advocacy

The Work Has Just Begun

While some states are continuing to count their final ballots, here in Michigan, we already know who will be representing us at the federal, state, and local levels.  Hopefully you took the first step of learning what was on your ballot, researched the candidates and proposals, and waited in line and cast your vote on Tuesday.  But, that’s only the first step.  Now is the most opportune time to talk to your newly elected officials (even those incumbents who are continuing to represent you) about the issues that matter to you.  Now is the time that policy advocacy can make the biggest difference.

Why is that, you ask?  Because the first and most critical component of getting engaged is building relationships.  You know that you’re more likely to lend $5 to someone you know and trust rather than a stranger.  When it comes to policymakers, the same is true.  Over the next several months, your legislators will be hosting coffee hours, attending meet and greets, and doing everything they can to further understand the needs of their constituents.  This is the time to introduce yourself, show them around your program, do some basic education on the children and family issues that matter the most to you and your community.  No need to make the big ask, just begin to build the relationship and have them understand how and why you can be a resource to them.  And if you already have a relationship with your elected officials, congratulate them and reiterate that you are a resource.  If they don’t hear from you, how else will they know all of those critical things that you know that could really help them make the right decisions?

  • They will be deciding how to invest our tax dollars.  You can help them understand where these investments make the most difference, particularly for kids of color and from low-income families.
  • They will continue to explore the needs of Michigan families and continue to work to strengthen the economy.  You can help them understand what it takes for a struggling family to provide basic needs like food and housing for their children.
  • They will be changing the way that education is funded and structured.  You can help them understand that to reduce the academic achievement gap, children’s education must begin before birth and continue through to their successful career.
  • They will be changing how health care is provided in Michigan and must focus on reducing costly disparate health outcomes.  You can help them understand what it takes to make sure that pregnant women, babies, children, youth and their families stay healthy and what a difference their health makes to other life success.

Though the elections are over, our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage has resources you can use to assist in educating your legislators.  There, you’ll find some quick facts about the status of children in Michigan, templates you can use to contact your newly elected policymakers, and issue briefs on specific children’s issues.  Act now, and continue to act!

-Michele Corey

What a Difference Our Voices Make

This week, the Legislature finished their work on the fiscal year 2013 budget.  While it is still possible that funding for specific programs and initiatives, as well as language directing state departments in their implementation, could be vetoed by the Governor in his final budget approval, we can assume what has passed out of the Legislature is pretty close to what we’ll be working with beginning in October.

The state budget, as the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities, is a tool for either improving equity or widening gaps.   Michigan’s Children advocates for many programs, initiatives and strategies during the budget process each year, and this year put some strategic focus on two items that prove critical to improving educational equity:

  1. supporting an expansion of funding for the state’s preschool program (GSRP) and ensuring that some of those dollars would be directed towards Michigan’s youngest children from birth through age three; and
  2. reinstating funding for extended learning opportunities (before- and after-school programs) that was once funded at $16 million through the state budget.

Staff worked with partners, local advocates, Legislators and their staff through each stage of the budget conversation to make sure that those investments were included or protected.  Countless community allies reached out to their Legislators to encourage them to lend their support.

Here’s the verdict:  voices are heard.   The Legislature chose to prioritize additional funding for pre-school programming allowing nearly 1,500 more children to be served in the next school year.  Even though language was not included in this budget to dedicate some of that new language for programs supporting younger children and their families, Legislators and staff have improved understanding and critical ground work was laid.  Another verdict:  as advocates always say, this is a marathon, not a sprit.

The Legislature also chose to prioritize extended learning beyond the school day by including $1 million for the kids who need it most, those in families whose income is below twice the poverty line.  While this was not the $5 million that was originally proposed by champions in the House of Representatives, nor is it even a fraction of the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them, but it is a victory – again, a marathon.

We thank the Legislature for valuing programs that improve educational equity in our state, and we (of course) ask that the Governor not utilize his line-item veto power to remove those investments before signing the appropriations bills into law.

These investments were made because advocates and Legislative champions persisted.  The verdict for this election season:  it matters who is elected to office.  That leads to the need for all of us to understand where our candidates stand on supporting strategies that lead to better and more equitable outcomes for kids and families all around this state.  After the best candidates are elected this fall because of our votes, we continue the marathon.

-Michele Corey

Policymakers Need Your Help

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After School Partnership.

Do you want to see better things happening for more children and families in your community?  Do you know what could be done differently to make things better?

As we speak, the Michigan Legislature is determining how we will distribute tax dollars – what will we invest in, and what we leave out of those investments.  Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.  Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   We are the ones who can help them.   Policymakers need our expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

The good news is that we already have most of the tools that we need to influence policymakers.  We all influence people every day – our children, parents, neighbors, teachers, spouses, and many others.  This is advocacy.  We just need to use those same skills to influence policymakers.

You are THE expert in what is going on in your community – the needs of the young people and their families who you serve, how your program addresses some of those needs, and how other needs aren’t adequately addressed.  When you use what you know and tell it to the people who are in the position to change things, great things can happen!  We have a lot of power to make changes happen, especially when we talk clearly, give solutions and understand what influences the people who can make change.  Knowing what would really fix the problems you are facing in your communities helps us get our message across.  Getting to know your elected officials better helps us put together the best argument.

