education

Helping vulnerable children early is key to closing achievement gaps

September 9, 2015 – No longer a top tier state for education, Michigan today has larger gaps in student outcomes among its diverse populations than many other states, jettisoning our state to 37th in the nation according to the National Kids Count project. These learning gaps start early and persist and grow throughout educational careers without appropriate intervention and support, threatening our state’s future and the futures of thousands of our children.

New State School Superintendent Brian Whiston has begun his tenure focused on asking groups (many with competing interests) to talk with the State Board of Education about fixing that, and restoring Michigan to a top 10 state in education within 10 years.

At Michigan’s Children, we believe the answers lie in shrinking these achievement gaps and reducing student disparities through known evidence and practices that works best for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Positive change can happen even as state decision makers face unique pressures to fund costly road fixes while determining investments in the most struggling schools and districts.

We shared our recommendations that support students within and beyond the classroom to assist with their eventual success in a presentation to State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston this week, outlining a strategy that includes several specific areas for attention.

Start early. Education is a lifelong process beginning at birth with differences among children becoming evident as early as 9 months. By 6th grade, children from low-income families have 6,000 fewer hours of learning than their peers due to fewer opportunities for early, consistent and expanded learning. The education system must continue to focus early to head off future problems by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximize federal investment in Early On, and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Because children succeed when their parents do well, the education system must support parents’ role in children’s learning. The evidence on this is clear, particularly for early literacy skills and retention in the early grades. Today, four out of 10 Michigan schoolchildren aren’t reading proficiently by third grade, and the rates are much higher for children of color. The education system must expand support to help parents reach their educational and career goals through investments in Adult Education, workforce supports and family literacy options, and promote effective two-generation programming where families can learn together.

Trauma from family stress, mental and behavioral health issues, violence and loss, abuse or other social or emotional issues can undermine a child’s ability to learn and grow academically. Yet, we don’t fully recognize its impact on learning gaps and educational achievement in our policy and practice. The education system must implement good practices in schools and provide educators with the necessary tools to deal with symptoms of student and family trauma. Improving connections with community partners who can help is vital.

When schools are able to unite families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence, behavioral issues and academic problems be they caused by health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students. There is ample evidence that after-school and summer learning programs help to integrating community services for students and families, and support their academic progress by getting students motivated and engaged with their learning, helping them get caught up when they get behind and keeping them on a successful trajectory.

Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all for student success. Because children are inherently different and come with an array of challenges, young people need multiple pathways to success beyond the traditional, arbitrary four years of high school. Therefore, we must invest in second-, third- and fourth-chance programs for high school completion. In addition, we must prevent unnecessary expulsions that leave too many students adrift from college and career by promoting school attendance and adjusting school discipline policies.

It is clear that the Superintendent and School Board are uniquely positioned to provide needed robust leadership for this difficult work by taking into account the expertise of many sectors of work, including family and community resources. To do so recognizes a universal truth: A child’s ability to succeed in school and life relies on multiple factors, most that aren’t exclusive to what happens inside the classroom, but extend far beyond that learning environment. Improving the state’s ability to build success in more students is possible and essential, will require a commitment from many partners. We encourage our educational leadership to join Michigan’s Children and many others to put all of our children and families at the forefront of what it takes to make Michigan’s education great again.

– Matt Gillard

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on September 8, 2015.

The Federal Role In Education Policy, ESEA Update

July 22, 2015 – We have heard a lot about the fact that for the first time since 2001, both chambers in Congress have passed their recommendations to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB.) This is monumental, particularly since the kids who were starting kindergarten in 2001 are now 19- and 20-year olds, some still making their way through high school and others in post-secondary or career. 2001 was a long time ago in education years, and much has changed in homes and communities that should be reflected in schools and education policy.

