A two-generation strategy to reduce poverty and increase school success

The message was loud and clear at the State Board of Education meeting last week: family income and school success are inextricably linked, and Michigan’s school reform efforts will not succeed if the state doesn’t address that reality.

League President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs was invited by the State Board and new Superintendent Brian Whiston to address what it would take to make Michigan a top ten state for education. The Board is seeking input from education and business groups, advocacy organizations, teachers and parents—with the goal of developing a much-needed plan for action.

As the recent Kids Count Data Book revealed, child poverty is increasing in Michigan despite overall economic recovery, with 28% of all young children living in poverty, and rates much higher for children of color. The sad reality is that public policy decisions have made the problem worse, including reductions in the state Earned Income Tax Credit and punitive school truancy policies.

The impact of childhood poverty on education and the economy is clear:

  • The number of school children eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches continues to be the most reliable predictor of standardized test scores, and little has changed despite years of reform efforts.
  • Children in low-income families are more than twice as likely to repeat a grade, a strong predictor of school dropout. One of four adults who spend more than three years in poverty fails to receive a high school diploma.
  • Only one-quarter of women who spend half of their childhood in poverty are consistently employed as adults.

The League supports a two-generation solution to poverty and education that ensures that all children are ready for school and can succeed once they enter the school house doors, and simultaneously helps parents get the education and training they need to increase family income.

Our top three priorities include:

1. Reduce disparities based on income, race and place by targeting resources to high poverty districts and communities of color, beginning with full funding of the At-Risk program. The At-Risk program allocates funds to school districts based on the number of low-income children. With the governor’s leadership there will be a much-needed increase in the 2016 budget year—the first in more than a decade—but the program is not fully funded and needs to be.

2. Invest in early care and education with a stronger focus on child care and services for families with infants and toddlers. With the governor and Legislature’s leadership, Michigan has made great strides in enrolling low-income 4-year-olds in high quality preschool programs. Yet to be addressed are the woefully inadequate investments in children from birth through age 3—the time of greatest brain growth and learning. Among the early priorities are increased access to proven home-visiting programs and state funds for infants and toddlers who have been identified by the Early On program as having developmental delays.

From a two-generation perspective, greater investments in child care are especially critical. Without subsidies, high quality child care is unaffordable for most low-wage parents, and children placed in unsafe or low quality care can miss a critical window for early learning, with lifelong repercussions. Unfortunately, Michigan has some of the lowest eligibility and payment rates in the country, and the number of families helped by Michigan’s child care subsidy has plummeted.

3. Strengthen adult education and training. Adult education is a transition into the postsecondary education or training needed to create a competitive workforce in Michigan. Over 222,000 Michigan adults lack a high school diploma or GED, but fewer than 7% are enrolled in adult education and funding for adult education has dropped an astonishing 90% since 1996.

While alleviating poverty cannot be the primary focus of public schools, we also cannot continue to proceed with reform efforts with our heads in the sand, denying the indisputable impact of income, race and place on school success. We applaud the initiative taken by the Superintendent and the State Board and appreciate the opportunity to be involved. We hope their work will lead to policies and investments that can help move the dial on education.

– Pat Sorenson

 

Economic recovery leaves Michigan children behind

Michigan is the “comeback state,” so we’ve heard. But, for whom? Michigan has more children living in poverty now than it did in the last full year of the Great Recession. Not only that, but since 2008, there are more children whose parents lack secure employment and more children living in concentrated poverty. Children and families in Michigan are being left behind in the economic recovery.

According to the new 2015 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan’s ranking in overall child well-being has fallen for the second straight year. The state now ranks 33rd in the country overall, while other states that have chosen to invest in programs that support economic growth and people are doing better, like Minnesota, which ranks first in the country for overall child well-being.

The report, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, ranks Michigan in four domains:

  • Education: 37th
  • Economic well-being: 33rd
  • Family and community: 29th
  • Health: 23rd

It is clear that the strategy to reduce taxes and disinvest in programs that support families has not worked. Even after significant tax breaks for corporations, parents are still struggling to find good-paying and stable jobs to achieve financial security for themselves and their children. The data book reveals that the number of children with parents without secure employment increased to 33%. That is a rate increase of 6% since the last year of the Great Recession and ranks Michigan in the bottom third of states.

We also continue to have an unacceptable number of children living in poverty and a widening economic gap between white children and children of color. The data book reports that the child poverty rate in Michigan increased by 26% with nearly one in every four children living in poverty, including nearly one in every two African American children and almost one in every three Latino children. Also startling is the increasing number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. The rate increased by 21%.

Given the impact that poverty has on educational outcomes, it isn’t surprising that the state’s lowest ranking is in education. The number of students considered not proficient in math and reading stagnated over the period in the data book. These trends occurred at the same time that the state made cuts in education spending. Although, in the upcoming budget year, over $31 million has been dedicated to initiatives and programs to improve third-grade reading, including some funding for early childhood investments—critical to long-term outcomes.

The state has had some substantial wins in children’s health since the Great Recession, such as a continued reduction in the number of kids without insurance, the number of teen births, and the number of teens using alcohol and drugs. However, these gains are overshadowed by the large number of kids living in poverty and poor educational outcomes.

If we are really to help children in our state thrive, we need to understand the importance of providing parents with the tools and support they need. Taking a two-generation approach is a proven practice to improve outcomes for children by ensuring that parents have access to opportunities like adult education, higher-wage jobs with benefits, and quality affordable child care. We also need a fair tax system that includes the state Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven poverty reduction tool. And, we need to continue strong investments in early childhood programs to ensure that kids are ready to learn by the time they get to school.

 – Alicia Guevara Warren

House Subcommittee Rejects Governor’s Third Grade Reading Initiative

 

The Senate subcommittee developing next year’s education budget endorsed Gov. Snyder’s forward-thinking initiative to ensure that children can read proficiently by third grade. Only the day before, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education had rejected most of the governor’s recommendations and left children without early interventions needed to meet that critical educational milestone.

The next step is for the subcommittee bills to be acted on by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Their versions of the bills will be sent to the floors of the House and Senate for debate and approval. Any differences between the final House and Senate versions will be worked out in joint House/Senate conference committees. Legislative leaders have said they would like to complete action on the budgets by the end of May.

A recent League report shows that the ability to read by the end of third grade is central to a child’s success in school, life-long earning potential, and ability to contribute to the state’s economy. But almost two of every five Michigan third-graders do not demonstrate reading proficiency on the MEAP, with one in four scoring at the lowest level.

The research is clear: Learning begins in infancy, with the most rapid and critical brain development occurring during the first three years of life. States that have seen the most dramatic improvements in early literacy have made substantial investments in early interventions. The governor’s 2016 initiative recognizes the importance of the early years and deserves support.

Governor’s Reading Initiative and Legislative Actions to Date

There are three basic components to the governor’s third grade reading initiative. Below are the governor’s recommendations and actions taken by the House and Senate subcommittees:

(1) Investment of $23.6 million in federal funds for improvements in child care quality and access, funded through the Department of Education budget.

Governor’s Proposal:

  • $6.1 million for provider payment increases for licensed child care centers and homes that accept children with a state subsidy, and that have at least two stars on Michigan’s five-star quality rating system.
  • $16 million to allow families to remain eligible for the child care subsidy for up to one year, even if their incomes rise.
  • $1.5 million to allow families to earn up to 250% of poverty without losing child care subsidies—but only if families initially qualified at the current eligibility threshold of 121% of poverty.
  • $5.7 million to hire more child care inspectors needed to ensure that state-licensed child care centers and homes are meeting basic health and safety requirements.

The number of low-wage working families able to receive a child care subsidy has dropped by nearly 70% since 2003, in part because of the state’s low eligibility rates and provider payments. As a result, Michigan has unspent federal child care funds that the governor proposes to use to enhance quality and expand access. While this is a small step forward in a grossly underfunded system, it moves the state in the right direction after years of neglect for the well-being of thousands of vulnerable infants and toddlers whose parents must work to support their basic needs.

Legislative Actions to Date: The Senate subcommittee approved all of the governor’s recommended changes for child care. The House subcommittee rejected the expansion of child care licensing consultants, but approved the other child care enhancements. The increases in child care rates and eligibility were included in a supplemental budget bill recently signed by the governor, so will be implemented in the current budget year. Funds to expand child care licensing staff were not part of the supplemental budget bill.

(2) The dedication of $25 million in School Aid funds for services to support families and encourage early literacy, as well as improve reading instruction in grades K-3.

Governor’s Proposal:

  • $5 million for home visiting programs for at-risk families to encourage early literacy activities.
  • $1 million for parent education pilot programs.
  • $5.9 million for testing and professional development for elementary teachers and administrators to ensure they have the best tools to diagnose and improve reading difficulties in children, along with literacy coaches for K-3 teachers.
  • $10 million for additional instruction time (before, during or after school, or in the summer) for children who need extra assistance.
  • $2.6 million for continued implementation of the Kindergarten Entry Assessment.

Legislative Actions to Date: The Senate subcommittee approved the governor’s recommended third grade reading initiative, and added an extra $10 million for additional instruction time for students who are not on track with reading skills. The House subcommittee rejected the governor’s third grade reading initiative.

(3) An additional $100 million for children at risk of falling behind their peers academically, with funds to be used in part to ensure that children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Governor’s Proposal:

  • An increase of $100 million in At Risk School Aid funding—the first significant increase since 2001—bringing total funding to $409 million.
  • Funds would continue to be allocated to districts based on the number of students eligible for free meals, giving additional resources to districts educating a high number of low-income children.
  • At Risk funds are to continue to be used to improve third grade reading, as well as ensure that youths are career and college ready when they graduate from high school.

