Speaking For Kids

Capitalizing on Afterschool Opportunities

October 9, 2019 – For years, Michigan’s Children has forged connections between issues and groups of advocates for the purpose of increasing access to afterschool programs for students who cannot currently access them. We are always asking, “How can we strengthen afterschool advocacy?”

To help answer that question, I am honored to join the sixteen-member 2019-20 class of the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. Named for former Mott Foundation leader Bill White, former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and pioneer for public funding for afterschool programs Terry Peterson. This national fellowship offers participants the chance to improve their understanding of the art and science of policy-making for afterschool and expanded learning and to execute a project to advance access to afterschool and summer learning programs. As a White Riley Peterson fellow, my project will be to support increased collaboration among afterschool advocates towards increased investment into afterschool and summer learning programs. This work is supported by the Michigan After-School Partnership, a network that Michigan’s Children was instrumental in developing and leading over the last decade and a half.

There are some real windows of opportunity opening for afterschool advocates:

K-12 School Funding Reform. Michigan is entering a new debate over school finance that provides an opportunity to prioritize not only critical classroom supports for students, but also connecting students and schools with the resources of their communities that sustain and enhance their learning. Afterschool and summer learning programs are a critical example of effective school-community partnerships, improving reading and mathematics as well as social skills, and school engagement.

Everyone right now is talking about fixing the damn roads, but leaders have already begun staking out positions for a showdown over school funding in the coming years, which could open a window for afterschool and summer learning program expansion in Michigan. Our Governor and members of legislative leadership have named restoring K-12 school funding a top priority for their tenure. Major stakeholders including the traditional education community and the business community are engaged in coalition efforts to debate and establish their future education priorities. Afterschool and summer learning programs were even cited by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative as a necessary educational support for many students, including youth facing economic disadvantages. We must ensure that afterschool programs continue to have a say in growing school finance conversations.

Child Care. A window is opening for afterschool program expansion as well in the area of child care. Parents consistently praise the contributions of afterschool programs not only to their children’s learning, but also to their own ability to go to work or school knowing that their children are cared for and engaged. Rising child care investment from the federal government to the tune of billions means that the time is now to acknowledge the valuable care provided by afterschool programs and fund Michigan’s child care system enough to meet the need for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children.

Regardless when and how the opportunity presents itself, we have a tremendous opportunity to build stronger champions representing various interests and corners of society for expanding afterschool and summer learning programs to meet the full demand from Michigan students. I am excited to work through the White Riley Peterson Fellowship to support our continued push for statewide afterschool program funding.

– Bobby Dorigo Jones is the Policy and Outreach Associate at Michigan’s Children

You Don’t Know What Your Lawmakers Don’t Know

September 25, 2019 – At Michigan’s Children, we always remind you, our partners and supporters, that each of you have a unique understanding of the reality and impact of decisions made by state and federal policymakers, whether through your experience as a young person, parent, or caregiver, or through your experience as a professional who serves children, youth, and families. I’m writing today to share another example of just how much you have to offer.

Last week, before attending the Partnership for America’s Children, our national network of child advocacy organization’s annual meeting, Matt Gillard and I visited members of the Michigan Congressional delegation to better understand the current federal landscape and advocate for investments into critical supports for Michigan children, youth and families. While we have consistently beaten the drum for child abuse prevention, afterschool, and other programs, including communications to them over the summer, we were surprised to learn that some of our delegation’s key staff did not know:

  1. That child abuse primary prevention funding in Michigan has fallen dramatically and consistently over the course of two decades.
  2. While last year’s federal budget awarded more funds for afterschool and summer learning programs through “21st Century Community Learning Centers” grants, the grant formula led to an overall cut in funding awarded to the state of Michigan, which has led to the closure of afterschool programs in districts where student demand for these programs already outweighed the number of spots available.

We can’t always blame our elected officials for not being up to date on everything in their community – they’re handling a lot of issues and concerns all at the same time, and bandwidth is limited. Knowing what they don’t know represents an opportunity to be a resource. We can be proactive about helping our state and federal officials understand what is going on by consistently sharing information with them about what’s happening in our own lives and work in service of children, youth, and families in a way that creates a relationship between you, your organization, and their office.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – if you have just a couple minutes, ask their office for staff emails and put their general office and individual emails on your email newsletter. If you have an event coming up, take a couple of minutes to invite them, or see if they or their district staff can come visit you at another time. They often have in-district meetings that might be happening nearby. If you can find even a few minutes every month or two to keep your lawmakers in the loop, or for a quick face-to-face conversation, you are well on your way to establishing a back-and-forth relationship where your lawmakers are learning about important things going on in their community, and where you become a resource for them.

Senate budget talks have stalled and Congress will pass a continuing resolution to delay negotiations until at least November, which means we are still a couple of months away from the next chance for serious negotiations between the House and Senate that would result in a federal budget. Take advantage of this impasse over the fall to remind your lawmaker that Michigan’s children, youth, and families are our top priority! You don’t know what your Congresspeople don’t know about what’s going on in your community until you begin to talk with them.

– Bobby Dorigo Jones is the Policy and Outreach Associate at Michigan’s Children

Public Policy Spaces are for Kids Too

September 25, 2019 – Earlier this week, representatives of governments from around the globe were asked to do more than just consider the perspective of an often muted generation. Members of the United Nations were urged to step up and embrace policy changes focused on saving our planet. However, it was truth spoken to power by 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, that not only polarized conversation around climate justice but reminded the ‘adults in the room’ of this fact: public policy and advocacy are spaces for youth voices too.

Like, Greta Thunberg, I too was an advocate for a host of issues and policy platforms I held dearly and reflected my values at age 16 and younger. While many of my peers were often discouraged from sharing their own personal views on politics, news and other pressing current events, here I was not only conversing these topics with older people but engaging in debate, which often resulted in finding common ground even amid heated discourse. These vivid and engaging experiences are a major factor in why I’ve continued my advocacy into adulthood.

Nonetheless, in my experience of working in collaboration with our state’s youngest residents and constituents, I’ve heard the epithet of not being able to vote as an excuse to dissuade their interest and involvement in public policy spaces. After being turned down for expressing real, raw experiences time and time again, we, as the ‘adults in the room,’ have collectively diminished their will to contribute in these spaces. Consequently, many of our youth carry this doubt into adulthood – when they are able to vote or even run for office themselves.

At Michigan’s Children, it’s our steadfast commitment to ensuring public policy reflects the voices of unheard generations and encourage all youth to contribute by becoming change agents, voicing their perspective and experiences directly to policy-makers and influencers alike. For decades, Michigan’s Children has witnessed the very real impact of elected officials hearing directly from constituents, including the K-12 student who feels, they “shouldn’t be here, but in school,” as Greta Thunberg stated in her testimony at the United Nations this week.

As one of the leading public policy organizations in our state, let us be clear: Michigan youth, you absolutely belong and are welcomed here.

For more information on how to become civically engaged beyond voting, check out this online resource and look at the many ways that Michigan’s Children learns from youth and families on our website. We would love to work with you to amplify your voice.

Adam Bingman is the newest edition to Michigan’s Children staff team serving as Director of Communications and Outreach.

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