A Flint resident’s perspective

Katrina Khouri

Katrina Khouri

My name is Katrina Khouri and I recently worked as the League’s Kids Count Project Intern. I am a Flint native—born, raised and proud to still live in a great city among folks who are some of the kindest, most resilient and generous I know. (more…)

Deplorable school conditions: Investing in the future of kids in Detroit and all of Michigan

cities in crisis and KC logospdficonResidents Living under stressful home conditions where parents are struggling to make ends meet. Walking to school with fear as you pass abandoned buildings through unsafe neighborhoods. Entering a building infested with rodents and mold—and breathing all of this in. Then sitting in a classroom with crumbling ceilings and uncomfortable temperatures while reading textbooks that are falling apart. Missing any meaningful physical activity because the gym and playground are both off limits for safety reasons.

DPS-education-outcomes-341-by-253Walking in the shoes of a student in the city of Detroit makes it clear that no child can learn like this. How did this happen and when did this become acceptable for our kids? The lack of focused attention and investment in the schools serving our children has been a growing concern for years, but it is especially evident with the outright dangerous environments in Detroit Public Schools.

Bottom Lines Over Better Lives

In 2009, the first Emergency Financial Manager was appointed by the state to help the Detroit Public Schools manage its budget. Under state control ever since, the district has yet to end its school year with a positive fund balance.1 In the process of trying to align spending with revenues, it appears that state government’s decisions were made without children’s education and future in sight—it was all about restructuring for cost savings. Now, state dollars to ensure that the district does not run out of funds before the end of the school year have been approved, and long-term fixes for the district’s financial shortfalls are being considered.

DPS-student-health-jeopardized-499-by-408At the same time, coalitions and teachers have brought to light the deplorable conditions in which children are expected to learn. Schools are falling apart. Following building inspections by the city of Detroit, a consent agreement was put in place in mid-February of 2016 to make the necessary safety improvements and repairs. Many other school districts around the state are struggling as well, and are or will soon be facing similar deterioration, putting more kids in jeopardy.

State Failing Schools, Kids

Kids’ ability to reach their full potential, including college attendance, job opportunities and future earnings, is directly tied to their academic performance. And too many kids are being left behind. This is especially true for low-income kids, kids in high-poverty neighborhoods and children of color.

The level of toxic stress—or chronic, prolonged stress without adequate support—and the environmental health and safety issues endured by these children in order to receive an education is disgraceful. Research shows that chronic stress, or adversity, can interrupt normal brain development and has a cumulative effect on physical and mental health leading to developmental delays in younger children and lifelong consequences as adults.2 Environments matter. Where a child lives and learns has a significant impact on their cognitive, emotional and social development, which has a clear connection to educational outcomes.

Investing in Safe Schools, Communities and Services

boy writingEvery single child deserves a safe environment to learn. Children should never have been or be subjected to these unhealthy and unsafe conditions—nonetheless be expected to learn without appropriate supports. School conditions in Detroit Public Schools should have never gotten this bad, and many other school districts are close behind.

State leaders have a responsibility to make the necessary investments to ensure that all Michigan’s children have the opportunity to receive a quality education. This includes increasing funding for at-risk students, but also investing more in our communities and the support services these students and their families depend on. In Detroit and every other community in Michigan, a quality education is key to improved outcomes for children and adults, and policymakers must treat it as such.


  1. Bethany Wicksall, “Detroit Public Schools Historical Budget Trends,” House Fiscal Agency, February 24, 2016.
  2. Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University, “InBrief: The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development,” 2007. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu on March 1, 2016.


Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution

The idea that an entire city is at risk of lead exposure because of its drinking water brings out many emotions: fear, anger, sadness, helplessness.

The people most at risk are low-income children whose families do not have the option to stay elsewhere and can’t afford to buy bottled water for their daily needs. Such families often do not have access to healthy foods that help the body flush out lead, or the ability to make multiple trips to the doctor. We read the stories and we wonder what we can do in response. (more…)

Stop locking up Michigan residents for being poor

It’s time to stop hitting the snooze button when talking about our state budget and criminal justice reform. The insidious phenomenon of mass incarceration in this state requires immediate attention. Currently 1 in 4 children in Michigan live in poverty, and half of children have parents with criminal records. Evidence shows that people with criminal records have a harder time finding employment and obtaining housing among other negative economic outcomes. Once in the legal system, there are financial snares that keep people locked up for being poor, not their flight risk or danger to the community. These include fines and fees and secured money bail. (more…)

Public News Service: Michigan budget analysis: Short-term fixes not enough

Presidential candidates are highlighting troubles in Detroit and Flint, but some policy experts say state government needs to step up to addresses problems plaguing all of Michigan’s communities. The Michigan League for Public Policy’s chief executive, Gilda Jacobs, said she’s pleased that Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2017 budget proposal focuses on addressing water woes in Flint and looming insolvency in Detroit public schools. However, she contended that what it doesn’t feature are long-term investments to tackle racial, economic and geographic disparities across the state. March 4, 2016 — Public News Service

Port Huron Times Herald: Combating child hunger in Port Huron

One in five children in Michigan experience hunger, and 33 percent to 40 percent of children five and younger are eligible for food assistance in St. Clair County, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy’s 2015 Kids Count Data Book. Feb. 29, 2016 — Port Huron Times Herald

Lansing State Journal: Guest column: Ballard: Budget overlooks next community in crisis

By League Board Chair Charley Ballard: When Governor Rick Snyder outlined his 2017 budget proposal, many of the state’s biggest problems continued to be overlooked. If they are not addressed, Michigan will lurch from crisis to crisis for decades to come. Feb. 24, 2016 — Lansing State Journal

MLive: Guest column: Flint’s crisis is Michigan’s crisis

By League CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs: Whether you’re Gov. Rick Snyder or Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow or Jimmy Fallon, Madonna or Ziggy Ansah, it’s all about Flint right now. The same is true for us here at the League. This man-made disaster has drawn the national spotlight to Michigan for all the wrong reasons. Every day another story or scandal arises. But for me, the main question is: What do we do now? Feb. 10, 2016 — MLive

The Detroit News: Michigan’s December jobless rate lowest in 12 years

The overall gain in employment was a striking 3.2 percent increase over the previous year-end number, and the best since the official end of the Great Recession in 2009. But the more limited payroll survey of employers, also called the establishment survey, found job increases slowing down to show the smallest gain since 2009 — 44,000 added jobs, a gain of just 1.1 percent. So is job growth in Michigan exploding — or stalling out?
“If you’re using the establishment survey, that’s not very good growth, but the household survey shows very good growth,” said Charley Ballard, professor of economics at Michigan State University [and League board chair]. Jan. 22, 2016 — The Detroit News

El Vocero: Organizacion responde a la alocucion de Gobernador Snyder ante el Congreso

Después que el Gobernador Rick Snyder terminó su alocución de reporte anual ante el Congreso de Michigan, El Vocero Hispano entrevistó a la Sra. Gilda Z. Jacobs, CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, una organización sin fines de lucro que se ocupa de estudiar las políticas que se implementan en el estado sin tener en cuenta la procedencia política de quienes las proponen o la ejecutan. En este sentido, recabamos su opinión acerca de las palabras que esta noche, martes, enero 19, dijo el gobernador en su alocución ante el Congreso del Estado. Jan. 23, 2016 — El Vocero

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