on the entire P-20 continuum – that begins prenatally not at four-years-old – though he does not reflect this in his budget.

To lay the best foundation to build a successful education career and to reduce achievement gaps, we must begin at birth and provide support to the most challenged young families.  I applaud President Obama’s efforts to expand access to not just four-year-old preschool but also Early Head Start, quality child care, and evidence-based home visiting.  Perhaps as we advocate to ensure that the GSPR expansion stays in the final FY2014 state budget, we should also talk about some level of support for Michigan’s youngest learners – children from birth through age three – to prevent early disparities.  And perhaps as we discuss President Obama’s early childhood focus with our Congressional folks, we should discuss how any plan to offset the sequester must safeguard the federal programs that currently support infants and toddlers like the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Early Head Start.  Here at Michigan’s Children, we love preschool, and we also know that early childhood education begins before four-years of age.

-Mina Hong

© 2018 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Sq, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Levaire