Legislative Actions to Date: The Senate Subcommittee approved the additional $100 million for At Risk services, and added language that requires that at least 50% of the increase be spent on third grade reading—in addition to existing spending. The House Subcommittee rejected the increase in At Risk funds.

Early Intervention Can Improve Reading Skills

High-quality child care allows parents to work to support their children, and prepares children to succeed in school.

  • Child care is both a support for working parents and employers, and an environment where children learn. More than half of children under age 5 are in child care at least part of the week, and while high-quality child care can help them succeed in school, low-quality care can threaten their health, safety and development.
  • Increases in child care payment rates and eligibility proposed by the governor and endorsed by the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on School Aid/Education help to improve child care quality and allow parents to keep care longer even if their income rises. State policies, including low provider payments and income eligibility thresholds have contributed to a 70% drop in the number of families provided subsidies, and this trend needs to be reversed if Michigan is going to be a “comeback state for all.” A lack of access to affordable child care has made it impossible for many parents to work to support their children, and the economy has suffered. For example, a single mother with two children in care earning $11 an hour who gets a 50-cent raise (bringing income to $23,880 for a family of three) would lose her state child care subsidy, and child care costs would jump from about $3,000 per year to $18,000—a complete barrier to work. The quality and stability of a child’s relationships, including with child care providers, are critical to healthy development and future school success.
  • Although not part of the governor’s budget or the subcommittee budgets, an increase in the initial entry-level eligibility rate for child care, which has been at 121% of poverty since 2003, is needed to help low-wage parents enter the workforce. While it is helpful that parents may be able to keep their child care longer, even with small wage increases, Michigan still will have the second lowest initial income eligibility thresholds for child care in the country. An increase in the entry eligibility level from 121% to 150% of poverty would be a good start.
  • At a minimum, the state must ensure that all children in licensed child care are in settings that comply with basic state health and safety requirements. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education rejected the governor’s proposal to increase the number of child care inspectors charged with ensuring that licensed child care centers and homes meet basic state health and safety regulations. Recent federal audits have found serious problems in Michigan’s oversight of child care safety, including the failure to do all required criminal record and protective services background checks for people coming in contact with young children, as well as hazardous conditions such as blocked fire exits, unsupervised toddlers, and chemicals within reach of children. The governor and Senate subcommittee have supported funding for additional child care inspectors, bringing Michigan from one of the highest ratios of inspectors to child care providers (1:153) to the national average (1:98).

The governor’s recommendation to invest in early intervention services is an important step in improving children’s ability to read by third grade.

  • Efforts to help children read must begin long before they reach third grade or even kindergarten. Because the most rapid and critical brain development occurs in the first three years of life, programs that foster maternal and infant mental and physical health are critical. Examples include prenatal care, childhood lead poisoning prevention, home visiting programs that help parents with early literacy activities, and better efforts to identify infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays through the state’s Early On program.
  • Family income is the most reliable indicator of academic success, and Michigan must more aggressively address poverty and economic opportunity, including the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (included in Proposal 1), and income assistance policies that provide families with some stability as they get additional education and training and enter the workforce. National tests show that four of every five Michigan fourth-graders from families with incomes below or marginally above the poverty level ($24,000 for a family of four in 2013) did not demonstrate proficiency in reading in 2013 compared with roughly one of every two higher-income students. Students from low-income families are more likely to face barriers such as illness, transportation problems, no access to high-quality child care, unhealthy housing, mobility, homelessness and unsafe neighborhoods.

 

Report: Promoting Early Literacy in Michigan

Full report | Fact Sheet

For the past several years, policymakers at the state and federal level have focused on improving student achievement as measured by standardized testing, and third grade is considered a pivotal age for mastery of reading skills. After the third grade, children will need reading skills to learn other subjects such as math and science, and to evaluate written text. Almost half of the material in the fourth grade curriculum requires grade-level reading skills.1 Three of every four students who do not read at grade level in the fourth grade will continue to struggle in high school, and thus be at high risk of not qraduating high school.

Early identification and intervention are key to improving literacy among youngsters: Schools alone cannot solve the problem. Michigan has a variety of programs that provide the foundation to literacy and academic achievement, but policymakers have not appropriated funding to address the level of need nor supported policies to improve economic insecurity, which has a well-documented negative impact on child health and academic achievement.

A critical part of Michigan’s  agenda to improve early literacy must address the role of widespread child poverty and the benefits of early intervention. Efforts must begin long before children reach the third grade or even kindergarten.

School readiness is a key strategy endorsed by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaboration of foundations, non-profits, states and communities focused on promoting strategies to improve third-grade reading.2

In 2012, a majority of the states had passed laws targeting improvement in literacy for early elementary students. Most of these states take a comprehensive approach with early identification, interventions and strategies in place to improve literacy, some beginning at birth.

Alternate methods to document proficiency in the third grade vary by state. Since many states have only recently implemented these procedures, it is too early to assess the results. For example, despite significant gains for Tennessee students, higher-income students benefited more. Furthermore, the impact on children, families, teachers and districts of emergency takeovers by the state and closing of neighborhood schools has not been assessed.

The Michigan Picture

Roughly 40% or 40,000 of the state’s third-graders demonstrated reading skills that were rated below proficiency (Level 2), as defined in the 2013 MEAP; 10,000 of those showed minimal skills, rated as “not proficient” (Level 4).3

The percentage of third-graders at Level 4 in each county ranges from a low of 3% in Dickinson and Charlevoix to 19% in Oscoda. In some of the most populous counties, such as Wayne, Saginaw and Genesee, 9-10% of third-graders performed at the lowest level. The cost of earlier intervention strategies pales in comparison with the cost of high school dropouts in the current economy.

As Michigan looks to align its standards with the Common Core—English and math standards developed by the Council of Chief State Officers and the National Governors Center for Best Practice—the test results would more likely reflect Michigan student performance on the national test where almost seven of every 10 fourth-graders (69%) in the state did not demonstrate grade-level skills. The NAEP 2013 Grade 4 reading test results dropped the state to a ranking of 37th among the 50 states, according to the 2014 national KIDS COUNT report.4

Family income makes a difference in academic achievement.

Similar to the nation, in Michigan the difference in reading proficiency between children from low- and higher-income families is dramatic.5 Roughly 80% of fourth-graders from Michigan’s low-income families did not demonstrate proficiency on the 2013 NAEP compared with just over half (56%) of those in higher-income families. The gap widened between 2009 and 2013 as children from higher-income families exceeded the gains of those from low-income families. In Michigan schools, the higher the concentration of children from low-income families, the larger the percentage of children not demonstrating proficient reading skills.

The number of children in Michigan who live in low-income families has escalated dramatically since the economic downturn and sluggish recovery. Between 2006 and 2013 Michigan experienced a 34% increase in the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price meals in the School Lunch Program: Almost half of all public K-12 students were eligible in 2013 compared with just over one of every three in 2006. All the growth in eligibility occurred among students qualifying with family incomes below 130% of the poverty level—roughly nine of every 10 students eligible for the program.

Proficiency rates for students closely track family income as reflected in eligibility for free or reduced price school meals. In Michigan’s 15 largest counties the percentages of third-graders scoring proficient on the MEAP reflected the percentage of low-income students: The lower the percentage of students eligible, the higher the percentage proficient. The relationship held for both traditional and charter schools, also known as public school academies. Michigan also has the largest concentration of children in high-poverty neighborhoods in the country (15%)—thereby compounding the negative impact of family economic insecurity.

The impact of the state’s economic decline on families has been aggravated by state cuts in programs designed to blunt the impact of business cycle downturns on families and children. Either the eligibility standards or the benefit amount for several programs, including unemployment insurance, the state Earned Income Tax Credit, cash assistance (FIP), child care subsidies and food stamps (SNAP), have all been reduced in the last few years, at the same time as job growth lagged and wages stagnated or fell in the sluggish recovery.

Mass incarceration exacts a profound toll on African American children and communities.

While social support programs have waned in Michigan, the number of prisoners in the corrections system remains at record highs. Almost 50,000 children in Michigan have a parent in state prison, excluding jail and federal prison, and almost half of all prisoners lived with their children prior to their arrest.

A recent study found that the absence of a parent due to incarceration can have a worse impact than parental absence due to divorce or death.6 Having a parent in prison or jail was “linked to a greater incidence of attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), behavioral or conduct problems, learning disabilities, speech or other language problems and developmental delays.”7

The prison population, disproportionately minority males, has resulted in worsening unemployment and decreasing family stability in communities of color. The prison experience itself can compromise physical and mental health and, once saddled with a prison record, ex-offenders struggle to find employment. The cost of parental incarceration also falls on their families and children. African American children are three times more likely to have a parent incarcerated as the national average: In the U.S. one of every nine African American children has an incarcerated parent compared with one of every 28 children of all race/ethniticy in the U.S.8

School readiness begins at birth.

Physical and emotional health from birth forms the bedrock for academic achievement. Babies who weigh less than five and one-half pounds at birth or spend less than 37 weeks in utero are much more likely to experience developmental delay, chronic disease or even death. In 2012, roughly 17,000 Michigan babies were born either too soon or too small or both. These fragile infants can often spend extra weeks or even months in intensive care and then need special services in early childhood and later years.

A healthy pregnancy improves the likelihood of a healthy birth.