Information about your community from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book and other sources is also a useful conversation starter.  Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have helped?  How have the efforts of your programs contributed?  How could programs like yours contribute even more if adequate investments were made?

You Are Not Alone.   Many different people want the same changes you do.  Lots of them are working hard to make changes every day.  Utilize the Michigan After-School Partnership to help you tell your story, find the facts to support your argument, know the best time to impact your issue, and the best people for you to target.

-Michele Corey

Advocates Need Legislators to Know That Kids Count in Michigan

Every year the Michigan League for Human Services produces the Kids Count Data Book, an annual review of child well-being with a profile of every county and the city of Detroit.  The book can be purchased or downloaded from the League website.  As a project partner, we’ll be posting blogs highlighting critical information outlined in the 2011 Data Book and pointing toward related policy strategies.  But, before we get into that, let’s talk about the most important take-away from this release.

Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.   Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   This further complicates the huge challenge they face to invest in critical policy and program in the face of our economic crisis in Michigan.  Policymakers will need your expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

Data from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book provides a broad picture of the status of children and families and connects the dots between outcomes for kids and the systems that serve them well or fail to do so. This information is a useful conversation starter as you are talking to your elected officials.  If you’ve never talked with them before or if you talk with them routinely, local Kids Count data can help to frame your conversation.  Asking policymakers what they think about the data, and what plans they have to help address some of the issues of concern is a good place to start. Helping policymakers understand the context behind some of the numbers is even more valuable. Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have impacted the situation? Or have there been cuts in programs and services that have resulted in worsening data in an area?

Constituent conversation with policymakers is critical! Kids Count project staff provide copies of the Data Book to each legislative office, and utilize the information in conversation with legislators and their staff throughout the year. However, when surveyed, legislators say that the way they find out about children and families in their area is from their constituents. Most were familiar with the Kids Count data, but the legislators who really utilized the information were those who had discussed it with their constituents.

There are many examples of decision making indicating that policymakers need our help.  One example is the unrelenting data about increases in child poverty, (including unacceptable increases in children and families living in extreme poverty, with incomes below half of the federal poverty level) and equally unrelenting evidence that time spent in poverty contributes to a myriad of challenges faced by children throughout their lives.  Despite this, the Legislature decided to:  1. virtually eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit – a program that has successfully moved families with children out of extreme poverty and in many cases out of poverty all together; 2. remove the assistance life-line of thousands of poor families who simply found themselves unable to find a job for too long a time in our current unfriendly economy; and 3.  determined that owning reliable transportation in a state that requires the use of a car to successfully navigate nearly every community, deemed a family unworthy of basic Food Assistance, regardless of actual income.

We need you to weigh into policy decisions.  Contact Michigan’s Children’s staff for more information about talking with your elected officials.  We are here to help.  Access our library of materials to help you make your case, and stay involved with us through our Action Networks.

-Michele Corey

Much to Do About Something

Last week, Michigan’s Children took some time to honor the work of a handful of Legislators whose actions supporting children and families in Michigan warranted our recognition. At our annual Much Ado About Something Wonderful event, we honor Legislators for all kinds of different aspects of their work, since we recognize what an amazingly complex and difficult job they have to do. Some honorees were responsible, at least in part, for good legislation – good decisions through the budget process and elsewhere. Others worked really hard to thwart bad decisions by their colleagues, or to push a positive agenda that may, in the end, not have made it through our process. Others simply put the kind of time and energy into their relationships with constituents that create better policy decision-making.

We expect from our honorees, from all of the Legislature and from the Administration, that the decisions they make impacting the lives of children, families and communities in Michigan will be based always in research and evidence, and that they will be vetted by those most impacted – young people, their families, and those adults around the state who work to support them. We are glad for some of the past actions of our honorees, and we expect that their decision-making will continue to be consistent with the kinds of investments needed to rebuild and strengthen Michigan’s economy.

As I think about the six members of our state Legislature who received our accolades that snowy night, it is impossible not to move from the thanks they deserve to the challenges they will continue to face in 2012. Children across Michigan remain in dire circumstances with support programs vanishing, poverty rates increasing and inequities in outcomes expanding. Legislators will either take advantage of the opportunity that their leadership position grants them to better position children and their families, or fail to do so.

Education reform conversations in 2011 still failed to address the kinds of evidence-based, cradle-to-career strategies needed to improve student achievement. We expect some expansion of that conversation in 2012 to a cradle-to-career strategy that includes issues beyond those being discussed at this moment. We need a research-based conversation about core instruction and instructors that moves Michigan toward more well-trained and well-supported teachers and administrators. We need that conversation to include adequate and consistent support around the state for educational, cultural and workforce enrichment opportunities so critical to the relevance of education and the connections young people need to the world of work. Finally, we need that conversation to acknowledge the need to support those programs, practices and partnerships beyond the school walls that remove barriers to learning, including those that serve our youngest learners, ages 0-5.

Overall, funding and tax priorities in 2011 still failed to invest adequately in strategies shown to improve outcomes for children and families. We expect some changes to those priorities in 2012. The Governor and the Legislature will again face difficult choices in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget and will need to make sure that their decisions lead Michigan to smarter investments in our human capitol that pay off in the longer term.

For the sake of our state, we’ll be working to help legislators make decisions that will benefit children the most and thank them when they do.

-Michele Corey

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