Life for Michigan kids improved in important ways since 1990 with fewer children dying and fewer births to teens, the 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today, finds.
These are heartening trends because they prove that good public policy does make a positive difference. For example, the state’s graduated driver’s license helped reduced the number of teens dying on the highway and sustained public health and education campaigns resulted in fewer teen pregnancies.
While there were many improvements since 1990, troubling trends over the quarter century for Michigan are a big jump in poverty, more kids living in unaffordable housing and more children being raised by single parents.
The report also gives a picture of how Michigan compares with other states. This year, Michigan ranked 32nd for overall child well-being, with No. 1 being the best. This puts Michigan in the bottom half of states — and most concerning– the bottom quarter of the states for education, one of four domains ranked in the report.
At 38th for education, it ranks with many traditionally poor states in the South, while our Midwest neighbors fare much better, including Minnesota, which is the fifth best in the country for overall child well-being and sixth best in education.
It’s worth noting that Michigan’s test scores and other education indicators haven’t plummeted. In fact, they have improved some since the 1990 Data Book, and are about the same as last year’s report. The drop from 32nd last year to 38th this year for education means that other states are improving faster.
In other words, Michigan is running in place while other states race ahead.
Michigan ranks 37th for students not proficient in reading in fourth grade, 38th for eighth-grade math and 39th for students graduating on time.
Only in preschool, where Michigan ranks as the 23rd best among the states, is Michigan in the top half of states in the area of education. Just over half of 3- and 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, and that rate is surely on the track to improve as Michigan invests $65 million this year and an additional $65 million for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 in expanding preschool for 4-year-olds.
We know that for kids to be successful, they need strong families, good schools and safe and supportive communities. To achieve that, the League, the KIDS COUNT Michigan partner, recommends:
- Restoring education funding cut since the start of the Great Recession, with a focus on making sure kids can read by the end of third grade.
- Supporting families earning the least through tax credits and more robust food and cash assistance.
- Increasing child care payments to help working parents.
- Investing in strategies to reduce the 8.4 percent of Michigan babies born too small, particularly in communities of color.
Over the past 25 years, we’ve learned a lot about how to improve kids’ lives. Those lessons, combined with political will, can help us create opportunities for all children.
– Judy Putnam