The roughly 29% of mothers who do not receive adequate prenatal care, defined as beginning in the critical first three months of pregnancy and continuing regularly throughout the pregnancy, are at higher risk of an unhealthy birth than those who have timely regular care. Increased access to health insurance and medical care through the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, will increase the likelihood that more women will be in better physical health overall should they become pregnant. Uninsured women are more likely to delay prenatal care because of cost concerns or lack of a medical home and suffer from untreated chronic health conditions, which can compromise a healthy birth.

Expanded access to health insurance through the Healthy Michigan Plan benefits low-income parents and also other adults likely to be involved in children’s lives, such as caretaker relatives, childless adults and 19- and 20-year-olds.9 Improvements in the well-being of the significant adults in children’s lives will benefit those children, particularly in the early years.

All eight strategies outlined in the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan focus on improving the likelihood of a healthy birth and infancy.10 The strategies include promoting safe sleep practices for infants, expanding home visits to high-risk women and reducing unintended pregnancies. However, in the last two budgets policymakers have allocated only one tenth of the funding required to fully implement the plan.

Parents matter.

The early years are a critical developmental stage when the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth and the capacity that supports future literacy is developed. The quality of the interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the early days and months affects the emotional and social well-being of the child as well as his/her cognitive development.11 Providing supports and training on fostering communication and nurturing behavior with infants, especially for parents and caregivers in low-income communities where resources are limited, can make a critical difference for healthy development, physically and emotionally. Children who arrive at kindergarten without social emotional skills are less likely to be able to focus on reading and math.

The resources available in the neighborhood and community to support families with children play a critical role for parents. Parents who are stressed by financial worries, health problems and mental illness can unwittingly trigger a chronic and severe response in their children that compromises development. Researchers have now documented the lifelong consequences of so-called “toxic stress” that causes a chemical response in the developing brain resulting in a negative impact on behavior and the ability to learn.

Early interventions, such as evidenced-based home visiting programs, can improve maternal and infant interactions, provide access to supportive programs and expand overall well-being, high school graduation and employment. Research on early brain development has demonstrated how vital nurturing relationships are to the social-emotional health of young children. Sustained support for parents of young children to foster maternal and infant bonding provides a foundation for positive interaction and eventual academic success.

Michigan has been able to expand its home visiting programs dramatically through its successful applications for federal funds totaling $34 million authorized in the Affordable Care Act. State funding, on the other hand, has actually fallen; the Executive Budget recommendations between Fiscal Years 2006 and 2015 reduced state funding for public health. The governor’s recommendation to invest $5 million in home visiting for Fiscal Year 2016 would be funneled through the School Aid budget to Intermediate School Districts.

While parents want to prepare their children for success in school, they may not have the latest tools or knowledge. In some Michigan districts one-third of births are to mothers who do not have a high school diploma. Minnesota, one of the top 10 states for reading proficiency among fourth-graders, offers a weekly class, Early Childhood Family Education, for children ages 0-4 and their parents in every school district in the state.12 Education professionals model activities and interaction for parents and children, and parents have their own group session on issues with which they are struggling. The program is offered to all parents with a sliding fee based on income. Participants from all income levels have participated over its 40-year history.

Lead poisoning continues to threaten children in Michigan.

Roughly 3,600 of the state’s toddlers ages 1-2 who were tested in 2013 had lead exposure (5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) that would require case management.13 Toddlers are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning due to their developing nervous system and their hand-to-mouth behavior. Lead dust generated by friction in windows and doors with multiple layers of paint poses a serious risk.

Decades of research have established the negative impact of early lead exposure on cognitive development. One research study found the amount of lead in students’ teeth was linked to lower IQ and academic performance.14 Eleven years later, a follow-up found those students with the highest levels of lead as youngsters were seven times less likely to graduate from high school. Recent MRI studies have shown that higher blood lead levels in early childhood correlates with brain damage, especially in the prefrontal cortex that regulates decision-making and impulse control, among young adults.

While the removal of lead from gasoline and paint has helped protect many children from the impact of lead, the presence of lead-based paint in the state’s older homes in rural and urban areas continues to threaten child health and well-being. In recent years Michigan’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program has limped along with support from federal block grants to continue surveillance, provide education about lead risk to professionals working with young children and their families, support some direct prevention activities and sustain limited case management in the most affected areas. The Department of Community Health has been able to maintain crucial services, but there is a critical need for case management and housing alternatives for families in lead-compromised housing.

In the 2014 budget just over $1 million was allocated to remediate lead in housing, and in 2015 the funding was bumped to $1.75 million. This expansion in funding supports remediation and provides more children with safe housing. With such clear evidence of lead’s detrimental impact on children’s capacity to learn, policymakers should continue to support investments to eradicate the risk to children from such exposure.

Access to quality child care for infants and young children is a challenge.

Low-income women are less likely to have access to paid sick or vacation time or maternity leave so access to reliable child care is critical as they must often return or even find work to support the family. (A pregnancy or a birth can cost them their jobs.)15 The risk of job loss increases with birth complications for the mother or infant.

Michigan’s already low child care subsidy hourly rate does not pay extra for children with special needs, and the standard rates for the age groups have fallen far below the recommended rate standard. For example, in 2012 the state subsidy for a 4-year-old in center care was $433 a month—less than half the market rate that year.16 In July 2014 the subsidy rate was raised for providers with 3-5 stars but, as of August, 82% of the almost 10,000 child care providers/programs had achieved only basic licensing requirements in the quality rating system. Roughly two of five children in subsidized care rely on unlicensed relative or neighbor care.

In fact, participation in Michigan’s child care subsidy program has plummeted despite the high level of need among Michigan’s low-income families. The state has one of the lowest eligibility levels in the country: Only families with income barely over poverty level (120%)—$1,990 a month for a family of three—qualify for the subsidy. In most states families with income above 150% or near double the poverty level remain eligible for a subsidy. Child care for only one preschool child represents a significant expense in a low-income family: The average monthly cost of full-time child care ($532) in Michigan for one preschool child would consume almost half of a full-time minimum wage income.17

Despite this level of need, few families can access the program. The average monthly caseload dropped from 65,000 families to 22,000 between FY 2005 and FY 2014.18 Spending for the program dropped over 70% in the same period. Yet one of every eight parents in Michigan’s low-income families with young children reported that lack of access to child care had meant someone in the family had to quit a job, not take a job or greatly change a job, according to the National Survey of Child Health (2011-12). High turnover in low-wage employment and Michigan’s pay-by-the-hour subsidy policy compromises both quality and stability in child care.

Opportunities to attend high-quality preschool need to continue to expand in Michigan.

While Michigan dramatically expanded its Great Start Readiness program for 4-year-olds in 2013 and 2014, research shows that starting preschool at age 3 yields cumulative effects, particularly in literacy skills.19 In one study children completing the second year of preschool demonstrated more mastery of decoding and letter recognition than those who attended only one year. Similarly, the 2010 Head Start Impact Study found significant differences in outcomes for children who started the program as 3- or 4-year-olds. The findings suggest that the number of years of participation in Head Start matters and that starting Head Start earlier is associated with stronger and lasting outcomes. “The 3-year-old cohort demonstrated more numerous and sustained outcomes in areas such as cognition, social-emotional development, health factors, and supportive parenting practices.”20

A preschool setting for 3-year-olds, especially those at highest risk, also provides an opportunity to build social-emotional competence at a younger age, as well as influencing parents earlier through modeling positive interactions and connecting them with resources to improve their own physical, emotional and financial well-being. Such comprehensive programs provide support to families at a critical point for both parents and children. These relationships are more difficult to alter once family dynamics become entrenched and children reach the K-12 system with its more formal settings, larger classes and institutional demands.

Smaller classes in the early grades are a key strategy to improve reading skills.

While Michigan’s Great Start to Readiness Program for 4-year-olds mandates one adult to every eight children, some kindergarten classes in Michigan number 30 to 40 with one teacher, according to anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately, such large classes seem to occur more in schools and districts with large concentrations of low-income children. National standards recommend one teacher per 18 students in kindergarten.22

Smaller class sizes in the early grades ease the transition into the K-12 system. Studies have found that smaller classes result in teachers spending less time on discipline and more time on instruction. Furthermore, students are more likely to participate and have more positive relationships with their classmates.23 Even more critical, researchers found that disadvantaged students benefit the most from smaller class size.

Early intervention programs for children and their families can make a critical difference.

A growing body of research shows that early relationships are not only critical to social/emotional development but are closely linked to brain development and physical health—the building blocks of school readiness. Early screenings with standardized tools can identify social and emotional problems in young children so services can be provided as early as possible. Easy and fair reimbursement policies for primary care doctors will encourage screenings.

Emotional health should be viewed as essential as physical health and be part of all programs for young children and their families. Providing proven services that support social and emotional well-being to families, caregivers and preschool providers can ensure the mental health needs of young children in all settings are identified and addressed.

Babies need loving relationships with adults in order to develop social-emotional skills.

Social-emotional skills fostered by stable loving relationships beginning in infancy with caregivers provide a foundation for a child’s ability to make friends, follow directions, control emotions, solve problems and focus on tasks.24 Michigan has been a leader in promoting infant mental health. Currently, more than 1,550 children and their families receive Infant Mental Health Home Visiting services annually (funded through the Community Mental Health system/Medicaid). IMH Home Visiting programs offer weekly home visiting by IMH-Endorsed®, Master-level therapists to Medicaid-eligible families who are at high risk for abuse, neglect or poor parenting. The program serves pregnant women and families with babies from birth through 47 months, including families with children in foster care. The emphasis is on the reduction of risk and enhancement of strengths to better assure that children are ready to learn. Thousands more receive IMH-informed services through programs such as some Early Head Start and Early On programs.25

For Medicaid-eligible children, primary healthcare providers are directed to administer a psychosocial/behavioral assessment and developmental screening at each scheduled well-child visit. Practitioners are advised to use a validated and standardized screening instrument, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Michigan’s early intervention services are limited.

