elections

Counting Our Successes and Fixing Our Failures

March 21, 2016 – As another annual Michigan Kids Count Data Book is released, it gives us several opportunities.  First, using county profiles available in the Data Book each year is a great way to draw attention to the status of children, youth, families and communities.  How are things improving or declining?  Why is that happening in your community?  It is also a great opener for conversation with local policy makers.  Sometimes, they really aren’t aware of some of the facts, like how much of their income people pay for child care, or how many births are to mothers without a high school credential.  Or whether or not their communities are improving or worsening on key issues like prenatal care for moms or child abuse and neglect.   Local advocates can use the Kids Count information to help position themselves as a resource to their policy makers – a helpful thing during a state budget season, an election year and beyond.

Secondly, it is important to examine the Data Book every year to scrutinize how our current investment and other policies are impacting the lives of families in our state.   The annual report offers us a chance to renew attention to long-standing needs, examine how our efforts have paid off, and expand discussions.  Here are just two critical examples:

  1. Family Literacy. With fully one in seven births in Michigan to moms without a high school credential, increased investment in adult education and other literacy initiatives remains imperative.  Our support of teen moms, while those rates continue to drop, must also include high school completion, post-secondary and career opportunities.
  2. Expanded Learning. Increasing poverty rates, costs of child care, and the majority of Michigan students not proficient on highlighted standardized tests make new state investment in learning opportunities outside the school day and year even more of an imperative.  By the time they reach the 6th grade, kids in poor families have received 6,000 fewer hours of assisted learning than their wealthier peers, mainly due to a lack of affordable and quality opportunities outside of school.

Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan League for Public Policy and local partners in Ingham County today for a release of the Data Book to local media around Lansing.  We did this to help highlight how state policy and investment needs to do better at supporting local innovation.  This community intertwines resources available through different entities and targets families with different kinds of needs to try to make sure that parents are supported in the care of their children, that any physical or developmental delays are caught early and that the best services are made available to assist.

It is quite amazing what local communities do with limited resources, but their innovative and effective practices are often stymied by a lack of state and federal investment in necessary programs.  One example that is highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the share of families with children ages 0-3, who participate in Early On.  In Michigan and in Ingham County, that share is less than 3 percent.  Nationwide, estimates are that fully 8 percent of that population qualify for early intervention services, so we are well below that mark.  This is due in part because Michigan fails to invest state funding in that program, unlike the vast majority of the states.

Building on the disaster in Flint this spring, Michigan legislators invested state dollars for the very first time to support Early On in Flint, recognizing that it is a critical part of the intervention and investment that will be needed for years to come to deal with that human calamity.  But, the Data Book points to the need for Early On investment around the state.

Take the time to review the Data Book for key insights into your community, and use its findings to make your best case for local, state and federal investments in children and families where you live.  We are here to help.

– 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

We Will Do Something About It, Together

December 2, 2014 – Okay first, I want to warn you that I’m using some foul language in this blog. Not the really bad stuff, but just a little minor swearing. I heard some commentary post-election that really got me riled up, particularly on this day where we celebrate good public works. You’ve seen Matt’s “Life After Midterms” video and some of our discussion about the election results – despite some fairly drastic shifts on the national scene, basically very little is changing in the political landscape in Michigan. The Governor was re-elected, the same political framework that runs the Michigan House and Senate will be running the Michigan House and Senate come January 1. The commentator I heard was summing up the 2014 election results in Michigan in one way: that the electorate, particularly the Democratic Party faithful who failed to vote in larger numbers than they had in previous election years, was basically saying, “We are mad as hell, and we aren’t going to do anything about it…”

Now, I’m not so sure that the Michigan electorate was so mad about how things have been going in the state in general. There have certainly been pros and cons to the last two years that Michigan’s Children has talked about in many different ways. During our series of youth-led candidate forums across the state, young people and candidates alike expressed successes, opportunities and challenges. The part that really got me riled up was the assumption made that although the citizenry was concerned, they were not going to act. Being an optimistic soul, I never believe that is inevitable, despite being historically true.

