Willing to Work and Ready to Learn Updated 2016

pdficonMichigan depends on its skilled workers, and much has been written and said about the need to build up our state’s workforce. Yet year after year in the state budget, state policymakers neglect to adequately fund adult education, making it less accessible for low-skilled workers who want to build their skills, become financially self-sufficient and contribute to Michigan’s economy. Adult education is the key to preparing these workers for occupational training and skilled employment, and better funding and an expanded role will enable it to meet the demand more effectively.

In the past, high school graduates could enter the middle class by getting jobs in the manufacturing sector immediately after graduation and moving eventually into skilled, higher-paying positions. Today, however, technological advances and offshore production have greatly decreased the need for unskilled, entry-level labor. A high school diploma by itself has far less value in the job market as a result, and employers increasingly prefer to hire skilled workers with a postsecondary credential such as a degree, certificate or license. With 9% of working age Michigan adults lacking a high school diploma, 1 out of 10 low-income working families having a parent that does not speak English well, and 6 out of 10 community college students needing remediation, it is clear that too many workers have basic skill deficiencies that make it difficult to attain such credentials.

Expanding adult education services to help more low-skilled but highly motivated individuals succeed in postsecondary training will benefit Michigan. Skilled workers help attract and keep businesses in the state, spend more in their local communities, pay more in taxes, and are less likely to become unemployed or need public assistance. On the other hand, continuing to neglect adult education keeps a segment of the population out of the skilled labor pool, which in turns keeps the need for public assistance high, slows the revitalization of struggling communities and wastes an opportunity to increase state revenues.

The Need for More Adult Education Services is Great

Adult education serves the segment of the population that does not have the basic skills necessary to gain secure, family-supporting employment, or to succeed in occupational training that leads to such employment. The term “basic skills” refers to the levels of reading, writing and mathematics that are associated with the attainment of a high school diploma and the ability to speak English proficiently. These skills are the foundation for building career-specific occupational skills that are in demand by the job market. While many adults without a high school diploma have deficiencies in one or more of these skill areas, some high school graduates also lose these skills over time or may not have completely mastered them while in high school. Adult education serves both sets of individuals.

Several indicators show that the number of working age adults needing adult education far surpasses those receiving it:

  • Over 208,500 Michigan adults age 25-44 lack a high school diploma or GED, yet fewer than 7% have enrolled in adult education in any year since 2004.1
  • More than 231,000 Michigan adults speak English less than “very well,” but fewer than 4% enroll in English as a Second Language adult education programs.2
  • Around 60% of community college students per year need to take developmental (remedial) education classes due to having not mastered one or more skill areas needed for postsecondary education or training.3

It is clear that too few students are getting the basic skills education they need to be able to succeed in occupational training and ultimately, to find a pathway out of low-wage, dead-end jobs and into a skilled career that enables them to support their families and prosper. As Michigan’s workforce development efforts attempt to move an increasing number of low-skilled workers into postsecondary credential programs, the demand for adult education will become even greater and so will the need for funding. (For more detailed statewide and county indicators of need, please see Appendices 1-3.)

Adult Education is a Crucial Link to Postsecondary Education and Gainful Employment

Because workers and job seekers without postsecondary occupational skills and credentials will have an increasingly difficult time finding family-supporting employment in coming years, the goal for adult education must not be merely to acquire a GED, but to transition workers into postsecondary training leading to a degree or certificate.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_1According to a recent report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 70% of jobs in Michigan will require some level of postsecondary education by 2020, including 37% requiring a “middle skills” credential such as an associate degree (which typically takes two years) or a vocational certificate (which usually takes less than two years).4 The sector with the highest number of projected middle skills job openings in Michigan is sales and office support, (43,000 openings for workers with an associate degree and 104,000 openings for workers with a credential that takes less than two years). Other sectors with a large number of projected middle skills openings are food and personal services and what the report terms “blue collar” occupations such as agriculture, construction and production.5 (For the complete Michigan employment and education forecast in the Georgetown University report, see Appendix 4.)