The first three years of a child’s life provide a critical period of opportunity to address and minimize delays in development. Early interventions can decrease future needs for special education and other more intensive services. Such interventions address individual cognitive, physical and social-emotional development, as well as language and speech to strengthen the foundation of learning skills. Developmental screenings are an important mechanism for identifying children with delays. Unfortunately only one of every four parents of young children ages 10 months to 5 years in Michigan reported their child had received a developmental screening during a healthcare visit in the past year.26

Michigan’s Early On program is funded with federal dollars through IDEA Part C.27 The Michigan Department of Education distributes roughly $8 million through formula grants based on child population to the state’s 57 Intermediate School Districts to identify and provide services to eligible children and their families.

In 2013, less than 3% of children ages 0-2 were identified with a disability or developmental delay and received some kind of early intervention service, which could have consisted of a single visit during the year. A 2006 estimate, based on a variety of risk factors, suggested that almost 8% of the state’s infants and toddlers might benefit from early intervention.

Unfortunately federal funding does not cover the services necessary to meet the needs of the children and their families who participate in the program, according to a recent state audit.28 Each state sets its own standard for services eligible through Part C, and Michigan has one of the lowest eligibility thresholds in the nation, despite instituting more restrictions effective July 2010 and not investing any state dollars into the program.29 The audit revealed that many Intermediate School Districts limited services to Part C-only eligible children and did not ensure qualified professionals were providing the services.30 Furthermore, significant differences occur in access and quality of services across districts, which raises issues with equal access, and the state department was not monitoring ISD compliance with federal regulations.

A majority (60%) of Early On-eligible children do not meet the more stringent standards to qualify for services through state-funded Michigan Mandatory Special Education. Children and their families eligible for Special Education services received comprehensive services provided by qualified personnel, according to the audit. Michigan is the only state in the nation that has two different programs with different eligibility standards for services to this age group. To add to the confusion, Early On services are coordinated through the Office of Great Start, while special education services are coordinated through the Office of Special Education.

The lack of services for Part C-eligible children is not a new problem. Comments summarized from public meetings in nine locations throughout the state 14 years ago as part of a report to the U.S. Department of Education noted that available Part C services were “being maxed out with the dollars that are available now.”31 The report cited a need for:

  • training for all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, administrators, and especially general practice physicians;
  • consistent information about available services;
  • system-wide accountability and oversight; and
  • more effective support system for parents of children with disabilities.

These same themes were echoed in the recent audit report. In response to the audit, MDE’s Office of Special Education and Office of Great Start designed a special project that included on-site child file reviews in five ISDs. The results of that investigation are to be shared with MDE’s deputy superintendents.

The steep rise in the numbers of children ages 3-5 eligible for Special Education compared with the youngest children suggests that children might have been in need of services at a younger age but were not identified. The number escalates fivefold between the two age groups—ages 0-2 and 3-5. However, identification is especially difficult during the earliest years as lags in development become more evident as children age, and sometimes families are reluctant to admit their children need special education or have a problem.

Children struggle to learn to read for a variety of reasons, including hereditary conditions such as dyslexia. Dyslexia, which affects 5-17% of school-age children, often causes difficulty in decoding words, slows reading speed and interferes with comprehension of written text.32 It has no known cause and does not reflect a lack of intelligence or motivation. It does not qualify as a disability or a Special Education category, but standard reading instruction techniques do not work for children affected by dyslexia.

Children whose dyslexia is not addressed can face academic problems as standardized testing with timed sequences become more and more prevalent as a way of assessing student achievement. Furthermore, schools generally do not address the special needs of children with dyslexia, and techniques for teaching reading to children with dyslexia are not part of the curriculum at most universities.

Attendance Matters

Another strategy to improve literacy among third-graders is to address chronic absenteeism early—even at preschool. The youngest and oldest students in the K-12 system have the highest levels of chronic absenteeism. For children to learn they must be present—physically and emotionally—in the classroom on a regular basis. Researchers have documented that children who are chronically absent, defined as missing 10% of school days for any reason during the school year, have lower levels of achievement and increased likelihood of dropping out of school.33 Early intervention is critical as children who are often absent tend to be so over multiple years so they fall further and further behind regular attendees.

Until recently few schools reviewed individual attendance. Generally schools would track average daily attendance, but a school can have 90% average daily attendance with 40% of its students chronically absent because different children are absent on different days.34 In some Michigan districts school administrators are focused on addressing the causes of unexcused absences.

According to an analysis of 2011-12 attendance data in districts throughout the state, more than one-quarter of students in at least 10 Michigan school districts missed two full weeks of school with unexcused absences.35 Similar to other states, which have varying definitions of chronic absenteeism, the analysis found rates highest in urban and rural areas where child poverty tends to be more prevalent.

By focusing on children in the early grades, barriers to regular attendance can be addressed early. An analysis of absenteeism among students grades 1-3 in 20 school districts within the Kent Intermediate School District, found that chronically absent children were twice as likely to fall below grade-level reading skills by grade three as regular attendees. Almost one-quarter of children who missed 10% or more of school (18 days) in grades 1-3 scored below the proficiency standard in Grade three reading compared with 12% of students with less than 10% absenteeism.36 The study, which was done in collaboration with the Kent County Services Network, is designed to help leadership formulate a plan to address absenteeism.

Children in early elementary grades are chronically absent for multiple reasons including, but not limited to, illness, transportation, parental physical or mental health and concerns about bullying or safety.

Poverty Matters

Children in low-income families who have the most to gain by regular school attendance also have the greatest barriers, such as illness, transportation, hunger, toothaches, lead poisoning, asthma, housing mobility and homelessness. They also may be more susceptible to bullying or harassment as they change schools more frequently due to instability in parental employment or housing and live in neighborhoods where safe routes to school are an issue. With the decline of neighborhood-based schools, particularly in urban areas of the state, safe-routes-to-school initiatives become more critical as charter schools and schools of choice are not required to provide transportation for their students.

Children in low-income families also are at particularly high risk of lead poisoning due to nutritional deficits, particularly iron and calcium, and the higher likelihood of living in older rental housing units. Between 2005 and 2012 child poverty escalated by roughly one-third in the state, placing more children at risk. In 2013 roughly one of every three children, ages 0-8, lived in families that qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) with income just slightly above the poverty level.

Policymakers usually treat standardized test results, chronic absenteeism and dropout rates as “school” problems that are not related to the strength of other systems such as health, human services, transportation and housing. To its credit, Michigan has supported more than 100 school-based or school-linked health centers, although mostly in middle and high schools.

In addition, under the Pathways to Potential program, the Department of Human Services places workers, called “coaches,” in schools. This outreach began in 2012 as part of a truancy prevention effort in response to high crime rates in four urban areas: Detroit, Saginaw, Flint and Pontiac. As of fall 2014, 160 schools throughout the state host the program. While DHS workers help connect families to services to facilitate school attendance, lack of cooperation by families on cash assistance or continued truancy by their children can result in the termination of the benefits that cover basic needs for the whole family. This approach further deprives all of the children in the family.

Due to such policy changes, many more families now face increased risk of homelessness and hunger. Policies that have imposed lifetime limits on cash assistance for low-wage workers with children fail to recognize the instability of employment in the low-wage sector. Parents who cycle in and out of low-wage part-time jobs to support their families in a period of sustained relatively high unemployment rarely qualify for unemployment benefits so the cash assistance program is the only option. Large numbers of families who subsist on incomes below poverty level do not qualify for the program because of the low eligibility level: Only families with incomes below roughly half the poverty level ($814 monthly) qualify for assistance. The maximum cash assistance grant ($492 a month for a family of three) does not cover the average Fair Market Rent for a family in any Michigan county.

While policymakers have restricted access to programs that address economic insecurity, more initiatives have targeted child health. One of the most successful efforts in the state to address the health needs of low-income children has been the systematic expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program, a public-private partnership between the Department of Community Health and Delta Dental of Michigan. Now in 80 of the 83 counties, the program features higher payment rates and simplified administration to increase access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children. The last three counties without HKD are among the most populous and most diverse so it is critical to expand the program to provide equitable access to care. With tooth decay the number one chronic disease among children, HKD is an important investment for the state. Children afflicted by tooth decay and toothaches are more likely to miss school and struggle to concentrate even when present. Poor oral health in childhood also compromises permanent teeth and affects overall health into adulthood.

Recommendations to Improve Literacy Among Early Elementary Children in Michigan

The most rapid and critical development occurs in the first three years of life. Programs that foster maternal and infant mental and physical health in those early years are key strategies to improve physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. Healthy development in the early years provides the foundation for literacy in the early grades.