What hasn’t changed is the primary role of the federal government in education. Because K-12 and post-secondary education are primarily resourced by states and localities, the federal role and investment emerged for one reason only: to ensure that everybody has equitable access to educational opportunity. That access takes several important forms:

Assistance for students, families, schools and communities facing the most challenges. We have to best support students who need special help and accommodation for learning, of which many of their needs are primarily addressed within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Beyond that, research has shown for decades that the most under-resourced students tend to go to the most under-resourced schools. Many students face multiple personal, family and community challenges that begin early, go beyond the school walls and impact education outcomes. However, schools alone cannot and should not be responsible for addressing those challenges but can be a great access point for critical services. Current cradle to career investments are not enough, and much more can and should be done to support evidenced programming.

Accountability requirements for our education investment. We know who we are supposed to be helping with additional assistance, so it is essential to understand how different populations of students are doing to evaluate how well we are doing it. This has been and will continue to be done by looking at student outcomes (test scores, graduation rates) and the reporting of those outcomes specifically for targeted population groups by race, income and other individual or family circumstances like disability, homelessness, participation in the foster care system, English Language Learners, etc. This is essential to continue to understand our successes and challenges with reducing achievement gaps.

Incentives for innovation.  We don’t always have all of the answers, and the times do change, so it is always important to encourage best practice and shifts in teaching and learning based on the specific needs of certain populations, or emerging research and practice. Recent federal efforts like Race to the Top, Investment in Innovation and Early Learning Challenge grants are examples of how federal investment can help states and districts make big, innovative changes in their education systems.

There are two different bills on the table to reauthorize the ESEA — the Senate Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) and the House Student Success Act (H.R. 5) . Michigan’s Children favors the Senate version, which keeps intact many essential programs supporting evidenced practice to best support struggling students. This includes supports like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, investments long before kindergarten and connections for students and their families to resources and services beyond the traditional K-12 system to support their learning and development. The House version intentionally combines many critical programs into block grants to the states. This approach would limit the ability of the federal funding to target proven equity-building strategies. I won’t belabor the details here, but you can find them all in all of the media coverage, from many of our advocacy partners and from the Congressional Research Office in great detail here.

Concerned with how all of this plays out? We are too. The good news is that this conversation is far from over, and we all have an opportunity this summer to get involved. A conference committee made up of legislators from both parties and chambers will be working into the fall to come to a resolution of the differences, and there is still time to influence them. Members of the U.S. House and Senate will be home in their districts next month. Use that time to let them know what you see challenging or helping with the success of students and families in your community. Help your elected leaders think about how best to address educational needs to build career and college ready kids in 2015 and beyond. If you run a summer program, invite them to join you to talk directly with young people, parents and staff.

While it is unlikely that members of our Michigan delegation will be sitting on the conference committee, it is critical that you encourage your members to talk with their conferee colleagues. And if you want help, Michigan’s Children is here to support your efforts. Now is the time.

– Michele Corey

A Great Budget for Kids, but Not for Struggling Families

June 30, 2015 – This month, the Legislature and Governor approved the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which goes into effect on October 1, 2015.  Overall, it was a great budget for kids.  But – and here’s a big but – if you take into the very important factor that children and youth are part of a family unit, the budget was only mediocre.

The big winners in the budget was in education.  The focus on improving third grade literacy led to a $31 million state investment towards those efforts that included a significant investment towards additional learning time for kindergarten through third graders struggling to read, a variety of teacher supports, and some resource for our youngest learners through parent coaching and support.  The focus also included some very important quality improvements to Michigan’s child care subsidy program to make high quality child care more accessible for the state’s lowest-income working families.

On the other end of the education spectrum, in addition to the first significant expansion in many years to support At-Risk learners, Michigan also put significant resource to expand career and technical education as well as an increase for adult education – both important dropout prevention and recovery strategies for young people to re-engage in their educations and obtain a high school credential and a path towards college or a career.  And, policymakers acknowledged the need for more time in high school for some young people facing extraordinary challenges by allowing districts to fund their education beyond age 20.

