Appreciating What Works

May 8, 2014 – This week represents a time that we recognize two important groups of people in the lives of children, youth and their families – it is National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week.  The connection of these two weeks struck me as perfect, since good outcomes for either are completely interdependent.  In addition, we are bemoaning the fact that in Michigan so many of our high schoolers aren’t passing national reading and math tests, a reason to really talk about what works to improve educational outcomes.

So, there is the obvious that we won’t have a skilled nursing workforce if we don’t successfully educate our young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  The research is also clear on what the most challenged kids need to succeed in school and how we can reduce the achievement gap.  We need to provide more and multiple flexible learning options that can accommodate life challenges; build consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside and outside the classroom; utilize expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day for remediation, and to help young people better see their own strengths in STEM and other areas; and connect schools with services that are typically outside of the classroom to ensure that students are healthy, well-nourished, and can focus on their education.

State Legislators have the opportunity right now in the current budget conversation to better support two specific evidence-based practices that take advantage of the combination of talent that exists within school staff, who we appreciate, and within those who integrate other services for kids and their families resulting in better educational and life outcomes.

  1. Opportunities for learning outside the school day.  The Michigan House of Representatives included $3 million in the Department of Human Services budget to reinstate some support for quality afterschool and summer learning programs.  This is nowhere near the $16 million that the state used to invest in these programs and the children and youth they serve, but it is a move in the right direction.  The Senate didn’t include this resource.
  2. Opportunities to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children and youth through school-based and school-linked health centers.  While both the House and Senate maintained consistent support for these centers in their budgets, the House included over $37 million to support the recommendations of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission 2013 report, which specifically outlined the importance of expanding mental health services in school-based and school-linked health centers.  The Senate didn’t include any additional funding for these services.

As we honor professions and professionals working hard to make sure that our children, youth and families succeed, let’s also make sure that we are  investing in the very initiatives that assist them in that work.  Get in touch with your elected officials today and ask them to talk with their colleagues about supporting what we know can make a real difference for our state.

-Michele Corey

Investing to Expand Minds and Opportunities in Michigan

Despite the crushing pressure of the fiscal cliff and the federal economy, I came back from Washington, DC last Thursday after spending several days with some Michigan colleagues and colleagues from around the country at the Afterschool Alliance National Network meeting feeling quite proud of my Michigan Congressional Delegation.

Some members of our delegation have been, of course, champions building extended learning opportunity (before- and after-school, summer learning, other opportunities outside the traditional school day) over their entire political careers.  Some are just beginning their careers in Washington and are thinking strategically about how support of extended learning may fit into their own political legacies.  And some, who are not always supportive of public spending, were indeed intrigued by the way that the largest federal investment in afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, maximizes federal investment by encouraging innovative and targeted partnerships geared toward the needs and strengths of each local community. These partnerships have demonstrated impact on the educational and life success of young people; provide support for families; and build stronger communities.

The evidence is crystal clear that high quality afterschool and summer programs accelerate student achievement, particularly for those most at risk of school failure – closing the achievement gap.  In case there was any doubt, the Afterschool Alliance has brought together literally decades of research that brings together best practices and the impact of those practices in a new compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities:  Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success.

Unfortunately, upon my return to Lansing, I was not so proud of the way that the Governor has again left off his priority list, as evidenced by the FY14 budget release last week, investment in one of the most powerful tools toward increased educational achievement and equity at his disposal – afterschool.  While I am extremely excited about the impact of the kinds of investments to our early childhood system he is proposing, these investments early will fail to reap all of the successes that they could without continued, targeted investment intended to build equity in outcomes throughout children’s educational careers.

Michigan’s Children will once again be working hard over the next months to ensure that we reinstate funding for extended learning opportunities – once funded at $16 million through the state budget.  Federal investment is not enough; we need to make this equity strategy a priority in our own budget as well, serving to make a dent in the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them.  In addition, any cuts to the Child Care subsidy Program, 40% of which supports elementary school participation in before- and after-school opportunities, should be taken with caution.

Now the Legislature has their chance to build Michigan’s investment in extended learning opportunities.  Join us in making sure that they do just that.

-Michele Corey


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