2011 began with a new Governor unveiling his priorities for the state, expressed through his dashboard indicators, early budget proposals and a series of special messages. To bring to the Governor a consistent message on early childhood, Michigan’s Children continued its long-standing practice of convening early childhood advocates to identify shared policy priorities. The 2011 priorities focused on improving access to mental health consultation for infants and toddlers; improving access to a regular consistent source of health care; and expanding access to early childhood education. Michigan’s Children continued to partner with other advocates to promote dropout prevention, re-engagement and recovery options for young people through administrative and legislative strategies throughout the year.
Unfortunately, as in years past, much of Michigan’s Children’s work in 2011 focused on fending off detrimental cuts to necessary programs in the fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget. Cuts that remained despite our efforts included changes to the child care subsidy for low-income working families resulting in lower provider payments for relative and aide care, an almost entire elimination of the children’s clothing allowance for low-income families, deep cuts to family support programs, a sharp reduction to the earned income tax credit and stricter 48- and 60-month limits to cash assistance, deep cuts to the K-12 per pupil allotment, and cuts to local public health departments and community mental health.
Michigan’s Children worked hard with Legislators and other advocates to ensure that an additional $6 million for the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds who may be at-risk of school failure was included in the FY 12 budget, as well as $1.5 million for the Nurse Family Partnership program, a voluntary home visitation program that assists first time moms through their pregnancies and with their new babies. Many programs that serve to remove barriers to learning for young people were maintained at current funding levels. Unfortunately, these small investments may not be enough to offset the detrimental cuts made in other areas and flat funding in many of these supportive programs will not serve to close equity gaps or to improve educational success.
Throughout 2011, Michigan’s Children brought policymakers together with researchers, agency staff and young people to help inform their decision-making. We held a legislative hearing at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation on the effects of early childhood experience on brain development and the positive outcomes and high return on investment of high quality early childhood care and education programs serving children from birth to age five and their families. Young people’s voices were heard by federal, state and local policymakers, and community leaders in two KidSpeak events and Youth Voice Changing Public Policy events across the state, including one held at the Governor’s Education Summit. Our youth journalists reported on news in their communities in Detroit in ways that can only be captured through their eyes.
2011 brought a re-issuance of the Superintendent’s Dropout Challenge, and Michigan’s Children continues to work to connect the dots between educators and community partners to improve graduation rates even through the 5th and 6th years of high school. In addition, the Office of Great Start was created within the Department of Education and charged with aligning the state’s early learning and development investments to achieve a single set of shared outcomes. A former Michigan’s Children board member, Susan Broman, was named as the Office’s first leader.
Policies and related practices that fail to improve outcomes for all children and reduce disparities among all children, regardless of their from different racial and ethnic backgrounds throughout a child’s life must be replaced with those that facilitate equal opportunity for all children to thrive in school, the work place and life. We look forward to continue this work together in the new year.