1. Strengthen and expand existing systems for young children and their families.

  • Infant Mortality Reduction ($2 million/$11 million needed): Roughly 17,000 infants are born too small or too soon each year putting them at risk for developmental delay, chronic disease and even death. Funding the priorities in the Infant Mortality Reduction Plan would increase healthy births. In FY 2015 roughly $2 million was allocated.
  • Childhood lead poisoning prevention ($1.25 million/$11 million needed): Even trace amounts of this substance can stunt cognitive development and affect behavior with lifelong impact. Roughly 4,000 young children ages 0-2 who were tested in 2013 had lead in their systems.
  • Early On ($0/$100 million needed): Early intervention for children with developmental delay or disability can make a critical difference to these children, their families and their communities. Full funding for the program to meet current levels of need would cost an estimated $100 million; currently the state relies only on federal funding of roughly $8 million to provide program services. Addressing conditions that could interfere with school readiness improves opportunities for early literacy.
  • Child care subsidy ($136 million/$500 million needed): Michigan has one of the lowest eligibility levels and reimbursement rates in the country. A good job is the best route out of poverty, but parents who cannot access affordable and reliable child care have difficulties finding and keeping a job. Lack of stability in child care also compromises quality.
  • Preschool for 3-year-olds (flexibility with existing funds): Michigan has made great strides in expanding access to preschool for 4-year olds, but public preschool programs for 3-year-olds in the state are very limited. Research studies document that children who have attended two years of preschool have higher scores for literacy skills than those attending only one year. Allowing ISDs to use GSRP funds to expand access for 3-year-olds and evaluate the outcomes would better tailor funding to community needs and could result in even greater gains in social-emotional development and literacy skills.
  • Healthy Kids Dental ($22 million needed): Medicaid-eligible children in only three counties in Michigan do not have access to Healthy Kids Dental. These also are the counties with the largest populations of children of color. Toothaches and decay interfere with regular attendance and learning. The $22.5 million investment by the state would bring nearly $44 million in federal funds.

 2. Address the connection between poverty and academic achievement.

  • Restore the State Earned Income Tax Credit($252 million needed): This credit rewards work and lifts families above poverty. Currently at 6% from a high of 20% of the federal credit, the additional income can make a crucial difference to child well-being.
  • Reform the criminal justice system and enact policies that reduce disproportionate incarceration of African American males. The impact of the justice system on communities of color is particularly staggering. Mass incarceration is a key driver of poverty. A criminal record can result in lifelong barriers to employment and education.

 

This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation.

 

Endnotes

  1. EARLY WARNING! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation citing research from The Children’s Reading Foundation.
  2. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. http://gradelevelreading.net
  3. Standards are in flux as the MEAP, which was due to be phased out in the 2014-15 school year, was reinstated at the behest of the Legislature in spring of 2014 after a three-year phase-in to a test based on the Common Core Standards.
  4. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the National Report Card provides state-level data on student achievement on various subjects and grade levels based on tests administered every two years to a sample of state students.
  5. Low-income is defined as family income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level—the eligibility level for free or reduced price in the School Lunch Program ($43,000 for a two-parent family of four). Income data were not available until 2009 in NAEP data.
  6. Krisin Turney. Stress Proliferation Across Generations? Examining the Relationship Between Parental Incarceration and Childhood Health. Presented August 16, 2014, San Francisco, American Sociological Association’s 109th Annual Meeting.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Amanda Alexander. Addressing the Needs of Children of Incarcerated Parents. Presentation. August 2014.
  9. Income eligibility for the Healthy Michigan Plan is set at less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level (up to $15,521 for an individual or $31,721 for a family of four).
  10. Michigan Infant Mortality Reduction plan is available online at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/MichiganIMReductionPlan_393783_7.pdf.
  11. Jack Shankoff. Center on the Developing Child. Harvard University.
  12. Ron French. Smartest kids: Teaching starts early, with special focus on the poor, in Minnesota. Bridge Magazine. September 14, 2014.
  13. These levels are adjusted periodically by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  14. Harold Needham et al. The Long-Term Effects of Exposure to Low Doses of Lead in Childhood — An 11-Year Follow-up Report. The New England Journal of Medicine. January 11, 1990. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199001113220203#t=articleTop
  15. Liz Ben-Ishai. Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality. CLASP. April 14, 2014.
  16. Pat Sorenson. Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy. Michigan League for Public Policy. Lansing, MI. September 2014.
  17. Kids Count in Michigan. Michigan Profile 2013. http://www.mlpp.org/kids-count/michigan-2/mi-data-book-2013
  18. Pat Sorenson. Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy. Michigan League for Public Policy. Lansing, MI. September 2014.
  19. Lori E. Skibbea, Carol McDonald Connorb, Frederick J. Morrisonc, Abigail M. Jewkesd. Schooling effects on preschoolers’ self-regulation, early literacy, and language growth. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 26 (2011). pp 42-49.
  20. Child Trends. Research-based Responses to Key Questions about the 2010 Head Start Impact Study. Child Trends Early Childhood Highlights. Volume 2. Issue 1. January 28, 2011.
  21. Hirokazu Yoshikawa et al. Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. http://fcd-us.org/resources/evidence-base-preschool
  22. Sheila Smith, Mercedes Ekono, Taylor Robbins. State Policies through a Two-Generation Lens: Strengthening the Collective Impact of Policies that Affect the Life Course of Young Children and their Parents. National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. September 2014.
  23. Gail Braverman. Class size and student achievement: what school leaders must know! Michigan Association of School Boards Journal. Spring 2002 Journal Special Report.
  24. Social and Emotional Health of Children Birth to Age 8 Fact Sheet. www.michigan.gov/socialemotionalhealth
  25. Summary provided by Deborah Weatherston, PhD., IMH-E®Executive Director, MI-AIMH.
  26. National Survey of Child Health 2011/2012 NSCH National Chartbook Profile for Michigan vs. Nationwide.
  27. This program is funded as Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 to establish an interagency program for coordinating efforts with and across community and governmental agencies to address the needs of children younger than 3 years old who have developmental needs.
  28. Michigan Office of the Auditor General. Performance Audit of Early On – Michigan Department of Education. November 2013. http://www.audgen.michigan.gov/finalpdfs/13_14/r313200012.pdf
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Public Sector Consultants, Inc. Fall 2000 Meeting Responses Summary. Part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Continuous Improvement Monitoring Process. Appendix D. January 2001.
  32. Michigan Dyslexia Institute, Inc. https://www.dyslexia.net/WhatIsDyslexia.html
  33. Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes. Chronic Absenteeism: Summarizing What We Know From Nationally Available Data. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools. 2012. This source provided all the data cited in this discussion.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Chris Andrews. Michigan’s 91,000 truant students: skipping school, skipping opportunity. Bridge Magazine. October 9, 2013.
  36. Community Research Institute. FINAL REPORT Chronic Early Absenteeism: Prevalence and MEAP Performance in Kent ISD, Kent County, Michigan. Grand Valley University, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2011. (Attendance data from 2006-09).

A First Look at the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget

Governor Proposes Positive Investments Despite Revenue Losses

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget for Fiscal Year 2016 includes many important investments in families and children, despite lower than expected revenues, including:

  • A new $49 million initiative to improve reading by third grade;
  • $100 million in additional funding for children at risk of falling behind their peers academically;
  • Funding to expand the number of child care licensing inspectors the state needs to keep children safe;
  • Increases in child care provider payments and policy changes that allow families to keep their child care even if their incomes increase;
  • Increased investment in dental payments for adult Medicaid enrollees to promote access;
  • An expansion of dental care to children ages 0-8 receiving Medicaid in the state’s most populous counties of Wayne, Oakland and Kent;
  • An increase in funding for mental health services for people not eligible for Medicaid;
  • $6 million in new funding for community college independent part-time student grants; and
  • Increased funding for universities contingent on limits in tuition increases of 2.8% or less.

Despite these wins for lower-wage families and their children, there are many critical state services that continue to be underfunded, ultimately thwarting the state’s economic growth. Children are living in deeper poverty in Michigan in part because of policy changes that reduced eligibility for income assistance programs – including stringent lifetime caps on assistance and the elimination of income support for an entire family due to the truancy of a single child. Fewer families can receive food assistance and food assistance benefits have been reduced, in part the result of a state asset test. And, while there have been small increases recently in support for public schools, universities and communities, in most cases, they have not fully restored cuts taken during the Great Recession even without factoring in the pressures created by inflationary increases in costs.

While the governor has proposed a balanced budget for 2016, there are many threats to the state’s fiscal health on the horizon. Top among them is the potential loss to the state and its economy if voters do not approve the bipartisan, compromise transportation package, leaving the state with few other options to fix the roads without further depleting scarce state funds needed for other vital state services.

Also acting as an anchor dragging on the state budget are the deep business tax cuts adopted in 2011, along with the expected costs of outstanding business tax credits, which are now projected to be up to $600 million a year through 2030, at a total state cost of $9.4 billion. Without offsetting revenues, cuts of this magnitude could so weaken basic public services in Michigan such as public safety, transportation, education and public health that the state’s economy could be crippled for years to come.

The 2016 Executive Budget

While Michigan’s economy is growing, shortsighted tax policy decisions by state lawmakers created budget shortfalls in excess of $300 million this year and $500 million in the upcoming fiscal year. Most of the shortfall is the result of deep cuts in business taxes that were approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 – in the face of known outstanding business tax credits that are expected to be a drain on the budget for many years to come.

As part of the effort to balance the current year budget, the governor issued an Executive Order on Feb. 11 cutting nearly $103 million in state funds, with additional cuts to be taken through mid-year budget-cutting legislation. Together, these cuts will essentially zero out overall funding increases in the current budget year, and many of the reductions are maintained or expanded in the governor’s 2016 budget proposal.

The total budget proposed by the governor is $53 billion, including all state and federal revenue. Over 40% of the budget is supported by federal funds. In addition, Michigan has two major State funds for services: the General Fund ($9.5 billion in the governor’s budget), and the School Aid Fund ($14.4 billion). The School Aid Fund can only be used to fund public education, including more recently postsecondary education.