Helping low-skilled workers acquire postsecondary credentials that are in demand benefits not only those workers and their families, but also employers and the state as a whole. A skilled workforce will encourage businesses to stay, move to or expand in Michigan. Skilled workers earn and spend more money in their communities, which in turn helps other businesses and increases state revenues from income and sales taxes. Skilled workers are less likely to become unemployed or to need public assistance. Preparing more low-skilled workers for postsecondary training, therefore, needs to be a key component of Michigan’s workforce development strategy.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_2As seen in Figure 2, Michigan residents with “some college” or an associate degree have significantly higher earnings ($31,463) than those with only a high school diploma ($26,097) and are less likely to be in poverty. The combined percentage of Michigan residents in the former category (32.7%), however, is barely higher than the percent­age with only a high school diploma (30.2%), and well below the percentage without postsecondary education when those with less than a high school diploma (11%) are factored in. It is clear that many Michigan workers and their families would benefit from training leading to a postsecondary credential, and a significant number of those will need adult education to prepare them for such training. (Note: the “some college” category, in addition to including those who attained a certificate or license, includes those who took at least one postsecondary course but did not complete requirements for a credential. The earnings figures would likely be significantly higher if only credentialed workers are included.)

One population that Michigan should actively target for adult education is its residents with limited English proficiency. A recent Working Poor Families Project report cites data showing that between 2010 and 2030, immigrant workers will account for more than 90% of the nation’s workforce growth and that by 2030, one in five workers will be an immigrant. Despite this, 70% of limited-English adults in the United States do not have education beyond high school and 44% do not have the equivalent of a high school diploma. Of foreign-born workers with a high school diploma but no postsecondary credential, those who are proficient in English earn 39% more than those who are not.6

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_3In Michigan, 23% of adults 25 years and over who speak a language other than English at home (and 35% who speak Spanish at home) do not have a high school diploma, compared with 10% who speak only English at home (Fig. 3). The poverty level is much higher for those who speak a language other than English (24%), especially for Spanish speakers (28%), than for those who speak only English (16%). With more than 231,000 adults in the state with limited English proficiency, Michigan should ensure that this population is targeted for adult education outreach and that there are adequate English as a Second Language programs—with adequate funding—in the areas of the state with the highest need.

To Be More Effective, Adult Education Must Fit Family and Work Schedules

Adult education is primarily taught in school buildings, literacy centers, Michigan Works! one-stop centers, and public libraries. In some counties, it is provided at county jails, Head Start buildings or Community Action Agencies. Because instruction is usually provided at a central location rather than in the context of family, school and/or work, adult learners often must make child care arrangements or even adjust work schedules in order to attend adult education classes.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_4For some adult learners, this “traditional” way of receiving adult education instruction works. For others, however, the time needed to complete an adult education program conflicts with family or work needs and prolongs the time before entering into postsecondary training—increasing the likelihood that some students will drop out before completion. If the student lives or works a long distance from the school building, transportation can be an additional barrier.

Conversely, integrating adult education instruction into other aspects of students’ lives, such as work, occupational training and family, can make their experience more relevant, their coursework easier, and the time to complete a program shorter. All of this will increase the likelihood of student success, and in turn help the adult education system better meet the needs of employers.

There are several ways to contextualize the delivery of adult learning:

  1. Use adult education as a two-generation strategy to improve the lives of both parents and children. A two-generation approach to fighting poverty devises programs and policies that seek to enhance children’s intellectual development in tandem with increasing their parents’ skills and ability to earn higher wages. As seen in Figure 4, roughly 17% to 22% of adult education participants in recent years are public assistance recipients and 6% to 9% report that they are single parents.7 Yet we see from Figure 5 that public assistance recipients and parents of preschool and school age children have very poor program completion rates. Both of these categories have declined since 2013.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_5


Addressing the needs of these at-risk categories should be a top priority for both local program design and state policy. Examples of two-generation strategies on the program level include:

  • Providing child care and enrichment activities at adult education sites.
  • Offering adult education in programs such as Head Start that serve children (a very small number of counties in Michigan do this).
  • Making sure that individuals who enroll in adult education are made aware of public assistance for which they may be eligible.