While these investments are significant wins for Michigan children and youth, we’ve continued to provide little support to families who face the most challenges in our state – often the same families whose children will benefit from these education investments.  The state budget made no efforts to reverse the recent harmful changes to FIP, FAP, and the EITC – Michigan’s cash assistance and nutrition assistance programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Instead, lawmakers are now looking to completely eliminate the state’s EITC to fix our roads.  Is this really a wise choice?

Similarly, Michigan’s child abuse and neglect rates continue to rise, but support for important family preservation programs have been flat funded with federal funding alone.  If we want to reverse this unacceptable trend of child maltreatment, Michigan must get serious about preventing abuse and neglect and supporting families with the most significant challenges so they can provide safe and stable homes.  This starts with putting in some state resource to bolster the federal investment.  In addition, educational and other life outcomes for young people involved in the CPS and foster care systems continue to fall short of success.  Efforts to better support families of all sorts – biological, kinship, guardians, foster and adoptive families – needs to be prioritized.

If we truly want to see more children reading proficiently by third grade and more young people graduating from high school, college and career ready, then we must not ignore the other systems beyond education that will impact education success.  The well-being of families directly impacts the well-being of children in families.  As a state, we must do better to support families with the most challenges to ensure that their children have equitable opportunities to succeed in school and in life.

To learn more about the recently approved FY2016 budget, visit Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics library.

-Mina Hong

Goal Setting=Good; Investing Toward Goals Starting Now=Better

May 26, 2015 – Last week the new State Superintendent-elect and the Education Trust Midwest announced new educational goal-setting priorities in Michigan. The purpose of these new state efforts is to improve educational outcomes that in recent years have moved further and further away from the most successful states. The new educational goal-setting priorities aim to put Michigan back on a trajectory that will lead to more success for our kids, schools and communities.

Statewide goals for improving education?  Great, let’s give that another try. There have been many state and federal goals for improving educational outcomes over the years – most recently, those goals have come with both carrots and sticks for the schools and communities who serve those lowest performing students. The Ed Trust’s Michigan Achieves initiative suggests that we continue some current efforts that have shown success, and that we also take a closer look at the efforts of states who have better outcomes than we do.  And the new Superintendent publicly agrees.

A great step, right? You set a goal for improvement, and then you shift your program investments to be able to meet that goal. Michigan’s Children is all in. As I’ve certainly said too many times to count, we absolutely know what it takes to improve educational and other life outcomes for children, youth and families. We have decades of research, we have innovative and effective practice from other states and from within our own. What we have not had is appropriate investment in what works to improve equity in these outcomes.

Relatedly, members of Congress introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to set goals for reducing child poverty – similar to what took place in the U.K. over the past several years with impressive results. The impact of economic insecurity on the well-being of children, youth and families can not be overstated. Research has shown that poverty (particularly extreme poverty and living in poverty for many years) is tied with nearly every negative outcome. Everyone from all ends of the political spectrum recognizes this. Some members of Congress are suggesting that instead of wringing our hands and continuing to pay for the consequences of those outcomes, we set a goal and move to change the situation.

What really struck me here was the intimate connection between these two goals – the clearest path to better economic security is educational success, so we won’t reach the poverty goal without focusing on the education goal. In addition, we are unlikely to move the needle on educational goals without tackling challenges that families face outside of the school building, day and year as well.

Let’s start now, in the current budget conversation. There are stark differences in state budget proposals that will be decided on by small numbers of legislators over the next few weeks. Three that we’ve pulled out that will take us closer to both goals:

  1. Investment in 3rd grade reading. The Senate included additional investments in 3rd grade reading success. Particularly important for equity is the Senate recommendation for $10 million to expand learning opportunities for the most challenged kids. This isn’t enough (we’ll be going for at least $50 million moving forward), but it is certainly a start.
  2. Investments in the most challenged kids, schools and communities. The Senate included an additional $100 million to fund programs specifically for learners with identified barriers. The House didn’t include this increase.
  3. Investments in family literacy. We will not reach either poverty or education goals if we don’t make sure that every parent can assist every child as their first and best teacher. With 34,000 young adults in Michigan (ages 18-34) without even a 9th grade education we need more investment. The Senate included an increase in the adult education program, while the House eliminated it all together.