The governor recommends a $95 million deposit to the state’s “rainy day fund,” bringing the balance to nearly $616 million by the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

Among the governor’s stated objectives for the 2016 budget are investments in: (1) education, with a focus on early learning 0–3; (2) skilled trades; (3) public safety; and (4) health and human services.

SCHOOL AID

The governor’s 2016 School Aid budget includes total state and local funding of $13.96 billion, an increase of $88.6 million over the current year or less than 1%. The governor recommends that in 2016, School Aid revenues be used to fund universities ($205 million) and community colleges ($256.7 million).

In the current fiscal year, approximately $2 of every $3 in the School Aid budget are used for the per-pupil foundation allowance, which is the bedrock of school operations. Other major expenditures include special education (10%), programs for children at-risk of educational failure (2%), and early childhood education programs (2%).

Per-Pupil Funding: Each year the Michigan Legislature determines the level of per-pupil payments school districts will receive. After reductions in the per-pupil payments of $470 between 2009 and 2012, in the current school year districts receiving the minimum payment are still receiving $65 less per pupil than they were in school year 2010-11, and those at the maximum payment level are receiving $390 less per-pupil.

The minimum per-pupil state payment to districts this year is $7,251, while the maximum is $8,099. One goal for school financing reforms adopted in 1994 in Michigan was to close the funding gap, and this year the gap between districts receiving the maximum and minimum payments was reduced to $848 per pupil.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • A $75 per pupil increase for all districts, bringing the minimum payment to $7,326 and the maximum to $8,174 ($108 million total investment).
  • A 60% cut in funding for school districts implementing best practices, from $75 million to $30 million. The best practices criteria are changed by the governor to focus on school district fiscal stability, as well as early reading and kindergarten entry assessments.
  • The elimination of funding for performance grants ($51 million).

Although the governor proposes an across-the-board increase of $75 per pupil, for some districts that will be offset by the loss of funding from best practices or performance grants. Some districts could actually lose per-pupil funding if they are currently receiving both best practices and performance grants.

Funding for School Districts in Fiscal Distress: The governor proposes a significant increase in funding for financially struggling school districts. The 2016 budget includes $75 million for districts with severe academic and fiscal stress, although details on how those funds would be allocated are still to be determined, based on recommendations from a coalition of business, academic and civic leaders.

At-Risk Programs: Michigan provides funds to school districts for a range of instructional and noninstructional services for at-risk students based on the number of children qualifying for free- and reduced-price meals. This year, budget language was adopted to focus those dollars on: (1) improving third-grade reading proficiency; and (2) graduating students who are career and college ready. Funding for at-risk students has not been increased in over a decade, remaining at $309 million.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • An additional $100 million for at-risk students, bringing total funding to $409 million.
  • A continuation of current year funding for adolescent health centers ($3.6 million) and hearing and vision screenings ($5.2 million).

Early Childhood Education and Care: Over the last two years, Gov. Snyder and the Legislature approved a $130 million increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness preschool program for low-income and at-risk 4-year-olds. For 2016, the governor proposes a budget that addresses school readiness and third-grade reading proficiency comprehensively, starting in the earliest years of life.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Continued funding for the Great Start Readiness program ($239.6 million).
  • A new third-grade reading initiative with total funding of $48.6 million ($25 million state funds) that includes:
    • An expansion of home visits to at-risk families to encourage early literacy activities and identify children with disabilities and developmental delays, with funds going to Intermediate School Districts ($5 million).
    • New funds for parent education pilot programs for families with children under age 4. The programs would be open to families regardless of income, with fees on a sliding scale ($1 million).
    • Funding to test new elementary teachers on reading instruction capabilities prior to their certification to teach, as well as professional development for current teachers ($1.45 million).
    • Funds to train teachers and administrators in the use of literacy diagnostic tools ($1.45 million).
    • Funding for additional instruction time for students who need extra assistance with reading, including assistance before, during and after school, as well as summer school programs ($10 million).
    • New literacy coaches for K-3 teachers, coordinated through Intermediate School Districts ($3 million).
    • Funds to implement the Kindergarten Entry Assessment ($2.6 million).
  • A new oversight commission outside of state government to monitor progress toward improving third-grade reading proficiency. The governor’s proposal is based on a model in Kentucky where the commission has business and philanthropic support and leadership.

Career and College Readiness:

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Continuation funding of $22 million for adult education. Michigan has cut state funding for adult education drastically in the past 20 years, from $185 million in 1996 to $22 million this year. The state is currently in the process of changing how it allocates those funds statewide, focusing on the percentage of people in a region who are not high school graduates or lack basic English proficiency.
  • An expansion of career and technical education through early/middle college programs in the 10 prosperity regions ($17.8 million) as part of a total $36 million investment in the governor’s new talent initiative.
  • Funds to expand the level of awareness of available college and career choices and increase the number of college advisors in schools ($2.2 million).

EDUCATION

The budget for the Michigan Department of Education grew significantly in 2012 with the launching of the Office of Great Start and the transfer of the state’s subsidized child care program from the Department of Human Services. Two of every $3 spent by the Department are from federal sources, with the Child Development and Care program accounting for $110 million (38%) of the total $287 million budget.

Overall funding for child care, as well as the number of families served by the child care program, fell steeply in recent years, in part because of changes in state policy and reimbursement rates that fall far below market rates. The governor’s budget begins to address those problems by providing funds to increase rates slightly and by allowing families to remain eligible for child care even, if their incomes rise in some circumstances.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • A new policy that would allow families to remain eligible for child care for up to one year, even if their incomes rises. The goal is to provide greater work and child care stability ($16 million).
  • In addition, once families are eligible for care under Michigan’s current low-income guidelines (121% of poverty), they could remain eligible until household income exceeds 250% of poverty ($1.5 million).
  • A rate increase for higher quality child care providers of approximately 25 cents per hour. This year, small rate increases were given to providers who received three, four or five stars on the state’s quality rating system. For 2016, the governor proposes to also provide increases for providers earning two stars ($6.1 million).
  • A 50% expansion in the number of child care licensing inspectors needed to ensure basic health and safety in child care settings. The governor includes $5.7 million to reduce the number of providers each child care licensing inspector is responsible for from approximately 150 to 98. Michigan has come under federal scrutiny for its failure to ensure compliance with child care licensing rules, and recent federal law changes require states to do both prelicensure and annual inspections.

HUMAN SERVICES

The governor’s fiscal year 2016 budget includes $5.73 billion in total funding for the Department of Human Services (DHS), including $978.9 million in state dollars, a reduction of 0.4% from initial current year funding of $5.75 billion.

The single largest program in the human services budget is the federally funded Food Assistance Program, which accounts for 45% of total departmental spending. Federal funds account for nearly 80% of the DHS budget, up from 70% in 2004. Other major programs include children’s services (20%), administration and field operations (18%) and other public assistance programs (8%).

Income Assistance: The Family Independence Program (FIP) provides minimal income assistance to low-income households with dependent children. To be eligible for FIP, an average family of three must have income below $9,780 annually and financial assets of less than $3,000. The maximum benefit for a family of three is $492 per month.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • A 6% cut from current year FIP spending (from $146.6 to $138 million), partly due to a reduction in the number eligible, which the governor projects will be 31,400 families next year. Policy changes made in 2011 resulted in dramatic decreases in FIP cases, despite continued high poverty rates, particularly among children. Between 2007 and the current budget year, spending on income assistance declined by 66%.
  • An expansion of the Pathways to Potential program with $20.6 million in private contributions and federal funding. In addition to schools, staff will be located in health clinics, hospitals and with private employers to determine eligibility and assistance obtaining services.
  • Elimination of Extended-FIP that gives households who are no longer eligible for income assistance due to increased earnings a nominal $10 per month in assistance for six months after they leave the program, ostensibly to help them access other state services as well as allowing the state to continue counting the households in its federally mandated work participation rate. This minimal assistance does, however, count against the state’s more stringent lifetime limits and could hurt children in the long run.
  • Continued funding of $2.88 million for the annual children’s school clothing allowance. The assistance is available only for children who are living with grandparents and others who are not eligible for assistance.

Food Assistance: The Food Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) is completely federally funded, with an average monthly benefit for a two-person household of $245. More than 70% of FAP recipients receive no other cash assistance from the state. The number receiving food assistance began to fall in Michigan in 2011, the same year that the state imposed a new asset limit. Between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, cases dropped by 13%.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2014, food assistance recipients no longer receive $1 in federal energy assistance (LIHEAP) that previously helped recipients claim the maximum utility deduction, which subsequently increased their food assistance. The 2014 federal Farm Bill increased the required amount of LIHEAP funding for eligibility purposes from $1 to $20, which essentially left states with the option of increasing the minimum energy assistance benefit to $20, or accepting food assistance cuts for many Michigan residents, along with the associated loss of federal funds. Michigan chose the latter.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Continuation funding of $2.56 billion for food assistance.
  • No change in the policy that rejects additional federally funded food assistance because of a needed increase in the minimum energy assistance benefit.
  • No change in the asset test that was imposed on individuals applying for federal food assistance, and which is a state option.

State Disability Assistance: The State Disability Assistance program, a completely state-funded program, provides cash assistance to adults with disabilities who are permanently or temporarily unable to work and who have annual incomes of less than $5,400 and under $3,000 in assets. The average monthly payment for a single person is $225 per month, and the average length of time on SDA is approximately one year.

Between 2011 and 2012, the number of people receiving state disability assistance fell by 14% and has steadily declined since. There was a 35% drop in the number receiving assistance between fiscal years 2011 and 2015.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • A small increase in funding for the State Disability Assistance program – up from $14.4 million this year to $14.89 million in 2016.

