Sandbox Party

Vote Like Our Future Depends On It

Sometimes we lose track of the fact that our democracy is just like a hiring process. We look at different candidates for the job of representing our priorities in decisions about how to spend tax dollars and how to best structure the many public systems we depend upon. Then, after the campaign interviews, some of us in the “hiring committee” decide what candidate we want.

Now is the time for the job interviews, when we pay attention to what candidates are saying, and make sure that they are being asked important questions. To that end, we are working hard with partners in eight areas of the state to facilitate youth- and family-led candidate forums. This is some of my favorite work for three reasons:

  1. I LOVE working with our partners. The people we are working with for these forums do amazing things for kids and families in their communities every day AND THEN grace me with their assistance in with these forums, because they are so important. It is inspiring.
  2. I LOVE hearing what questions youth, adult students and other caregivers ask policymakers and those running for office when given the chance. Some confirm what we know to be true about the barriers people face, others are surprising and always informative to our work.
  3. And, of course, I also LOVE hearing the answers and seeing the power of direct interaction between constituent and candidate. We hear time and time again from the candidates involved that these forums are the campaign experiences that they enjoy the most.

After the job interview, we will decide who to hire. One of our staff wrote this phrase in a draft document, “Vote like our future depends on it.” I really like that, mainly because I know that it is true. We all know that decisions we make during this election will determine priorities in policy and investment for the next decade. This month, Michigan’s Children is starting our “Why I Vote” campaign. For me, voting is a huge responsibility, however, we know that many people don’t feel empowered to vote, or just aren’t able to, so we are gathering perspectives on why people around the state are taking that step to participate in the hire.

After the hiring is done, we supervise our new hires. We help them make connections between the decisions they are making and the things they said and learned from the hiring process. We help them better understand the people they are working for and how to do their job well. They need training, like most new hires, and they need support. We are there to give them that.

While I do like the job interview, and I also like the responsibility of hiring, I have devoted my professional life to the supervisory part. I know that all of our new hires (some more than others…) will disappoint us, some will not do what they said they would do during the job interview. And we will be there to gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide them back and make sure that they have all of the resources and backing that they need to help us move the state forward.

We need you to pledge with us to supervise the people we hire, beginning this November until the day they leave office. This is a pledge to follow up our vote with more action, to use our power as their supervisors to help them see the best path forward by connecting them with the most valuable resources that they have at their disposal – US, and the people who we serve.

Take this interview process seriously, vote as if our future depends on it, and then pledge to join Michigan’s Children for action.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

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

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

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

The Power of Our Vote

August 7, 2014 – Okay, I’ve admitted to you before that I love democracy – I love the power and the responsibility that comes with determining who will be making big decisions on my behalf, and assisting them make the best decisions possible along the way. For the past couple of months, we’ve been pestering folks as best we can to participate in the electoral process, beginning not in November, but beginning earlier than that in the Primary Elections that happened yesterday.

As we looked today at the winners and losers from yesterday and what that tells us about Michigan voters, candidates and their supporters, I was struck again by how close some of these Primary races were – several decided by fewer than 10 votes. Yes, you heard me, fewer than 10. I’ve had more people at my house for my book club! And many more decided by fewer than 100. We all know 100 people, and it is astounding to think that is all it takes to hand somebody success or failure at the polls. Now we know that turn out will be higher in November – typically we have about 20% (18% this last go round) of registered voters voting in the primaries and about 45% or so voting in the general election (okay, those dismal numbers are worthy of another blog another day), but contests will still be won often by small margins. Why would we put that kind of power into the hands of someone else?

The other thing that I was struck by was that once again, money alone doesn’t buy elections. Whenever I talk to people about getting more involved in policy advocacy, I always stress that even though the media never stops talking about the impact that money has in politics, it actually isn’t as impactful as some democratic system nay-sayers want to believe. That said, even I sometimes use the caveat that money makes more of a difference in statewide races, and in Congressional bids, then it does in more local races. Well, yesterday the people voting in the Republican primary of the 4th District Congressional seat, the one vacated by popular and powerful U.S. Representative Dave Camp, voted for the candidate who got outspent more than $5 to $1.

So what won that primary contest if it wasn’t money? Votes. Oh yeah, they always win. Candidates can get money from where-ever, and some of them do. You hear a lot about big monied interests funding campaigns that aren’t their own – campaigns in other communities, in other states. Well, that can get you advertising, staff and sometimes better strategy, but the only thing that gets you into office are the votes. Those can only come from the constituents in the district that you are vying to represent. They can only come from us, and we are all on even footing with votes – we each get one.

Now that we are moving into the general election, we have to take a closer look at how we decide which candidates are best to represent our interests – policy making in the best interest of children, youth and families. At Michigan’s Children, we’ll be focused on making sure that candidates are hearing about the issues that most concern constituents, and we’ll be paying close attention to what candidates are saying or not saying about the most critical investments needed in Michigan today:

1. Two-generation strategies that ensure children do well while their parents move ahead.
2. Earlier learning opportunities that optimize investments in 4-year old preschool.
3. Accessible, affordable, quality care for children and youth while parents can’t be with them.
4. Expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day.