Let’s keep talking. Moving beyond the current budget year, our Legislature and Congressional Delegation need to prioritize many supports for the most challenged, including: services that prevent later problems like child abuse and neglect prevention, home visiting support and Early On; services that improve outcomes for young people in the state’s care through the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice systems and their families; and services that best support college and career success like early learning, expanded learning, family literacy and integrated student services.

Let’s talk about setting goals and let’s keep working to meet them.

— Michele Corey

Addressing the Risk and Taking the Opportunity

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

March 23, 2015 – It is such an exciting time in Michigan for expanded learning. The recent recognition from the Governor’s Office that expanded learning is part of the answer to our 3rd grade reading dilemma was step one (and a result of many discussions and great partners.) In his budget proposal being discussed now by the Legislature, he included $10 million to expand learning opportunity for kids in K-3. In addition, the Governor proposed some serious increases in At-Risk funding for local districts to help them serve their most challenged students – specifically those who are having trouble reading by the 3rd grade and those eventually either not graduating at all, or graduating with limited college and career readiness, which could also open the door for more resource for evidenced expanded learning programming.

Unfortunately, this good news is seriously tempered by the challenge before us in Congress. Michigan has relied almost entirely on federal funds to support our expanded learning efforts through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. This has been invaluable, in that it has allowed us to do a whole bunch of research, so we know a lot about what works in expanded learning. One thing that works is to make sure that there is a consistent level of quality for programs that are funded, and that those programs have access to technical assistance and support. That happens because CCLC funding is specifically targeted toward that program – it comes with some strings attached, and that’s a good thing. Those strings have allowed our expanded learning programs to grow their evidence and improve their practice. At this point, Congress is talking about eliminating specific funding for CCLC, and best case scenario, rolling it back into grants that would go to local educational agencies to spend on any number of priorities. Not pulling out that money specifically for CCLC, which results in quality, evaluated, supported before- and after school and summer learning programs is the wrong approach.

We need a strong CCLC program to help grow stronger state investment for expanded learning – both depend on the other. Join Michigan’s Children, others in the Michigan After-School Partnership (MASP) and many advocates across the country in talking with your U.S. Representative and our U.S. Senators. Let them know that there is value to the CCLC program the way that it is, and if you are a CCLC grantee, invite them over and show them why. OR, if you aren’t a grantee, invite them over and show them what could be done if there was more funding for that program to go around.

Also join us in talking with your Michigan Representative and Senator. Let them know that it is high time that Michigan put some state investment in evidenced practice, like yours. Invite them over and show them how your program helps kids read by the 3rd grade, and helps families help their own children learn. Have them talk with students who can tell them directly how your programs are working with their schools so they will be more college and career ready.

– Matt Gillard

Read our recent Issues for Michigan’s Children: Expanded Learning Opportunities are Critical to Improve 3rd Grade Reading.

What Children, Youth and Families Need in the New State Superintendent

March 10, 2015 – The search for the new Superintendent of Schools is in the homestretch. Six candidates have been identified.  All but one have led local and intermediate school district work in Michigan, the other is a deputy in Massachusetts’s education department.

This choice has enormous implications for Michigan, particularly in how we build educational success with the most challenged among us. Clearly, we can assume that the candidates are steeped in education pedagogy expertise, and know what they are doing running a classroom and a school building during the school day. The job requires that expertise and more as they face Michigan’s big challenges – some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; consistently poor showing compared to other states on education measures; and limited improvement on state assessments.

Current Superintendent Flanagan is certainly leaving a legacy. He helped to facilitate the enormous expansion of 4-year old preschool, and has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of the early years for later educational success. Under his watch, the state committed to closing gaps in educational outcomes for African American boys, resulting in shifts in Department practice, and support for local system efforts. In addition, he helped to facilitate several public/private task forces that looked closely at some of the critical issues feeding these gaps including truancy and school discipline practices.