There are certainly groups of people who feel like they have such little power in the political decision making process in our state that even their vote doesn’t matter, particularly if they live in a district where the majority of voters lean toward one political party. Other groups of people do vote, but then don’t engage with their officials to help after the elections are over. While getting out to vote is one powerful way to do something about those things that concern you, it definitely isn’t the end game. Now that the votes have been tallied (well, still being tallied in one Michigan Senate district), it is time to take responsibility for setting Michigan’s agenda for the next few years. The winners in November need our help more than ever before to tackle the challenges that face us and to take the opportunities we have to better invest public resources in things that work.

Michigan’s Children will be doing everything in our power over the next two years to make sure that whether we are mad as hell or just wanting to make our state better for its children, youth, families, and future, more of us are doing something about it. We are here to help others do the same.

We also want to take this opportunity on Giving Tuesday to thank everyone who gets engaged in public policy decisions by talking to elected officials and keeping in touch with others who can engage as well. Of course, Michigan’s Children couldn’t do what we do to support those efforts without the trust of the philanthropic community and assistance from individual donors. In order to remain independent, we don’t take public funds. In order to remain effective, we need your help. Consider joining us in action, and consider supporting us financially as we work to move public policy in the best interest of children, youth and families in Michigan

– Michele Corey

 

Children’s Advocates Need Political Leadership in 2015

Matt’s blog was published for our Sandbox Party site on 11/10/14.

Nov. 12, 2014 — The mid-term elections are over and who isn’t glad for an end to nasty campaign ads and verbal attacks. While the quiet always comes before the storm, let’s look ahead to our prospects for next year.

On one side of the political aisle, the Legislative landscape in Lansing just got more Republican and more conservative as the GOP gained major victories in even the tightest contests across the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who championed key improvements in state-funded pre-K in his first term, even if his K-12 support wasn’t as robust, is back for a second term.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter, a conservative from Mt. Pleasant ending his first term, was just elected by his Republicans peers as House Speaker, a role central to moving legislation supported by the majority of his party. (Another contender, State Rep. Al Pscholka, considered less conservative than Cotter, fell short by a few votes.)

So what does this new partisan make-up mean for child advocates seeking improvements in such priorities as child care, 0-3 supports, home visiting, expanded learning for after-school and more?

It’s going to be challenging for us and challenging for Gov. Snyder, too. Much of our success and future will depend on the positions and posturing the Governor takes in dealing with an ever conservative Legislature.

Come January, Republicans will hold a 63-47 majority in the House and a 27-11 supermajority in the Senate after winning five new House seats and one additional Senate seat. How much of what becomes the legislative priority will come from the Governor’s leadership or from the demands of a growing conservative Legislature who don’t want to additional spending undermine their ability to cut taxes.

Gov. Snyder has shown great willingness in the past to invest in quality programs like pre-k. It remains to be seen whether he will be willing to lead again on other issues of importance to children and families as the ranks of potentially like-minded Legislative Republicans are cut short. One test of that leadership may come over roads. His stated priority – crafting a road improvement package for the state – is back on the table after failing dismally before the campaigns began.

And what of moderate Republicans, many of whom have supported investments in children and education due to their recognition of the importance of building a strong future labor force? In many ways, they’ve been neutralized. Like across America, moderates who dare to take progressive stances will risk certain primary challenges from Tea Party activists in the future.

All these challenges will make investments in the programs and services that help children and families more difficult in the coming year, but not impossible. Gov. Snyder’s support will be even more necessary in the coming months.

Let’s hope he sees this as a critical part of the legacy he leaves behind for the future of Michigan when his second term ends four years from now.

– Matt Gillard

 

Post-Election Work for Michigan’s Young Families

November 11, 2014 – Like many of you, I’m happy that the seemingly endless political ads are finally over.  Now that voters have decided who will be representing us in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. next year, it’s time to help these newly elected officials focus on the issues.  Though our state Legislature will look decidedly more conservative next year, I do not take that to mean that “nothing will get done” as some of my liberal peers might.  We can’t forget that the historic increase in funding for our state-funded preschool program – the Great Start Readiness Program – happened with bipartisan support under Republican leadership (and was, in fact, the largest prek investment nationally).  So, what does the GSRP program have that made it appealing to both sides of the political aisle?  It has a strong evaluation that demonstrates its child-outcomes that advocates knew existed for decades.  The evaluation helped public officials understand the equity-promoting nature of the GSRP program that serves four-year-olds with a high quality program that promotes school readiness and reduces the achievement gap.  And, legislators could understand the ROI that came from reduced special education costs, fewer kids repeating grades, more students graduating on time, and higher earnings as adults.