Check back with the Sandbox Party and keep informed through our Sandbox Bulletin, our Early Learning Action Network and our Graduate Michigan Action Network. The power to move improved public policy for children, youth and families is, as always, in our hands.

– Michele Corey

Four Things We Learned from This Year’s Primaries

August 6, 2014 – This year’s all-important primary election has come and gone and four themes emerged from the results:

1. The battle for the soul of the Michigan Republican Party has not been decided. Establishment Republican interests took on Tea Party/Conservative candidates in numerous races throughout the state, and while both sides scored some major victories, no clear-cut winner emerged. With Todd Courser of Lapeer, Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell, and Gary Glenn of Midland all winning highly contested open GOP primaries in which establishment Republican groups spent huge money supporting their opposition, the Tea Party faithful can point to some impressive victories in the state House. Similarly, Congressman Justin Amash’s high-profile victory over establishment-supported Brian Ellis in the 3rd Congressional district was another big win for the Tea Party cause.

On the other side of the coin, the establishment-supported candidates emerged in the other three closely watched GOP Congressional primaries: Mike Bishop defeated Tom McMillin in the 8th Congressional district, David Trott bested Congressman Kerry Bentivolio in the 11th Congressional district, and John Moolenaar beat Paul Mitchell in the 4th Congressional district. The Republican establishment scored another impressive victory in the 37th state Senate district’s GOP primary with state Rep. Wayne Schmidt handily defeating state Rep. Greg MacMaster in a nasty northern Michigan battle.

This mixed bag of results from these Tea Party vs. Establishment fights ensures the ideological fight for control of the Michigan GOP will continue through at least the next Legislative session.

2. The power of incumbency remains formidable in state Legislative elections. With the notable exception of State Rep. Frank Foster losing in the 107th state House district, all incumbents from both political parties were successful in their state Legislative primaries. This trend has continued for several election cycles now where even well-financed and well-organized challengers have virtually no chance of knocking off incumbents in primary elections. This reality holds true in both Democratic and Republican primaries and ultimately discourages many potential candidates from pursuing Legislative office.

3. Strong female candidates making their gender an issue have success. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence emerged from a tough Democratic primary in the 14th Congressional district at least in part by successfully articulating the need for more women in government and leadership positions in our society and by standing on her support from Women’s Rights groups.

4. Low-voter turnout equals incredibly close races. Statewide, overall turnout for the August primary came in at right around 18 percent of all registered voters. This abysmally low number, combined with the fact that most Legislative and Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to be not competitive in the November general elections, means a small minority of Michigan’s citizens actually elected our next representatives in our state and federal government. Also, the low turnout led to numerous races being decided by fewer than 100 votes and in some races even less than 10 votes separated the top finishers. If turnout continues to remain this low in primary elections, the extremes of both political parties will continue to have undue influence and the voices of the vast majority of Michigan’s citizens will go unheard.

With the primary election behind us, supporters of children, youth, and family issues can now turn our attention to the November General Election. With the candidates for Governor and the open U.S. Senate seat traveling around the state spreading their message to voters, as well as candidates for Congressional and Legislative offices out in your communities, everyone will have an opportunity to find out how the candidates feel about the issues that are important to them. Please use www.michigansandboxparty.org as a resource to become engaged in this critical upcoming election.

– Matt Gillard

Our Kids Futures Hinge on Getting Out the Vote

July 31, 2014 – It’s the height of the election season and we’re all hearing promising political rhetoric from public office-seekers about children being a priority in our state.  Yet, last week’s 25th annual KIDS COUNT Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation told us Michigan continues to move down the national rankings of well-being indicators for kids.  Once again our ranking has sadly slipped, putting us in 32nd place and below the majority of states.

While it may be comforting to hear candidates and elected officials say they care about the future of Michigan’s children, words without action aren’t enough.  What we need — and the public should demand this election season — are policies and investments that decidedly move our children and state forward with clear vision and united resolve.  Failing to make progress is not good for our children, youth and families.  And it’s not good for the future security and vitality of our communities and our state.

This is not acceptable and needs to change now.  It is the best reason to become an active voter this election season.  Our most powerful tool to impact child well-being in Michigan is to vote in the August 5 primary.

Michigan’s Children has made it a priority this summer to encourage people who care about kids to take a serious look at who’s running for office in their communities, to learn where they stand on the issues most important to their children, youth and families, and to make it a point to vote in their primaries. (Our Sandbox Party website at michigansandboxparty.org is focused on the election with resources and tools to help voters.)

This year, the state will elect the next governor, all 110 state House members and 38 state senators, as well as members to Congress from across the state and the first new U.S. senator from Michigan in nearly two decades.  We are promoting election advocacy in earnest this summer because we know that redistricting and the manner in which political boundaries have been re-drawn have made nearly all primary races pivotal this year.   In many areas the winners in August are likely to become your representative in November.