On the state level, Michigan can implement two-generation polices that make it easier for parents to access child care or be involved with their children’s education while receiving basic skills instruction, examples of which include:

  • Making low-income adult education students categorically eligible for subsidized child care or raising the income eligibility level. Currently, a single parent with two children can get a subsidy only if her or his annual income is at or below 121% of the federal poverty guidelines ($24,393 in 2016).
  • Raising the child care subsidy level to a higher percentage of the market rate in order to cover more of the actual child care costs, and removing the paperwork barriers that discourage or prevent this population from making use of the subsidy even when eligible.8
  • Making adult education services an integral part of all Pathways to Potential school programs.9

There are also steps Michigan can take to make it easier for parents on cash assistance to complete their GED. Unfortunately, federal rules do not let GED completion count toward recipient work requirements unless the recipient is also working 20 hours per week in another work activity such as paid employment or community service. Because success in GED completion may be hampered by the need to juggle classes, homework, family needs and 20 hours of work, Michigan should consider waiving the 20-hour work requirement. This would enable cash assistance recipients to take adult education classes full-time and attain their GEDs more quickly, or to tend to their children’s needs and intellectual development while completing their GED. Even though Michigan would not be able to count such recipients toward its work participation rate, the state has a high enough percentage (over 60%) of recipients meeting the requirements and so can afford to be flexible in this area.10

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_6In addition, the Working Poor Families Project recommends two curriculum-based steps for states to consider as part of a two-generation strategy: 1) Expand and contextualize state-approved adult education curriculum to cover family financial literacy and asset-building instruction, and 2) Incentivize local providers of Adult Basic Education Literacy and English as a Second Language services to include opportunities for child-parent learning, such as family literacy and numeracy activities.11 Both of these strategies can be undertaken in Michigan, provided there is additional funding.

2. Provide adult education in the community colleges as an alternative to costly developmental education. Many community college students must take developmental education classes due to having not mastered one or more basic skill areas. Each year, around 60% of community college students in Michigan are required to take at least one developmental education course (Fig. 6). Such classes cost the same as for-credit classes leading to a degree or credential, costing the student money and/or using up some of the student’s financial aid resources. Providing developmental education to large numbers of students also can create difficulty for community colleges due to staff costs.

One way to solve this problem is for Michigan to allow (and provide funding for) community colleges and school districts to enter into cooperative agreements whereby students needing remediation can take adult education courses on the college campus that fulfill developmental education requirements. Because adult education is free, this will save the student money and underscore adult education’s important role as a transition program to postsecondary education.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_73. Provide adult education in the workplace as a part of on-the-job training. Until 2004, when adult education received a large funding cut, programs were sometimes offered in automobile and other manufacturing worksites. This enabled employees who were held back from advancing in their jobs by reading, language or mathematics deficiencies to receive basic skills training at the workplace. Following the cuts, many counties and school districts discontinued the practice and there are now fewer than 50 adults who participate in workplace literacy programs in most years (Fig. 7). Providing funding for on-site adult education serving low-skilled workers in their workplace (before or after work) can help workers avoid transportation barriers and save driving time, thus incentivizing them to participate.

4. Develop career pathway systems. Career pathways are ideally the best vehicle to deliver adult education. A career pathway is defined as “a well-articulated sequence of quality education and training offerings and supportive services that enable educationally underprepared youth and adults to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in a given industry sector or occupation.”12 By linking basic skills training, career-specific occupational training, wraparound services (such as child care, transportation and/or financial services) and employment, they combine the three contextualized learning strategies discussed above.

Presently, if a low-skilled adult wants to acquire a credential and a skilled job, the required educational steps are usually sequential and mutually exclusive: first, the individual must participate in adult education to acquire a GED, then he or she must enroll in postsecondary education to acquire an occupational credential, and finally, he or she uses the newly gained credential to look for a job. Services are often provided in isolation, i.e. adult education is not used at community colleges in place of developmental education or integrated into on- the-job training.