But the GSRP program isn’t the only program that has a strong evaluation and ROI.  Many programs that serve families with very young children – beginning at birth or prenatally and into the toddler years – also have strong evaluation findings and ROI.  And if we want to get the most bang for our GSRP buck, we must ensure that young children don’t start preschool so far behind that they’re just playing catch-up during that one school year.  While we know that a school readiness gap exists, preschool teachers know that there is a preschool readiness gap as well.  With the achievement gap emerging well before four years of age, making investments targeting young children from birth (or even prenatally) through age three is critical.

Fortunately, Michigan can build upon its momentum to continue to strengthen our early childhood system.  Opportunities to expand evidence-based home visiting services will ensure that more young families can benefit from these voluntary parent coaching programs that help parents become their child’s first and best teachers.  Bolstering our Early On early intervention program that targets infants and toddlers with identified developmental delays will help reduce special education costs down the road while more children access individualized services to address their own developmental needs.  And increasing access to high quality child care options – particularly for families with infants and toddlers when high quality care is most expensive – can ensure that young children receive developmentally appropriate early learning experiences they need to be preschool and kindergarten ready.

While these issues will likely get little play this lame duck session, now is a great opportunity to start talking to our newly elected officials about these issues.  Now is the time to congratulate your state legislators and invite them to visit your programs, meet them for coffee, or have an informal exchange with them to talk about what matters to families with very young children.  That way, they can hit the ground running when they get sworn into office in January.

-Mina Hong

Cast Your Vote for Children, Youth and Families

November 3, 2014 – I came away from our youth-led candidate forums this fall feeling pretty optimistic about our democratic process. The candidates who attended our four forums around the state were well prepared, articulate, respectful and willing to prioritize the intense demands of an election season to spend 2-3 hours with groups of young people, their parents, the organizations supporting them and members of the communities where they live. Despite the fact that many of the young people weren’t of voting age, these candidates recognized that they were future voters and that their parents and other community members were voters or potential voters. The candidates also recognized, and articulated to us, the media and the young people themselves, that they had something to learn from the experience that would help them in the election and beyond.

That said, there are differences between the candidates for office. They have different opinions about the solutions to the concerns raised by the young people at our forums. They have different opinions about the role of government to be part of those solutions, and how much public resource should be invested. They have different priorities for their own work if elected, and different ways to keep in touch with their constituents to make sure that they are prioritizing what works.

I want to thank our local forum partners, who supported the young people in their preparation, facilitated the forum location, and helped Michigan’s Children convince the candidates to come and the media to cover the forums. We will be working with these partners after the election as well, to help the winners better understand critical issues and workable solutions, and to hold them accountable to make sure that their actions once elected match their commitments made.

I also want to personally thank the candidates who spent time with us at our forums. While I’m not endorsing them individually or as a group, we do want to recognize their participation. Many candidates who were invited did not participate, and those who did deserve our respect. The time that they took was so impactful to the young people involved, and helped their communities better understand their commitment to children, youth and families in our state.

Tomorrow is election day. As Matt Gillard said in his recent video on our Sandbox Party website, we are all tired or seeing all of the campaign ads, and getting the endless stream of fliers in our mailboxes and phone calls. However, decisions that will be made by the share of registered voters who show up at the polls to cast their vote will determine the path of our state for years to come. Don’t let those decisions be made by someone else, make sure that you are part of the process.

Find out more about the youth-led candidate forums, and about how you can get more information about your candidates.

Then, of course, come November 5, join us as we use our influence as voters and constituents to help and to guide the winners toward decisions that point us toward a better Michigan for children, youth and families.

– Michele Corey

It IS About Changing the World

October 20, 2014 – My daughter Sarah is nine, and like many nine year olds, is not that interested in my job. It seems that I just sit around in front of a computer screen all day, and despite our conversations about our roles and responsibilities in a democracy, she has never really understood it – go figure. It isn’t as if I was a fire fighter, a nurse, a teacher or even a restaurant owner, like my husband. This policy advocacy thing has not been something that any of my three children have easily grasped.

