early childhood

The State of the Union

Last night, President Obama gave his fourth State of the Union address.  As his White House Senior Advisor, David Plouffe, alluded to prior to his address, President Obama focused on the U.S.’s economic recovery by “lay[ing] out … A very specific blueprint for how we build an America that’s durable and that works for as many people in this country as possible.”

While the bulk of President Obama’s speech focused on economic recovery, jobs, energy, and foreign policy; he did spend some time discussing his vision for education.  President Obama stated, “[Education] challenges remain. And we know how to solve them.”  But more importantly, we know how to solve them for all children – regardless of socioeconomic status or racial/ethnic background.  We know what public programs and policies can be improved so that disparities in outcomes for kids – including education – can be reduced.

We need a health care system that ensures access to quality health care for young women before they become pregnant so that when they do become pregnant, they can have healthy, full-term pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.  This is particularly important for African American women who, regardless of socioeconomic status, are more likely to deliver underweight, preterm babies – babies who face greater challenges from birth.

We need an early childhood system that encompasses health, mental health, and early education that begins at birth and supports families with young children through age three.  This means that parents need access to supports – such as high quality home visiting programs – that ensure they can be their children’s first and best teachers.

We need a high quality early childhood education system that supports the healthy development of children and prepares them for school.  A high quality early childhood education that includes parental support and involvement can turnaround the educational equity gap that emerges long before children reach kindergarten doors.

We need a K-12 education system that is strong enough to provide an academically challenging course of instruction, and also flexible enough to meet the ever-changing needs of students and the economy.  The K-12 system needs to provide multiple paths to graduation which lead to equitable outcomes and post-secondary success.

We need education, business and community leaders to form partnerships to build sustainable programs that meet the needs of children, families and communities. Businesses know what types of workers they need and they can work with schools and career training programs so youth can receive job training while gaining a school diploma or post-secondary credential.

We need politicians that will listen to youth and families about the challenges they face – and then stand up for those youth and families through action in their communities and elected roles.

In order to achieve President Obama’s idea of “winning the future” our children need a great start in life that prepares them to be ready to learn when they enter school and supported as they move toward post-secondary success. Turning the economy around certainly needs to include business incentives, adult workforce retraining and support for troops coming back to the U.S., but unless we recognize the importance of ensuring the success of the next generation of workers the economic turnaround won’t last.  Investing in children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances, must be a key part of rebuilding and strengthening Michigan’s economy.

To learn more about how Michigan’s Children believes policies can support children from cradle to career, check out our website: www.michiganschildren.org.

– Beth Berglin and Mina Hong

A Year in Review for Michigan’s Children

2011 began with a new Governor unveiling his priorities for the state, expressed through his dashboard indicators, early budget proposals and a series of special messages. To bring to the Governor a consistent message on early childhood, Michigan’s Children continued its long-standing practice of convening early childhood advocates to identify shared policy priorities. The 2011 priorities focused on improving access to mental health consultation for infants and toddlers; improving access to a regular consistent source of health care; and expanding access to early childhood education.  Michigan’s Children continued to partner with other advocates to promote dropout prevention, re-engagement and recovery options for young people through administrative and legislative strategies throughout the year.

Unfortunately, as in years past, much of Michigan’s Children’s work in 2011 focused on fending off detrimental cuts to necessary programs in the fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget.  Cuts that remained despite our efforts included changes to the child care subsidy for low-income working families resulting in lower provider payments for relative and aide care, an almost entire elimination of the children’s clothing allowance for low-income families, deep cuts to family support programs, a sharp reduction to the earned income tax credit and stricter 48- and 60-month limits to cash assistance, deep cuts to the K-12 per pupil allotment, and cuts to local public health departments and community mental health.

Michigan’s Children worked hard with Legislators and other advocates to ensure that  an additional $6 million for the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds who may be at-risk of school failure was included in the FY 12 budget, as well as $1.5 million for the Nurse Family Partnership program, a voluntary home visitation program that assists first time moms through their pregnancies and with their new babies.    Many programs that serve to remove barriers to learning for young people were maintained at current funding levels.  Unfortunately, these small investments may not be enough to offset the detrimental cuts made in other areas and flat funding in many of these supportive programs will not serve to close equity gaps or to improve educational success.

Throughout 2011, Michigan’s Children brought policymakers together with researchers, agency staff and young people to help inform their decision-making.  We held a legislative hearing at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation on the effects of early childhood experience on brain development and the positive outcomes and high return on investment of high quality early childhood care and education programs serving children from birth to age five and their families.  Young people’s voices were heard by federal, state and local policymakers, and community leaders in two KidSpeak events and Youth Voice Changing Public Policy events across the state, including one held at the Governor’s Education Summit.  Our youth journalists reported on news in their communities in Detroit in ways that can only be captured through their eyes.

2011 brought a re-issuance of the Superintendent’s Dropout Challenge, and Michigan’s Children continues to work to connect the dots between educators and community partners to improve graduation rates even through the 5th and 6th years of high school.  In addition, the  Office of Great Start was created within the Department of Education and charged with aligning the state’s early learning and development investments to achieve a single set of shared outcomes. A former Michigan’s Children board member, Susan Broman, was named as the Office’s first leader.

We shared all of this information with you and engaged you in the work through our E-Bulletin, our Action Networks, on Facebook, Twitter, and our new staff blog, Speaking for Kids.

Policies and related practices that fail to improve outcomes for all children and reduce disparities among all children, regardless of their from different racial and ethnic backgrounds throughout a child’s life must be replaced with those that facilitate equal opportunity for all children to thrive in school, the work place and life.  We look forward to continue this work together in the new year.

-Michele Corey

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