By integrating the steps in the training sequence, career pathways enable low-skilled adults to learn basic skills in the context of occupational training leading to a credential; for example, English as a Second Language or high school mathematics is taught in a robotics or electrician training program leading to a certificate or license. Such programs shorten the time needed to obtain a postsecondary credential, because basic skills remediation is taught alongside of (or integrated into) occupational training rather than as a prerequisite. This is very important for adult learners with jobs and families, because the longer the time needed, the greater the likelihood of individuals dropping out prior to completion. Some career pathways programs provide supportive services such as child care, and some are directly connected to employment, with a guarantee of job placement upon successful completion.

Each of these expansions of adult education delivery will help adult learners persist in and complete their programs and will enable a larger number of individuals to participate. However, serving more people and serving them differently will require additional funding.

Michigan’s Shortsighted Neglect of Adult Education

Although the need for adult education is obvious, Michigan has undercut its accessibility in several ways, most notably in its drastic reduction of funding in 2004. This reduction was included in the then-governor’s budget and passed by the Legislature not due to a perceived decrease in need, but to reduce state spending during an especially tight budget period. Neither the current administration nor the Legislature has made an effort to restore the lost funding, even though the state has been in a generally stronger fiscal position for several years.

Following are the three ways Michigan has disinvested in this important workforce development tool:

State Appropriations: Michigan appropriated $80 million per year for adult education in budget years 1997 to 2001, decreased funding slightly in the following years, and then slashed funding to $20 million in budget year 2004. Adult education appropriations remained flat at $22 million for several years before being increased to $23.8 million in 2016—a 70% reduction from 2001. Federal funding has not increased significantly to make up for the loss in state funding, so total funding for adult education in Michigan has dropped 60% since 2001, not accounting for inflation (Fig. 8).

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_8


Administrative Set-Aside: Although the Legislature increased the adult education appropriation from $22 million to $25 million for budget year 2016, it continued the practice begun in budget year 2015 of cutting funds to providers by 5%, bringing the amount to $23.75 million. This is because adult education is now allocated through regional fiduciaries rather than directly to providers, and 5% of the existing base funding for adult education is now set aside for regional administration of the grant dollars. While it may make sense to provide administrative funding to fiduciaries, the state should appropriate additional funds for this purpose rather than take it from adult education providers.

Erosion: When adjusted for inflation, the $23.75 million appropriated for 2016 was equal to only $17.6 million in 2001 dollars.13 In inflation-adjusted dollars, Michigan reduced its state funding by 78% between 2001 and 2016, causing total funding for adult education to drop by 70% (Fig. 9).

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_9

Consequences of Adult Education Cuts

The funding cuts over the years have caused a drop in the number of students enrolling in, completing and advancing in adult education programs. Following the large funding reduction in the 2004 budget, student enrollment fell from more than 70,000 to less than 50,000, and has been below 30,000 for the past several years. The number completing an academic level dropped from more than 15,000 (and nearly 24,000 in one year) to between 9,000 and 12,000 most years.14 The percentage of enrollees completing a level has been between 30% and 40% most years, so there appears to be a direct correlation between the amount of funding and the number of students enrolling and completing (Fig. 10).

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_10


In addition to serving fewer students than in the past, Michigan does not compare well with other Midwest states on student participation or success measures (Fig. 11). It ranks close to the bottom of states nationwide in the percent of students enrolled in adult education relative to those without a high school diploma or GED. It also ranks in the bottom half of states in the percent of students who improve in beginning literacy skills and who have a goal of postsecondary training, though of the students with that goal, the percentage who successfully transition to postsecondary is somewhat higher relative to other states.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_11Michigan needs to expand the number of programs available to adults who have not completed high school, and facilitate student success by providing adult education in contextualized contexts as discussed previously. Likewise, because beginning literacy students are among the least skilled and most economically vulnerable of adult education students, providing literacy instruction in the context of the workplace or as a two-generation strategy can help those participants succeed at higher rates.

