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