Last week, she went with me to the Parenting Awareness Month Conference in Marquette. And much to her chagrin, had to come to my “Policy Advocacy 101” workshop there as I talked about the importance of getting more involved in public policy to a great group of parents and services providers.

Honestly, that kind of thing is a lot of what I do – talking to people about how much it matters to take 5-10 minutes out of their jobs and their lives to influence public policy on behalf of children, youth and families. Michigan’s Children believes that when more people are involved in the policymaking process, particularly people who are directly impacted by the policies themselves, the result is better policy. We blog about it all the time, and work to produce tools and opportunities for that to happen.

Workshop attendees were really engaged in the discussion, and it was clear that the workshop had been impactful. While it seemed like Sarah was paying some attention – she had said that she was just going to read the whole time, but now and then I caught her eye as she was listening to me and to others in the room – we didn’t talk too much about it afterward, and just went on about our travels.

The day after we got home, however, her grandma was asking her the usual stuff, how the trip went, how did she like our hotel, that sort of thing. Then, my mom asked what she thought about my presentation. Sarah turned to me and said rather accusingly, “I thought that your work was about kids, Mom. It is about changing the world!”

Indeed, it is about both. All of our work is about making sure that those who represent us, those who decide how our tax dollars are spent, have everything they need to make the best decisions that they can, understanding the impact of those decisions on us all. The election season is winding down, and we will soon be deciding who those people will be for the next couple of years and beyond. We will try to make the best choices that we can, and then we all have to stand ready to help those we have elected. Help their work be about making public policies that move us to a better Michigan for children, youth and families – those that change the world for kids in our state.

– Michele Corey

The Questions No One Else is Asking

September 29, 2014 – The comment that struck me the most at the first of our series of youth-led candidate forums last week in Kalamazoo was echoed by all five candidates in attendance: questions they were being asked by the young people that night had not been asked so far on their campaign trails. The candidates were excited about this, and commended the young people on their thoughtful and thorough articulation of the issues that concerned them most.

There is probably no race in the state that is having more public forums, debates and other opportunities to hear from the candidates than the 20th Michigan Senate District. All three candidates for that office were present at our forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church last Thursday, as were the two major party candidates running for the 60th House District. All were incredible – articulate, respectful and generous with their limited time.

The reason that these questions were unique is because Michigan’s Children is working with local youth partners to both develop and ask the questions of candidates at our four forums around the state. In Kalamazoo, three groups of young people were involved: Jeter’s Leaders, Calling all Youth at Advocacy Services for Kids, and the newly formed Douglass Youth Advisory Council. These groups developed and prioritized a series of questions that they were interested in hearing the candidates articulate. Then a group of about a dozen of their young people stood up in front of the forum audience and put those questions to the candidates.

The reason we decided to conduct a series of youth-led forums during this election season was to remedy the fact that we don’t often hear candidates talking about issues that really matter to children, youth and families. Turns out, it did the trick. The young people asked questions about access to services, including behavioral and reproductive health; they asked about candidate plans to address high school dropout and high unemployment of young people and their families and their perspectives on basic needs programs that serve families when they are at their most vulnerable. They asked how young people could get more informed about how our government works and how if elected, how the candidates would get consistent and substantive feedback from young people before they made decisions. Each of our five candidates was given equal time to answer each question, and answer they did.

If you can, join us for one of the remaining three forums in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Mt. Clemens. Get more information about the forums themselves, the candidates and our partners on the Sandbox Party website. And don’t forget to attend candidate forums in your area, we have our own questions for candidates on our What’s At Stake page. The general election is only a few weeks away – take all the opportunities you can to hear about what your candidates for office are saying and if they aren’t talking about the issues most important to you, take the opportunity to ask.

– Michele Corey

Join the #InvestInKids Twitter Rally Today

September 10, 2014 – I try to play the social media game but I honestly feel like I can’t keep up.  I’m just beginning to dabble in the use of #hashtags and still struggle to get my message across in 140 characters or less.  What can I say?  I’m a policy person… trying to get something down to one-page is hard enough!  But, I do recognize that social media can be an effective strategy to move public policy priorities.  And to that end, I urge you to fight any possible social media hesitations – or embrace your love for social media – and participate in today’s #InvestinKids Strong Start Coalition Twitter Campaign from 2-3pm or anytime today if you’re unavailable during that hour.  The purpose of the Twitter storm is to let members of Congress – and I would add our state legislators and candidates for public office – know that investing in young children is a top priority.