How Much Adult Education Funding is Needed?

Dividing the total funding appropriated each fiscal year from FY 2000 through 2016 by the number of students served each of those years shows that the state pays approximately $1,240 per individual adult education student. Because most students attend adult education part time, this works out to roughly the same amount that school districts are supposed to receive per adult education full-time equivalent student ($2,850).15 Unfortunately, because funding levels to districts are based on the previous year’s enrollments, districts that have more registrations than the prior year have to work with much less than $2,850 per FTE. This puts them in the position of having to either turn students away or to be constrained in the type of instruction they can offer or the materials they can use.

From Program Years 2009-10 to 2013-14, when adult education received state and federal funds totaling between $35 million and $38 million per year, the state served an average of 28,275 adult education students per year. Assuming a cost of $1,240 per student, if total funding were to be increased by $10 million, then the state could serve approximately 8,000 more students—a 28% increase to 36,500 students. If the 8,000 additional students were between the ages of 25 and 44, then the percentage of individuals that age without a high school diploma or GED who are enrolled in adult education would go from 6% to 10%.

Willing to Work Ready to Work fig_12Figure 12 shows approximately how many more students the adult education system could serve if funding is increased. (The table does not account for inflation.) While the Michigan League for Public Policy does not necessarily recommend that only adults age 25-44 without a high school diploma be targeted for additional money, the percent of this population that would be served with increased funding serves as a useful benchmark for measuring the degree that adult education meets the need in Michigan.


Increase Adult Education Funding

To ensure an adequate adult education funding base that will enable Michigan to meet the needs of its low-skilled workers and help them transition into postsecondary training, Michigan needs to:

  1. Increase adult education annual appropriations by $10 million to $30 million.
  2. Develop a formula for increasing adult education funding each year to keep up with inflation, rather than maintaining it at a flat level that will erode in value over time.
  3. Monitor developments in federal adult education funding and be prepared for any federal funding cuts in the future.

Provide Adult Education in Contextualized Environments

Low-skilled adults often have barriers that prevent them from participating or successfully completing adult education programs, and Michigan needs to try new ways to facilitate success for these learners. To connect adult education instruction with other aspects of students’ lives, Michigan should:

  1. Encourage and fund local adult education programs to offer classes in nontraditional settings such as community colleges, workplaces and sites in which parents can bring their children.
  2. Provide incentives for community colleges and school districts to enter into cooperative agreements in which adult education classes fulfill students’ developmental (remedial) education requirements, and remove any institutional barriers that prevent such cooperative agreements.
  3. Encourage employers to provide match funding for the provision of adult education instruction in the workplace.
  4. Encourage local adult education programs to become part of occupation-specific career pathway systems and provide funding for additional instructors.

Ensure that Adult Education is Part of the Pathway to Economic Security for Public Assistance Recipients

Public assistance recipients are among those with the greatest need for skill-building, which provides economic benefit to their families and positively affects their children’s skill development. To eliminate barriers that prevent members of this population from participating and successfully completing adult education programs, Michigan should:

  1. Allow adult education to satisfy Family Independence Program work requirements without imposing the federal requirement of 20 hours per week of other work activities. Michigan’s high work participation rate allows for some level of flexibility in this area.
  2. Build on the approach, begun under Governor Granholm with the Jobs, Education and Training (JET) program and expanded under Governor Snyder with the Partnership, Accountability, Training, Hope (PATH) program, of facilitating skill building for cash assistance recipients, while continuing to reject the “work first” philosophy that prioritizes short-term employment goals over long-term skill building and economic self-sufficiency.