Energy Assistance: Michigan uses federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) block grant funding for four programs: the Home Heating Credit, State Emergency Relief, the new Michigan Energy Assistance Program, and weatherization.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Continuation of current year spending of $175 million in federal funds for energy assistance.
  • Continuation funding of $50 million for the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, which was created in response to a state law (P.A. 615 of 2012) requiring DHS to establish a new consolidated program with a single, simplified application.

Child Welfare Services: Michigan’s child welfare system includes protective services, foster care, adoption, and family preservation and prevention services. To comply with requirements related to a lawsuit against the state for its failure to protect children, the state has been required to increase child welfare funding for staffing, training and other programs.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • FOSTER CARE: A reduction in foster care payments attributed to a decline in number of children under state supervision. The governor’s budget recommends a change in the foster care payment system to focus on actuarially sound rates and performance-based outcomes.
  • CHILD CARE FUND: A decrease of nearly 3% for the Child Care Fund (from $182.2 to $177.3 million). The Child Care Fund reimburses counties for 50% of their costs related to the care and treatment of children who are wards of the court, including out-of-home and in-home services. In the current fiscal year, several foster care rate increases were implemented that deviate from the 50/50 cost-sharing arrangement. The governor’s budget reduces the private agency administrative rate from $40 to $37 per day, and returns to a 50/50 state and county cost-sharing model to save $10.4 million ($8.7 million state funds).
  • ADOPTION: A 3% decrease from the initial current year funding for adoption subsidies (from $247.7 to $239.9 million). Subsidies are provided to families who are adopting children with special needs and include both cash and medical assistance. The number of families receiving adoption subsidies has been relatively stable since fiscal year 2011, between 26,000 and 27,000. The governor’s budget includes savings of $6.9 million ($6.5 million state funds) by restricting eligibility for a supplemental payment now available to parents whose children display additional medical needs after adoptions are completed.
  • YOUTH IN TRANSITION: $15 million for Youth in Transition programs, a slight decrease from initial current year funding. The Youth in Transition program assists 14- to 20-year-olds who are currently or were previously in foster care. Funds are used to provide independent living services, housing assistance, education or employment support, mentoring and other assistance to meet basic needs. Youth in Transition dollars also fund intervention programs for runaway or homeless youths. The governor’s budget continues the practice of setting aside $750,000 for Fostering Futures Scholarships for youths attending college in the state.
  • PREVENTION SERVICES: The governor’s budget provides continuation funding for Strong Families/Safe Children ($12.35 million), as well as $38.86 million for family preservation programs, including Families First ($16.98 million), Child Protection and Permanency ($12.89 million) and Family Reunification ($6.49 million).

Juvenile Justice Services: The governor recommends slightly decreased funding for the state’s three DHS-operated juvenile justice facilities: W.J. Maxey Training School, Bay Pines Center and Shawono Center. Funding previously provided to expand in-home community care programs to rural areas is reduced by 60%, from $1 million to $400,000.

COMMUNITY HEALTH

The governor’s budget recommends a mixture of initiatives, funding and program reductions, and significant funding shifts. Total recommended funding for the Department of Community Health is $19 billion, including $3 billion in state funds, which is lower than the initial appropriation for the current budget year. The bulk of DCH’s funding is for the state’s Medicaid and Healthy Michigan Plan programs (78%), followed by mental health and substance abuse services (16%). In 2016, federal funds will make up over 70% of the DCH budget.

Medicaid and Healthy Michigan Plan: Nearly one in every four Michigan residents relies on Medicaid or the Healthy Michigan Plan for healthcare coverage. In the current budget year, the governor projects that 1.7 million Michigan residents will be covered by Medicaid, with an additional 540,000 recipients enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan. The governor’s budget for 2016 projects a very small increase in Medicaid enrollees (about 13,000) and continued growth in Healthy Michigan Plan (40,000) enrollees (40,000), bringing total enrollment for the Healthy Michigan Plan to 580,000.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Continuation of $100 million savings in state funds for Medicaid based on lower projections of the number of persons who will be enrolled in the current year.
  • $3.5 billion for the Healthy Michigan Plan, which is financed with all federal funds for the final year. For the program to continue, Michigan must submit a second waiver to the federal government and it must be approved by the end of 2015.
  • Removal of prescription drugs from the Medicaid managed care contracts and development of a separate pharmacy benefit contract. This proposal is expected to generate higher drug rebates, as well as administrative savings for a total of $22.1 million in state funds.
  • $36.8 million for autism services, restoring the reduction made in 2015 due to the slow start of the program. The budget also recommends increasing coverage to age 21 from the current age 6. One-time funding is continued to train autism services providers through Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Oakland University and Eastern Michigan University. Total funding for training is reduced from $7 million to $2.5 million, with $500,000 allocated to each university.
  • Funding of $8.3 million in state funds ($24.2 million in total) to provide full-year funding to continue approximately half of the rate increase for primary care providers. This critical state investment is intended to encourage primary care doctors to serve the Medicaid population.
  • Funding is recommended starting July 1, 2015, to develop a statewide managed care contract for dental services for adult Medicaid enrollees to increase dental access for adults. An investment of $23 million, of which $7.9 million is state funds, is recommended and is financed from savings in other program areas.
  • Elimination of $11 million in total payments, $3.8 million from state funds, to rural hospitals for the special payment implemented in the 2015 budget year for obstetrical services.

Healthy Kids Dental: Michigan currently provides enhanced dental services to more than 600,000 children in 80 counties. Access to dental services is essential to prevent tooth decay, the No. 1 chronic disease in children. Healthy Kids Dental improves access to care by partnering with Delta Dental of Michigan to increase provider reimbursement rates and simplify administration. With the expansion in in 2015, all counties are now covered except Wayne, Kent and Oakland.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program to an additional 210,000 children ages 0 through 8 in Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties with an investment of $15.7 million ($5.4 million in state funds). With this expansion, the program would cover over 800,000 children, but not all eligible children in the state. Yet to be covered would be more than 170,000 older children in Wayne, Oakland and Kent counties.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services: Implementation of the Healthy Michigan Plan resulted in dramatic reductions in the state funds needed to serve those not eligible for Medicaid, as the vast majority of individuals were expected to transition from state-funded services to Healthy Michigan Plan services, which are 100% federally funded. The transition has not been smooth, and concerns have been raised that state funding reductions were too large and too fast.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Restoration of $20 million in state funds to cover services provided to those not eligible for Medicaid or the Healthy Michigan Plan.
  • Funding to continue to implement the recommendations of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission ($12.7 million in state funds of which $1.5 million continues to be one-time funding).

Public Health and Children’s Services: Two of every $3 spent on public health services is federal. Over the last decade, nearly all increases in total public health funding have been from federal grants or other sources, while state investments have not been made.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Restoration of the $1.5 million increase provided in the 2015 budget to local public health departments for essential services, which was subsequently eliminated in Executive Order reductions. The governor’s recommendation brings funding for local public health essential services to the level it was 10 years ago.
  • Continuation funding for a pilot program begun in 2015 to improve child and adolescent health services by working with existing school-based clinics to develop satellite locations that will provide nursing and behavioral health services ($2 million in one-time funding).

Services for the Aging: The governor’s budget continues funding of $84 million for senior in-home and nutrition services. The state is working to become a “no wait” state for services.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Expansion of PACE (Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) to more areas, funded through corresponding savings in nursing home costs.

POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION

Because Michigan does not have a state agency that exercises financing or policy authority over its universities and community colleges, the Legislature funds those institutions through the Higher Education and Community Colleges budgets.

Michigan’s three existing financial aid grant programs (the Tuition Incentive Program, the Competitive Scholarship and the Tuition Grant) are funded through the Higher Education budget, even though community college students may also apply for and receive those grants. The reinstatement of a grant for adult learners has been proposed in the community college budget.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • No funding increases for the three major financial aid grant programs – the first time in many years that the Tuition Incentive Program has received no increase. However, the community college budget funds, for the first time since 2009, the Part-Time Independent Student Grant, which helps older students. None of the grants currently funded through the higher education budget are available to students who have been out of high school for more than 10 years. Of the total funding for the higher education budget grant programs, $98.3 million comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families allocation, while $7.8 million comes from the state’s General Fund.
  • A 1.4% increase ($4.3 million) in total operational funding for Michigan’s 28 community colleges, half of which is distributed as performance funding for weighted degree and certificate completions, enrollment and administrative costs as a percentage of core expenditures. This is a smaller increase than in 2015, which was a 3% increase of $8.9 million, or 3%. As in previous recent years, the majority of overall funding for community colleges (which includes not only operational and financial aid funding, but retirement funding, etc.) comes from the School Aid Fund, and only 35% ($137.1 million) is from the General Fund.
  • A total increase in funding for university operations of $28 million (2%) over the current fiscal year. As in previous recent years, this increase is in the form of performance funding using the following metrics: weighted undergraduate completions in critical skills areas, research expenditures, six-year graduation rates, total completions, administrative costs as a percentage of core expenditures, and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. The budget continues the practice of requiring universities to limit tuition increases in order to receive any performance funding, but has lowered the limit from 3.2% to 2.8%. This “tuition restraint” prerequisite for receiving performance funding helps to keep post-secondary education affordable for low-income students.

CORRECTIONS

The governor reduces funding for the Department of Corrections by 3%, from $2.04 billion this year to $1.98 billion in 2016. The majority of the funding is for prison operations (76%), followed by parole, probation and community services (16%) and administration (6%). In the current fiscal year, more than 97% of the MDOC budget comes from state funds.