There also have been enormous strides to broaden our methods of attaining, measuring and documenting college and career readiness skills. Partnerships have begun to form with employers, post-secondary institutions and community partners who provide learning opportunities outside the school day. This work points to the need for significant changes in our system that will not only benefit all kids in K-12 schools, but would be a game changer in skill building and credit accumulation for the most challenged young people in this state.

The new Superintendent will need to redouble all of that work. And to be successful, they will need to skillfully collaborate – not only with the Governor and the Legislature (both of whom hold the purse strings), but with the leaders of other state departments, with the rest of the education and workforce continuum, and with other community resources. They will need to capitalize on the broad recognition that what happens beyond the school doors impacts educational success, and call on resources beyond their own purview to help.

Beyond continuing support for current initiatives, what are some specifics priorities for the new Superintendent?

  1. Better address the educational needs of parents. The most consistent predictor of educational success for children remains the educational success of their parents – the research couldn’t be clearer on that. If we want to improve 3rd grade reading and college and career readiness, we not only have to look earlier than kindergarten and bolster children’s experiences beyond the school doors, we also have to look at our support of adult literacy through our adult education system. This system has not successfully served the most challenged adults for quite a while, many of whom are the parents of the most struggling learners.
  2. Focus investment on expanding learning options for children, youth and families beyond the traditional school day. At this point, Michigan relies almost entirely on uncertain federal funds to support before- and after-school and summer programming evidenced to cut equity gaps. In addition, fully coordinating community services through evidenced integrated student services models needs to be given priority.
  3. Extend leadership in improving care for young children beyond pre-school. While Michigan has taken and made strides in improving the quality of our child care system, we’ve done that with fixed federal rather than state investment, limiting our ability to drastically improve access to high quality care. Our subsidy system for the poorest working families consistently ranks us at the very bottom in the nation.  A few years ago, Michigan brought the state’s child care system under the auspices of the Office of Great Start, and additional strides to improve that system are needed.
  4. Develop consistent ways to engage young people in reform strategies and priority development – particularly those experiencing the most challenging educational and life circumstances. This is not easy, but could be done with the help of partners, including Michigan’s Children.
  5. Lead cross-department efforts.  Early on in his 1st term in office, the Governor developed a strategy to connect the dots between state departments by establishing what he termed, the “People Group.” This group is comprised of the directors of the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Civil Rights and Education. The new State Superintendent is ideally suited to lead that group, in light of the transitions occurring with the merger of DHS and DCH, and the space to focus the group’s work on building college and career success.

Whew!  They have their work cut out for them and we have our work cut out for us.  We realize that this is a lot to ask of the next state Superintendent, but there are a lot of public and private partners available to help, if they can take advantage of them.

– Michele Corey

Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party Powered by You!

February 12, 2015 – Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. Extending that thought, we know that staying well-informed is essential for people like you who are willing to stand up and speak out for our children and families.

Toward that goal, the Sandbox Party reinvented itself in 2014 as the election-arm of Michigan’s Children, the only statewide independent voice working to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children from cradle to career and their families. As Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party we delivered important information to voters about the 2014 mid-term elections in which significant changes happened in governmental leadership in Lansing and Washington, D.C. We also helped inform candidates by strategically engaging teens to share their perspectives before state Legislative hopefuls in a series of youth-led candidate forums we sponsored across the state.

Now we’re gearing up to do it again, and provide you with the child-and-family focused information you need to make the right call in the state’s upcoming May election. On May 5, 2015 voters will consider a one-cent hike to the 6 percent sales tax for funding state roads and bridges that will also bring changes to education funding and increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. If the sales tax proposal fails, this will have serious consequences on our state budget for years to come as the Legislature and Governor will need to identify alternative ways to fix our roads – ways that will likely result in cuts to child and family programs.

There is no doubt that much is riding on this next election. No doubt there will be a sizeable impact on schoolchildren and families. Credible information will be needed to put this all in focus, particularly as different interest groups begin weighing in and campaigning for and against.