When government representatives make children and families a priority, it increases the likelihood for investments in health, social and education supports children need to succeed in school and in life.  Particularly for challenged children – those from low-income families and families of color – these investments are critical for building a brighter future for Michigan as a whole.

While the stakes are high this season, we also know that most registered voters don’t come out in August primaries.  To that we say, don’t let other people decide who will represent you and your families for the next two and four years.

When voter turnout is high, candidates have to appeal to the views of the majority of the citizens they are running to represent.  When voter turnout is low and relegated to those only at the far ends of the political spectrum, candidates need only to cater to those on the far right or far left and the opinions of the majority of their perspective constituents are ignored.

This is an extremely important election for children, youth and families in Michigan.  If you care about children and want a government that makes children a priority, get out and vote.  Remember, kids can’t vote.  That’s why you should vote with them in mind.  Please vote August 5th.

– Matt Gillard

Portions of this blog were published as an opinion piece in the Detroit News on 7/31/14.

Building a Stronger Foundation for the Right Start

June 19, 2014 – This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released the annual report, Right Start in Michigan 2014: Maternal and Infant Well-Being in Michigan’s Legacy Cities.  Each year, this report looks at the status of babies and their mothers through a series of birth outcomes.   At the same time, Michigan’s Children updated our own look at high school graduation, High School Graduation Matters in the 2014 Elections.  Both of these documents clearly illustrate that in the next budget cycle and with the next Legislature, more needs to be done to improve graduation rates for our most challenged young people – particularly for young mothers.

As we’ve talked about many times, despite significant improvements over the last several years in high school dropout rates – those kids who leave or are pushed out of high school before graduation – Michigan continues to struggle with real improvement in our 4-, 5- or 6-year graduation rates.  We continue to see significant numbers of young people who are failing to graduate in a 4-year timetable, but are still trying to hang on toward a high school credential.  Unfortunately, we’ve also seen flat or falling investment in the very programs that work for older youth.

The educational attainment of mothers is a key predictor of future success for children.  Not only do parents with limited education have more limited income, but they may also face more challenges navigating systems like education and health care for their children.  In 2012, fully one in eight births in Michigan was to a mother without a high school credential.  We know that it will take young women who give birth in their teens, and often the young men who have fathered those children, more time and more flexible paths to succeed in high school, and we know that there are limited resources for adults who may want to come back to complete that credential after their children are a bit older.

This is unacceptable.   The impact is clear – high school graduation at LEAST is essential to navigate our current economy and society.  The more young people we leave behind because we haven’t provided enough flexible paths to help them build a strong educational foundation for their families; the more challenged Michigan’s communities, schools and economies will remain.  And as the Right Start report indicates, this includes leaving behind our youngest children who may then face subsequent challenges as well.

Luckily, the elections in August and November give all of us a bully pulpit to make sure that decision-makers understand that we expect educational success for everyone, and that we will be glad to assist them if they commit to that path once in office.  Be sure to talk to candidates about this issue if it is one you are particularly passionate about.  Learn more about how you can get engaged in the elections by visiting the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

– Michele Corey

On the 2014 Campaign Trail for Michigan Children

June 16, 2014 – I’d like to introduce you to the new Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website. You’ll notice some significant changes to the Sandbox Party website. First, the Sandbox Party has joined efforts with Michigan’s Children to raise awareness on children’s issues and to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children. As a project of Michigan’s Children, the Sandbox Party will shift its focus from early childhood issues to a whole-child cradle-to-career approach. With this shift, you will be gaining a more comprehensive look at children, youth and families with the earliest years as a very important piece of that.

Also, between now and November, the Sandbox Party will be focusing all of its attention on the 2014 elections. This 2014 election season holds the potential for great change in Michigan and with it, the opportunities and possibilities for significantly improving the lives of Michigan’s greatest resource – our children. Our new website will provide a lot of opportunities for you to learn more about the upcoming elections. One page of the website is dedicated to statewide races – highlighting the Governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race – with a focus on what those candidates are saying about children and family issues. You can also find a list of all of the local candidates running for office in your community by visiting the local races section of our website, which also features highlights of some particularly competitive local races.

The What’s Happening section of the website will provide you with a calendar of events in your community as it relates to the elections – whether it be candidate town halls, local candidate forums, or other meet-and-greet opportunities for you to engage with those running for public office.

This entire website is meant to provide you with the information and tools you need to become engaged this election season and ensure that those you vote into office prioritize the needs of Michigan children and families.

Though the general elections are about five months away, many decisions will be made in the primary elections in early August because of the demographics of those districts. In districts where the majority of voters identify with one political party, the winner of the primaries will very likely go on to win the general elections. Thus, making sure that you go out and vote on August 5th is critical.

So, please take a look around our new website, share this resource with your friends and network, and visit us often.

-Matt Gillard

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