MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Schools out! Why some kids aren’t as excited for summer

Added June 29th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

As we counted down the last days of the school year, most of us were excited planning our summer vacations and camps. At the same time, too many kids were wondering how they were going to eat over the summer – something most of us take for granted.

During 2013, more than 737,000 students were eligible for free or reduced price meals at school but only a small portion of these students are fed through Summer Nutrition Programs, leaving them at risk of going hungry.

According to the most recent Food Research & Action Center report, “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report,” the number of children getting meals over the summer has increased, yet only 16 of every 100 low-income children in the country was served.

 The federal Summer Nutrition Programs help ensure that children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year continue to have access to meals over the summer. These meal programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and National School Lunch Program, are housed at schools and nonprofits, such as food banks and community action agencies, and are often coupled with recreation activities for students during the day while parents are working.

Like 42 other states, Michigan saw an increase of nearly 12% from 2013 to 2014 in the number of children receiving meals through the Summer Nutrition Programs. However, the state continues to rank in the bottom half of states at 31st. Last July, in Michigan about 13 of every 100 low-income children were served through a summer meal program. FRAC suggests that every state should aim to have about 40 children participating for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Based on that goal it is estimated that Michigan forgoes about $11.5 million in federal reimbursement for Summer Nutrition Programs.

Congress is scheduled to reauthorize child nutrition programs in the fall, and the report offers several recommendations to ensure that more children are returning to school in the fall healthy and ready to learn:

  • Lowering the eligibility test to increase the number of participating sites. Currently, most participating sites qualify by demonstrating that they are located in an area where 50% of the kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The report advocates for lowering the threshold to 40% to capture more rural areas.
  • Streamlining administrative requirements to allow nonprofit and local government agencies to provide meals year-round rather than having to operate two child nutrition programs, which have duplicative requirements. Schools already are allowed to do this through the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option.
  • Allowing agencies to provide three meals a day instead of two to help serve children who are provided full-day care while their parents work and for teenagers who participate in evening activities.
  • Providing grants for transportation—one of the most significant barriers to participation, especially in rural areas.
  • Expanding access through the use of the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, a concept that was tested through the USDA Summer Demonstration Projects. Michigan was fortunate to receive a grant for $5.5 million for this program, which is expected to serve 40,599 children this summer.

 –Alicia Guevara Warren

Third grade reading initiatives must include reducing poverty

Added June 15th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

In March, following his budget recommendation to invest $48.9 million towards a comprehensive state plan to improve third grade reading, Gov. Snyder created a workgroup to study the issue and develop recommendations. The bipartisan group released its report last week and should be commended for identifying strategies that recognize the importance of early childhood development, connect the issue to poverty, and realize the role that parents play, plus they seem to have abandoned the idea that retention policies are helpful.

Michigan is one of only five states to lose ground on reading proficiency over a decade beginning in 2003—almost every other state saw improvements in the number of students reading proficiently. Because reading at grade level by the end of third grade is such an important benchmark for future academic achievement, and very connected to the development of our future workforce and economic growth, leaders across the state have spent the last several years discussing solutions.

Most states already have taken steps to improve reading using a comprehensive approach with early identification and intervention—some of these strategies adopted to improve literacy begin at birth. Similarly, the governor’s workgroup on third grade reading outlined five strategies that include:

  1. Targeting Instruction and Intervention: Using research-supported diagnostic and screening instruments, instruction, and intervention with students. This would include a minimum of 90-minutes of dedicated reading time during the school day and the use of certified reading specialists and literacy coaches to support teachers and students.
  2. Preparing and Supporting Teachers to Teach Reading: Training educators to use diagnostic-driven methods with knowledge and fidelity by ensuring that all teachers and teacher candidates have the experience and instruction to be effective using the tools to identify the correct intervention strategies and keeping on top of best practices.
  3. Engaging Parents and Families in Early Literacy and School Readiness: Informing and supporting parents to develop early literacy skills in their children and to parent effectively, and ensuring that there are adequate home-supports for every child. The workgroup also recommended allocating additional targeted funding to help developing infants and toddlers and to pilot a parent education program in each Prosperity District.
  4. Implementing K-3 Smart Promotion Policy: Providing additional time for K-3 students who are behind in reading, with additional time and interventions while allowing them to advance in the other subject areas in which they are proficient.
  5. Collecting Data, Measuring, and Reporting: Providing accurate data on students and school growth and proficiency compared with other states, and developing an annual report on progress towards the goal of having the highest early reading proficiency in the nation. The workgroup suggests the use of a kindergarten initial diagnostic instrument for early identification and targeted interventions; the adoption of an existing, research-based tool to measure the state’s progress against other states; and, the establishment of an independent oversight commission to provide an annual report on progress.