There is also no other organization than Michigan’s Children with a breadth of understanding about public policies that impact the most challenged children, youth and families in order to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed in school and in life.

You’ll want to check back with us in upcoming months for elections-specific information about this May ballot proposal. And if you haven’t yet signed up, check out our twice-a-month “Speaking for Kids” e-bulletin. You can automatically expect to receive it if you’ve previously signed up for either of Michigan’s Children Action Alerts – via the Graduate Michigan Action Network and the Early Childhood Action Network — or the Sandbox Party e-bulletin.

In fact, if you haven’t yet subscribed to either action networks, you can easily do that today by linking to the Michigan’s Children website “like” us on Facebook, too.

Together we can amplify all our voices and make change happen. Join us and be informed and be heard!

— Teri Banas

Potential Good News for Kids and Families in Road Solution

December 19, 2014 – After a long and tumultuous debate, the Michigan Legislature has finally done something to address the lack of adequate funding for road and bridge improvements that has plagued the state for years. Both the Senate and House had passed competing proposals that would have provided a legislative solution to increase dedicated funding for transportation purposes earlier in the lame-duck session. The Senate plan would have raised new revenue dedicated for road funding by increasing taxes collected on gas purchases, and the House plan would have re-directed money that currently goes to schools and local governments from the sales tax applied to gas purchases to road funding. Legislative leaders and Governor Snyder spent the last two weeks trying to forge a compromise between the two proposals and there was real fear among advocates for children that a long-term solution would steal funds otherwise available for children’s programs and services.

Ultimately, the legislative leaders and the Governor could not reach an agreement on a legislative solution to increase funding for road and bridge improvements and instead decided on putting a proposal to increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7% before the voters on a May 5, 2015 referendum. The constitutional amendment required a 2/3 vote in each chamber to be placed before the state’s voters giving Democrats, who generally oppose sales tax increases as disproportionately impacting low and moderate income families, more negotiating leverage resulting in a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increased funding for public schools to be included in the final package. The entire package, which also includes increases in vehicle registration fees, increases in heavy truck permits, a modest gas tax increase and some other statutory changes, was passed by both chambers of the Legislature early Friday morning.

With the Legislature now adjourned for the year, attention will immediately begin to focus on the May statewide vote. This last-minute, bi-partisan deal reached by the Legislature with the support of Governor Snyder provides a real opportunity to solve Michigan’s road funding shortfall while at the same time providing tax relief to low and moderate income working Michigan families and much needed increased resources to our schools.

All of this can only happen if the citizens of Michigan vote yes on May 5th, however. There will certainly be well-funded and organized opposition to the May vote and it will be important over the next few months for child advocates to join with other groups interested in supporting this plan to educate citizens about the value of a yes vote in moving Michigan forward. With a considerably more fiscally conservative Legislature coming to Lansing in January, the ballot initiative is probably our best opportunity for next few years to actually increase funding for schools and other education related programs.

– Matt Gillard

A Young Voter’s View of Election Day: The Future in my Hands

August 4, 2014 — As I searched Michigan State University’s giant resource fair for the “golden club” that would help me “find myself” during freshman year, a voice in all the promotional speeches caught my attention.

“Hey! Do you want to register to vote?”

In all the commotion, a short, red-headed girl from the MSU Democrats’ booth held out a pen and a clipboard toward me with a voter registration form on it.

She was not asking me to vote Democrat. She was not asking me where my values align. She was asking me to become a part of my own future. She was giving me a chance to share my voice in elections.

Without a doubt in my mind, I knew that I wanted to register, to have the ability to vote, whether I used it or not. I did not hesitate when I took the pen from her outreached hand and started to fill out the form.

Almost four years later, that feeling has not left. I am still excited to go into the booth Aug. 5 and Nov. 4, to stick my voice to the “Man” with my vote, and to choose who I think will represent my community’s best interests.  I can never repay what that girl gave me.

