Making kids count in the state budget

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

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

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

If approved by lawmakers, the initiative would ramp up school and family programs to identify children with developmental delays as early as possible, pay for additional instruction before or after school or during the summer and put literacy coaches around the state, among other interventions. This plan focuses on the positive – getting all kids reading by the end of third grade. This is a good direction for Michigan, and we applaud the governor for his leadership in this critical area.

Other highlights in the budget include $100 million in additional funding for children at risk of falling behind their peers academically. This is a significant increase (up from $309 million) and would go to help students from families with low incomes.

It was also heartening to see $6 million for new child care inspectors. Michigan’s caseloads are far too high, as the League pointed out in a January report. Making sure kids in child care are in safe environments is a smart economic strategy – good for families and good for businesses.

The governor’s budget also expands the Healthy Kids Dental plan for all children 0-8 to the three remaining counties without the plan: Wayne, Oakland and Kent. In 80 other counties the plan is available to all children 0-17 on Medicaid. That means that 63% of African American kids eligible for Medicaid but only 28% of white Medicaid-eligible children live in the three counties without the program. As the Kids Count in Michigan report points out, that’s a racial inequity that needs to be addressed.

All children, no matter where they live, should have access to oral healthcare.

The budget also increases funding for mental health services for people not eligible for Medicaid and offers $6 million in new funding for community college part-time student grants. The governor’s plan would reverse the trend in Michigan, which has ended all grant programs for adult learners to attend public higher education institutions. Helping parents improve their skills and job readiness is another positive move for kids.

The Kids Count report makes policy recommendations to address child well-being. Among them is encouraging voters to vote ‘yes’ on the May 5 road funding ballot. This is the last, best chance we have to fix the roads while protecting working families with low incomes. A successful ballot proposal will trigger the restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20%, helping more than 1 million children in our state. Read more on the Safe Roads Yes! website.

In light of growing child poverty, the Kids Count report also calls for restoration of safety net programs that have taken a huge hit in recent years: unemployment insurance and cash and food assistance. In addition, child care subsidies haven’t kept pace with inflation and parents have to be poorer and poorer and poorer to qualify each year.

While the governor’s budget unfortunately does not beef up those programs, it does address some very critical needs for children and families, including the grade-level reading initiative. It appears that kids do count in the executive budget.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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