The state budget is the most significant indication of a state’s priorities, and supporting early literacy and interventions to ensure grade level reading is clearly valued. In the upcoming budget year, there is $31.5 million for the third-grade reading initiative and child care enhancements as recommended by the governor. This is a great first step to addressing early literacy and supporting young children starting at birth. However, what’s clear is that there is still work to be done to help policymakers understand the connection to poverty—although the workgroup acknowledges the role it plays in early literacy and education. We continue to see disinvestments in safety net and prevention programs that serve our most vulnerable. Last week, the governor signed into law a bill to terminate cash assistance for families with children who are considered truant under the guise of improving school attendance rather than addressing the real barriers. And, the state House approved a bill to eliminate the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, essentially paving the roads on the backs of the working poor. These are only two examples of recent policies that hurt families—and children’s chances of academic achievement—and drive up poverty.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

Support family homes to get kids out of shelters and group settings

Added May 19th, 2015 by Stacey Range Messina | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Stacey Range Messina

An alarming number of foster kids in Michigan live in group homes and emergency shelters. Nearly half of whom have no clinical need to be there, and far too many are staying well beyond what is legally acceptable, according to today’s Kids Count policy report Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The reasons? A lack of community services to allow children to stay safely in their homes and an inadequate supply of kin or foster homes. Agencies should be encouraged to provide more services in home and community settings. Family supports shield children from the further trauma of being placed in out-of-home care. (more…)

Children’s Health Insurance Program in jeopardy

Added March 25th, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

More than 40,000 Michigan children could be at risk of losing their healthcare coverage if Congress doesn’t act and approve funding to continue the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A compromise was reached last Friday between House Democratic and Republican leaders to extend funding for two years with the current policies. While this is not perfect (a four-year funding extension under current policies would have been preferable), it is better than the proposal developed by the House and Senate chairs of the committees responsible for CHIP. The House committee chair is Michigan’s Representative Fred Upton who now will have the opportunity to support the compromise and be a champion for 40,000 Michigan children. If the compromise passes the House, efforts are expected in the Senate to strengthen the funding extension to four years under current policies. (more…)

Michigan needs a comprehensive approach to third grade reading

Added March 24th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical benchmark for future academic success, so Michigan policymakers have been seriously considering strategies to improve the chances that more children will reach this goal. After third grade, children read to learn, and half the curriculum materials in fourth-grade require grade-level reading skills. Three of four third-graders who struggle to master reading will continue to struggle as high school students. A comprehensive approach is needed to improve early literacy for children in Michigan.


Making kids count in the state budget

Added March 5th, 2015 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Conditions for Michigan’s kids are progressing in some areas of child well-being but in others…. well, let’s just say we’ve got some major work ahead of us, particularly when it comes to economic security. That’s the upshot of the newly released Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.

Fortunately, the budget plan spelled out by Gov. Rick Snyder last month does a good job in a tight budget year of addressing inequities by making some investments that will drive improvements for Michigan’s kids.

Most welcome is a $49 million initiative, including $24 million for child care quality improvements, to increase the chances of more children reading proficiently by the end of third grade.


Child poverty in the 21st century

Added February 27th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (more…)

Why kids count

Added February 19th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Recent news reports celebrate the decline in the unemployment rate and the quickened tempo of the recovery. But four years into the recovery, Michigan’s child poverty rates remain consistently high.

In 2013, one of every four children in Michigan lived in a family with income below the federal poverty level (roughly $18,800 for a single-parent family of three and $23,600 for a two-parent family of four), according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, released today. (more…)

More child care oversight needed

Added January 8th, 2015 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Every day in Michigan, parents head out to work with their young children in tow, dropping them off at local child care centers or homes. Child care is a necessity for many working families because they rely on two incomes to make ends meet or because they are raising children as single parents.

Yet oversight of health and safety requirements is stretched far too thin in Michigan, a new policy brief from the League concludes. (more…)

Children thrive when parents succeed

Added November 12th, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children. (more…)

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