Actions like hers, being there and putting the thought in our head that — “Oh right! I am a student, but I am also an American citizen!” — encourages people my age to vote. And there are multiple shared issues at stake that we need to be vocal about. Among them:

School cuts: Youths still have a decent memory of what we left in high school. Cuts to school funding prevented some of us from receiving the best education possible and maybe even from getting into the college that we wanted. Some struggled worse than others, but I remember when we were still using history books a decade old.

Student debt: When coming to college, sometimes all we can see are dollar signs, and not in a good way. First school cuts, than glaciers of student debt! Compared to other states, Michigan ranks 45th in college affordability, as found in the 2013 “Trends in College Pricing” report. The Senate Fiscal Agency reports that Michigan higher education funding is down $500 million from 2000.

Between underfunded schools and skyrocketing tuition, education these days seems more like a game of pick your poison. Everyone’s future will feel these effects.

Marriage Equality: College is about being exposed to new cultures and people, and we get to know friends and people with diverse sexual orientations. They are people, your children, no better or worse than any other person. We care about our friends and we want them to be just as happy and treated just as fairly as heterosexual citizens. Whether if you agree with it or not, marriage equality is supported by 81 percent of 18 -29-year-olds, according to a 2013 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News.

It’s our future. It feels far away and we may have no clear idea where we see ourselves in it yet, but we shape it to the way we want it with the proactive actions we take today. This week, it starts with who we choose to elect.

-Marlee Sherrod

Marlee Sherrod is working as a summer intern for Michigan’s Children while attending Michigan State University. She is studying Comparative Cultures and Politics at MSU’s James Madison College of Public Affairs, and English. Her opinions are her own, and are not intended to represent Michigan’s Children.

Making Kids’ Education Count in Michigan

July 22, 2014 — The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released their 25th annual examination of how kids are doing nationally, and state-by-state.  According to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation on child, youth and family well-being, nearly landing us in the bottom third of the states.  As if this wasn’t bad enough news on its own, ten years ago we ranked 24th and have been making a pretty steady slide down since that time.

The national Data Book builds the composite rank from our ranking in four crucial areas: health, family and community (in both, MI ranks 29th), economic well-being (MI ranks 34th) and education, where we hold our worst national rank of 38th.  Yes, you heard me.  We rank in the bottom quarter of the states on the children’s issue that honestly, gets the most press.   Our ranking here wasn’t great last year either – we ranked 32nd – but things are just getting progressively worse.

The vast majority of candidates tell us education is one of their top priorities.  In addition, of all the important needs facing children, youth and families in Michigan, our state policymakers spend the most time on this one too, and rightly so.  We spend a great deal more public dollar on K-12 education than we spend on any of the other investments that matter to our future – it is actually a constitutional guarantee, as it must be for the future of our state.  Michigan had the first public school in the nation and has been an early adopter of all sorts of educational innovation, from the length of the school day to expanded learning opportunities over the years.  So how can we be doing so much more poorly than other areas of the country?

Because we are making less progress.  At this time when everyone is wringing their hands about the need for a better prepared workforce, more career and college readiness from our high school students, higher high school and college graduation rates to meet the demands of the workforce today and tomorrow, Michigan has recorded improvement on one of the four indicators measured by the Data Book, not as much as other states, and has remained basically stagnant on the other three, while other states have moved more dramatically.

Admittedly, this report did not reflect recent investment in the state’s preschool program, which we know will help us move the dime on that indicator in subsequent assessments.   That said, our success in linking high quality early childhood programs to a high quality K-12 system with strategies that promote learning and high school completion for those who struggle most is critical to improving our ranking.

These results simply reiterate what we’ve been blogging about for several months now.  This is campaign season, when policymakers are vying for our vote and making promises about what they will accomplish if we use that vote to get them elected.  They are all talking about education as a priority issue.  Now is the time to both listen to what they are suggesting for solutions that they would champion if elected and to make sure that they know what solutions that we would recommend.

-Michele Corey

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