Speaking For Kids

State of the Polarized State

Last night, Governor Snyder presented his third State of the State address to a Legislature that is still recovering from a bitterly divisive lame duck session.  The Governor attempted to provide some hope for reconciliation to get things done in a bipartisan fashion in 2013 by saying in his address “I appreciate that  people have different perspectives … I’m going to work hard to find common ground where we can work together and I hope all of you join me in doing the same thing.”  But, the partisan ways of lame duck haunted the State Capitol in last night’s address.  In a time when too many Michigan children and families continue to struggle, the Governor and legislative leadership must take steps to move past the polarization to build effective public policies for a better Michigan future.

So what did we hear in Governor Snyder’s State of the State?  Last week, we laid out what we hoped to hear in his State of the State and were disappointed that none of the items were addressed, nor did the Governor lay out any real details pertaining to the needs of children and families.  One silver lining was his mention to expand funding for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness preschool program to eventually ensure that all children who are eligible for the program can access it.  This program has proven to reduce the school readiness gap that affects too many children entering kindergarten and can help reduce the achievement gap throughout a student’s K-12 experience.  But, Governor Snyder did not discuss how this expansion would be funded nor did he discuss the role that early childhood education beginning at birth can play in reducing the achievement gap as well as other strategies throughout K-12.

The Governor must work with both our Republican and Democratic leaders to identify a feasible way to pay for an expansion of early childhood education programming that doesn’t jeopardize other important funding streams.  Both sides of the aisle must come together to discuss what Michigan needs to address the academic achievement gap in an effective way that better prepares Michigan’s future workforce.  Our legislators must have some honest conversations about how the partisanship of the lame duck session has built significant distrust among the legislature and begin to find ways to rebuild that trust for the betterment of Michiganians.

Policymakers must build on the fact that caring about children is universal.  This means continuing to invest in school readiness programs for young children from birth to age five; expanding support for effective strategies, like increasing access to before- and after-school programming, that move more young people to a high school credential; and continuing to ensure that education reform conversations focus on evidence-based best practices to reduce the achievement gap.

The Governor and legislative leaders must work together in 2013 to ensure that public policy decisions benefit Michigan children and Michigan’s future.

-Mina Hong

It’s All About Relationships

The elections are long over and the new Michigan Legislature was sworn into office last week.  The new legislature has quite a hefty task ahead of them with many unfinished business left from the previous legislative session and new challenges surely to arise.  If you haven’t already, now is the time to begin forming relationships with your elected officials.  Now is the time to begin holding newly elected officials accountable for the promises they made while campaigning to strengthen public policies on behalf of Michigan children and families.  And if children and families weren’t a top priority during their campaign, now is the time to begin educating newly elected officials of why they should be prioritizing children – particularly those from struggling backgrounds – to ensure that Michigan’s future is a bright one.

The best way to create change now is to strengthen your relationship with those who represent you.  Legislators are people, just like you and me, and are more inclined to listen to people they already know and trust.  Maybe you attended a town hall meeting during their campaign and have already begun to build that relationship.  Or maybe your representative is a neighbor you’ve known for years.  Or maybe your representative isn’t the person you voted for.  Regardless, here are a few easy ways to get engaged with members of the new legislature to build or strengthen your relationship with them so that when the time comes, the relationship is already established so that you can more effectively create change.

  • Congratulate them using mail, email, or social media.
  • Sign-up for their electronic newsletters to keep up-to-date on the issues at hand.
  • Attend their local coffee hours to get to know them and talk to them about the issues that matter to you.
  • Visit their office to chat with them or their staff about the issues that matter to you.
  • Be a resource to your elected official and give them your expert perspective on issues. You ARE an expert.  If you are a parent, you know about the struggles of expensive child care, the importance of a great teacher, or the challenges with navigating the health care system.  If you provide direct services, you see the struggles that the children and families you serve face on a day-to-day basis.  Share your stories and experiences with your elected officials and better yet, offer solutions that would help your family and your community deal with these issues.

Not sure who represents you?  Find out on the Michigan House of Representatives website; and while there, be sure to sign-up for your legislator’s email updates.

-Mina Hong

What Will be the 2013 State of our State?

The Governor’s third annual State of the State address set for next Wednesday, January 16th is the first opportunity in the new year for our elected officials to prioritize the best interest of children and families who are struggling the most in our state.  We all know that children and youth are our future teachers, scientists, artists and elected officials.  As a state, our strength and future prosperity depends on ensuring that children who struggle the most become successful learners and leaders.  With our next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, the policy decisions that our new legislature makes in 2013 must also close equity gaps to ensure that ALL children can thrive in school, the workplace, and in life.

Successful navigation of the education system is of course, the best path toward life success.  But as we see in the disparities by race, ethnicity, family income and other life circumstances, too many children are not served well by our current system.  Michigan and the nation must adopt a learning model that prepares students for the 21st century, but the education system alone cannot mitigate the challenges that children and youth face outside the classroom.  These challenges have resulted from Michigan’s unacceptably high rate of poverty – a rate that disproportionately affects children of color – layered on top of structural barriers to success-promoting opportunities, including more than a decade of disinvestment in the very programs and initiatives that work.  In 2013, we hope to see the following policy issues addressed to ensure that all children have equitable opportunities for success.

  • Reduce childhood poverty by reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to fiscal year 2012 levels.  The EITC promotes economic opportunity and helps hardworking, low‐income families make ends meet. Modeled after the federal EITC, it is an effective anti‐poverty tool that reduces the number of children living in poverty.
  • Give children a right start in life by increasing investment for family support services that reach families with infants and toddlers (children from birth through age three) to ensure that parents from struggling backgrounds have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teacher.
  • Strengthen connections between early childhood and the early elementary school years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-12 to create seamless transitions between early learning and primary education, reduce educational achievement gaps, and ensure better outcomes for all kids.
  • Reform K-12 education in a way that acknowledges educational disparities and intentionally focuses on increasing educational equity by promoting and incentivizing school-community partnerships that holistically address challenges that students face beyond the school walls – an approach that doesn’t rely solely on the K-12 education community.  In whatever form this takes, a laser-like focus on increasing educational equity must be the priority.
  • Give all young people, not just the most successful, meaningful connections to higher education or workforce development by expanding access to alternative education opportunities that utilize a fifth or sixth year of high school and connect a high school credential to community college credits or real-world work experience.

As a business person, Governor Snyder surely understands the connection between children, education, workforce development, and Michigan’s future economic success.  And as child advocates, we know that prevention is always more cost-effective than intervening later on.  Ensuring that the children who struggle the most today have the opportunities to thrive in the future is what we as a state must focus on in 2013.  We’ll be watching Governor Snyder’s address next Wednesday evening to see what his plans are to ensure all Michigan children have equitable opportunities to success.  Will you?

-Michele Corey

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