The corrections budget is the state’s second largest in terms of its share of state General Fund dollars. After about two decades of strong growth, corrections funding has grown modestly as the prisoner population has stabilized. Increased spending is mostly driven by increased costs in prisoner health and mental health care.

Prisoner Healthcare: Most prisoner inpatient hospitalizations, certain services for mentally ill and medically fragile inmates, and some re-entry services are now covered by Medicaid, which when expanded allowed an estimated 80% of inmates and parolees to obtain Medicaid for covered services outside of secure facilities.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • $309.4 million for prisoner health care services, the vaccination program, substance abuse testing and treatment, and clinical and mental health services and support.
  • $1.08 million for administrative costs related to eligibility determination and enrollment in the Healthy Michigan Plan.

Prisoner Education: State prisoner re-entry programs include education services to facilitate reintegration into the community. Prisoner education programs aim to provide marketable skills to offenders through academic, workplace and social competency training. In 2014, the governor signed legislation to allow qualifying parolees who complete a career or technical education course to receive a certificate of employability to help the parolee obtain a job upon re-entry to the community (PA 359).

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • A total of $35.9 million for prisoner education programs, which is an increase of $500,000 due to additional federal funds.

Parole, Probation and Community Programs: MDOC currently supervises about 47,000 offenders on felony probation and more than 14,000 offenders on parole.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • $323 million in total funding ($304 million General Fund) for parole, probation, and community programs, down approximately 7% from initial current year. Changes include the elimination of the Goodwill Flip the Script program ($2.5 million), the transfer of the jail mental health diversion project to the Department of Community Health ($1 million) and other reductions in re-entry services.

Mental Health Diversion Council: The governor created the Mental Health Diversion Council in 2013, tasking the council with developing methods to divert individuals with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems from the criminal justice system and into appropriate treatment.

For 2016, the governor recommends:

  • Transfers funding ($1 million) to the Department of Community Health to streamline mental health diversion programs and services. The current year budget funded a pilot project to connect inmates with appropriate mental health treatment as they are released into the community.

 

 

High cost of low pay for child care providers

The failure of the state and federal governments to address low wages for child care providers comes at a high price for the economy, the state budget, and ultimately for children and their families.

Nearly half of all child care workers in Michigan have incomes so low that they are eligible for and receive public supports, including Medicaid, MIChild, food assistance, or Earned Income Tax Credit benefits – at a cost exceeding $80 million annually according to a new study of the early childhood workforce. (more…)

Moving from mass incarceration to mass education

Michigan needs to spend less on prisons and more on schools.

Between 1986 and 2013, Michigan’s spending on prisons jumped 147% when inflation is counted, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile, per-pupil foundation spending in Michigan remains lower than before the Great Recession began. (more…)

11% of Mich. vets in households receiving food aid

More than one in every 10 Michigan veterans lives in a household that receives food assistance, a new policy brief estimates.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released today in time for Veterans Day, is a reminder that thousands of struggling veterans use food assistance (formerly food stamps) to put food on the table.

(more…)

Ask Your Candidates

To address our crumbling roads, lawmakers are offering proposals ranging from increasing the sales tax, creating a wholesale tax on gas, raising vehicle registration fees, or diverting current sales tax revenue to road maintenance. Any type of tax increase, especially to the sales tax, will have a disproportionate effect on individuals earning low wages.

Do you support increased or new revenue to address Michigan’s crumbling road and infrastructure? Would you support increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit or other tax credit to help offset the burden on people earning low wages?

Since the 1970s, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has been considered a significant poverty reduction tool that encourages individuals to work. In 2006, Michigan created its own state-level EITC based on 20% of the federal tax credit. The governor and state lawmakers scaled back the EITC to 6% in 2011.

Would you support restoring the state-level EITC to 20% of the federal tax credit?

3 Michigan is one of only seven states that continue to rely on a flat income tax rather than a graduated income tax. States with graduated income tax structures tax at higher rates as income rises making it a more modern and equitable system.

Would you support reforming Michigan’s income tax structure from a flat income tax rate to a graduated one?

Sales taxes are typically considered to be the most regressive type of tax costing individuals earning low wages a larger proportion of their income compared to wealthier individuals. Expanding the sales tax to apply to services can serve to both increase revenue and make the sales tax less regressive. Even still, the sales tax will remain regressive, which is the reason some states offer sales tax credits to provide relief for individuals who earn the least.

Would you support extending the state’s sale tax to services with a sales tax credit for filers with low wages?

The Michigan Homestead Property Tax Credit (HPTC) is a refundable credit available to eligible Michigan residents who pay high property taxes or rent in relation to their income. In 2011, it was eliminated for many middle-class families, veterans, and seniors whose total household resources were over $50,000 or the taxable value on their homes was over $135,000.

Would you support restoring the HPTC to provide relief to moderate-income taxpayers?

6 Out of 16 states offering families additional heating assistance to qualify for additional food benefits, Michigan was one of four that declined to add dollars to keep the program going when the rules changed. That means an average loss of $76 a month in food benefits for 150,000 families. It will take only $3.1 million to pull down $137 million in extra federal food assistance for these Michigan families.

Do you favor spending $3 million in the ‘heat and eat’ option to draw additional food assistance?

Michigan hasn’t adjusted its child care subsidy eligibility since 2003 even though spending has fallen dramatically. As a result, only working families in poverty or living just above poverty qualify.

Should Michigan expand its child care program back to 150 percent (just under $30,000 for a family of three) of poverty?

8 Two recent federal audits found that Michigan child care centers and homes visited without prior notification were not complying with all state licensing requirements related to the health and safety of children, including required criminal record and protective services checks of caregivers. The auditors concluded that the state has too few child care inspectors (known as child care licensing consultants) to ensure adequate oversight of child care homes and centers, with caseload ratios more than three times the recommended ratio of 1:50.

Would you support the appropriation of state funds to increase the number of child care inspectors and improve the state’s ability to oversee compliance with basic health and safety requirements in state law and policy?

9 Children living in families that must rely temporarily on state income assistance live in increasingly deep poverty as a result of the very low payments provided by the state (a maximum of $492 per month for a family of three through the Family Independence Program). Michigan used to provide a one-time payment to all school-age children from families receiving FIP to ensure that children could at least start the school year with a decent set of clothes. Since 2011, the school clothing allowance has been restricted to only those children living with grandparents or other caretakers who do not receive cash assistance.

Would you support the restoration of a school clothing allowance for all school-age children living in families receiving FIP benefits?

10 Over one-third or 35,000 Michigan third- graders did not demonstrate proficiency in reading in 2013. A House bill would require that third-graders who are not proficient in reading as measured by the state test would be required to repeat the grade at least once and no more than twice. Alternate tests and portfolios may be used to document reading skills but the school superintendent would make the final decision. Critics contend research on retention documents a higher likelihood of drop-out for retained students while supporters of retention decry the negative impact of social promotion.

Would you support the retention of Michigan third-graders who are not reading at grade level?

11 Child poverty in Michigan has escalated by almost 40% over the last 25 years. Almost one of every four children in the state lives in a family with income below the poverty level: $19,000 for a family of three and $24,000 for a family of four. Several policy initiatives to alleviate child poverty have been suggested, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10—closer to its value in the 1960s and indexing it to inflation, reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and raising the child care subsidy and eligibility so parents earning low wages can have access to child care.

Would you support any of these initiatives?

12 Dental cavities remain the No.1 chronic disease in children, despite being preventable with proper dental care. In Michigan, 27% of third-graders have untreated disease; in the Detroit area, the percentage increases to 42%. The Healthy Kids Dental program, a partnership between Delta Dental and the state for Medicaid-eligible children, has greatly increased access to dental care for those covered. The program is available in all counties except Kent, Oakland and Wayne.  All Michigan children should have access to this program. The estimated state investment required is about $22 million.

Would you support statewide expansion of Healthy Kids Dental as a priority?

13 Michigan has been a leader in investments in preschool programs for 4-year-olds, but funding for families with infants and toddlers living in poverty or near poverty has declined—despite scientific evidence that the first three years of life are when children’s brains are growing most rapidly, affecting their lifelong development, learning and achievement.

Would you support additional state funds for proven programs for parents of very young children, including home visiting and parenting programs?

14 Michigan currently has nine coal-fired electricity generating units, with health-related costs associated with emissions from these facilities totaling $1.5 billion annually. These health issues range from asthma to cancer, and heart and lung disease, with people of color and those who are economically vulnerable being the most likely to suffer from these health complications.

Would you support transitioning from coal to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power to reduce pollution and improve the health of Michiganians?

15 Workers who are laid off, or who work in low-paying jobs, can often improve their financial situation by building skills at a community college or university. However, Michigan’s financial aid grants are not available to workers who have been out of high school more than 10 years. There is discussion in the Legislature of reinstating two financial aid grants that were discontinued several years ago that would help older workers go back to school and get a degree (the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant).

Would you support the reinstatement of the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant to help older workers get the skills they need for jobs that will support their families?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small problems get big with misplaced priorities

In kindergarten classrooms in one Michigan school district, work tables are now cleaned only weekly instead of daily due to severe budget cuts that have reduced cleaning staff and supplies. Teachers must buy their own cleaners and wash the tables to maintain sanitary conditions for the youngest students

The dirty tables was one of the anecdotes offered about Michigan’s misguided spending priorities during a news conference held at the Capitol this morning by Priorities Michigan. (more…)

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