The Strong Start Coalition is focusing on expanding access to early childhood opportunities – an issue that Michigan’s Children is prioritizing this election season via the Sandbox Party.  With our state’s significant focus on preschool over the past two years, it’s now time to focus on our littlest Michigan residents.  We must expand funding for programs that serve young children prenatally through age three through a variety of evidence-based services including home visiting, early intervention for developmental delays, and high quality child care.  These are all parts of Michigan’s early childhood system – particularly Early On Early intervention – that have received significantly less attention than preschool.

Michigan’s Children is glad that the importance of home visiting has expanded over the past several years in Michigan, with some increases in state and federal funding for evidence-based home visiting services and through the Governor’s Partners for Success opportunity.  And, we’re glad that the need to increase access to high quality child care is being worked on by the Administration through Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  But I would argue that both of these parts of the early childhood system still have quite a ways to go to ensure access to all families who are eligible for these services.  At the same time, Early On continues to be left behind.  An Auditor General’s report that came out last year highlighted some significant challenges with the Early On system – many which are the result of historic underfunding of the Early On system for decades.  In a nutshell, opportunities for our youngest Michigan residents continue to fall far behind.

I hope you will join many other early childhood advocates across the nation today by participating in the #InvestinKids Twitter action.  In addition to targeting our members of Congress, please consider tailoring your message to candidates running for public office.

To learn more about Michigan’s Children’s election efforts, visit www.michigansandboxparty.org.

-Mina Hong

Politics to Policy

August 7, 2014 – I’ll be the first to admit it. I hate politics. Being in the public policy field, people sometimes ask me if I ever think about running for public office. I just laugh. And never is there a time more brutally and unapologetically political than an election season. This seems to be particularly true leading up to primary elections when candidates are trying to market themselves as more conservative or more liberal than their challengers. Matt enjoys all of the politics (read his political perspectives on the outcomes of the primary elections), and we are glad that he is able to translate his enthusiasm and interest into great policy strategy for Michigan’s Children. That said, I’m looking forward to moving past the politics and getting back to conversations about public policy. In other words, lifting up what matters to Michigan families, and ensuring that public policies and investments are made in the best interest of kids.

Now that we’re looking forward to the general elections, we can thankfully move in that direction. The general elections are a time when we can really begin to ascertain the differences between candidates on issues that matter to children, youth and families and see if we agree with how they say that they will tackle areas of concern. Now is the time when we can really understand how our candidates will or will not prioritize the needs of Michigan’s most challenged kids and families. At Michigan’s Children, we have highlighted some of our priorities this election season, and you’ll be hearing more and more from all of us about each of these areas in the months to come:
• Two-generation strategies that ensure parents have opportunities to get ahead in life while their children are connected to high quality learning opportunities.
• Adequately supporting the needs of Michigan’s most challenged young children from birth through age three.
• Increasing access to high quality child care for children from birth through age 12.
• Expanding learning opportunities for students and young people who face educational challenges to ensure that all young people can obtain a high school credential.

Maybe some of these issues resonate with concerns that you have about your family or your community. If so, please visit the Sandbox Party website to learn more about What’s At Stake this election season, and of course check back to Michigan’s Children’s Resources section as well.

While I hate politics, I still believe in the system. Sure, many Americans and Michiganians feel that our government is no longer functional – that Congress can’t get anything done, and that the Michigan Legislature no longer represents their views. But unless we get involved and stay involved in the democratic process (read Michele’s blog on her reflections on the primary elections and how it relates to this), we can’t expect Congress or the State Legislature to understand our priorities. This election season, I hope you will begin having conversations with candidates about what matters most to you, your family, and your community. If you’ve already started those conversations, kudos to you! Please keep them going and connect your friends and networks into those conversations so that more Michigan voters can be informed. And I hope you will join the 18% of Michigan’s registered voters who voted on Tuesday and get out to vote in November.

– Mina Hong

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