Willing to Work Ready to Work graphic_1

See PDF for Appendicies


  1. American Community Survey 1-year estimate, 2014. (The previous version of this paper used the 3-year estimate but that is no longer available.)
  2. Working Poor Families Project data generated by the Population Reference Bureau from the American Community Survey, 2013.
  3. State of Michigan Dashboard using data from the Michigan Community College Association. (, accessed on April 15, 2016.)
  4. Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2013.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Shaffer, Barry, Strengthening State Adult Education Policies for English as a Second Language Populations, Working Poor Families Project, Fall 2014.
  7. A student is counted as receiving public assistance if he or she is receiving financial assistance from federal, state or local government agencies. (Note: Social Security benefits, unemployment insurance, and employment-funded disability are not included under this definition.)
  8. For more information on the subsidy level and on the barriers preventing low-income parents from accessing Michigan’s child care subsidy, see Sorenson, Pat, Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy, Michigan League for Public Policy, September 2014. (
  9. Pathways to Potential, a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services program started in 2012 at schools in four Michigan cities, uses the school environment to assist parents and children in attendance, education, health, safety and self-sufficiency. The program will go statewide in 2015. For more information on this program, go to
  10. For more information on the federal work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, see Schott, Liz and Donna Pavetti, Changes in TANF Work Requirements Could Make Them More Effective in Promoting Employment, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 26, 2013. (
  11. Bassett, Meegan Dugan, Considering Two-Generation Strategies in the States, Working Poor Families Project, Summer 2014.
  12. Center for Law and Social Policy, The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Approach: Developing Criteria and Metrics for Quality Career Pathways, February 2013.
  13. Figures are calculated using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index inflation calculator (, accessed April 13, 2016).
  14. An academic level comprises two school grade levels.
  15. Michigan Workforce Development Agency, 2013-14 Section 107 Individual District Reports. (, accessed on April 13,2016)


Give Michigan’s prison reentry population the tools to thrive

Budget Brief JPG USE THIS ONEpdficonMichigan must invest more in Department of Corrections reentry programs to help returning individuals as well as reduce recidivism and ultimately the overall prison population. Over the past 30 years, Michigan’s prison population has expanded dramatically, and the state is now spending more than $2 billion annually to lock up and monitor its prison and probation populations. While steps have been taken to safely reduce the prison population and cut state spending, much more can be done to limit the number of people incarcerated and ensure successful reentry once their time is served. Reprioritizing spending will require careful policy deliberation that accounts for economic and safety concerns. However, by investing more in reentry efforts, the end result will be more families remaining together and more funds available for other budget priorities, including education, mental health and infrastructure.

BB prison reentry chart 1The High Cost of Incarceration: More Than Just Money

In 2015, Michigan spent more than $2 billion on corrections and public safety—representing a 735% increase in spending since 1983. Michigan currently spends more General Fund dollars on corrections than it does on higher education.

While the fiscal cost of the high level of incarceration is significant, the human costs are far greater. Incarceration and criminal records result in limited access to employment, credit and housing. Moreover, when people go to prison, they leave behind families and communities. Around the country, almost half of children have a parent with a criminal record. Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to have poor health and educational outcomes.

The impact of mass incarceration on the African-American community has been devastating, with African-Americans constituting half of Michigan’s prison population, while only making up about 15% of the state’s population. The disproportionate impact on this community is caused in part by discriminatory police and sentencing practices both historically and at present. Carefully considered reforms including diversity training and reducing jail detention through bail and fines and fees reform are crucial to reducing this disparity. These financial traps are keeping too many people incarcerated. Once people are in prison, resources must be focused on preparing for successful reentry into the community.

BB prison reentry chart 2

The Importance of Reentry Programs

Reentry programs are crucial to reducing the prison population. Approximately 95% of Michigan’s prison population will return to the community after serving a sentence. Once prisoners have served their sentences, it is imperative that they be given the tools needed to succeed back at home and in their communities. In 2014, probation and parole violators made up 44% of prison entries. Measures to reduce recommitment due to parole violations along with bolstering and enhancing reentry programming are two concrete ways to improve reentry outcomes. In addition to funding reentry efforts in the Corrections budget, the state can also help returning residents and their families by removing restrictions on social safety net programs related to an individual’s criminal record, such as limitations on food and cash assistance for drug offenders.

The 2017 State Budget

Prisoner Reentry Services: The governor proposed $6 million more for prisoner reentry services, with support from the House Appropriations Committee. The funds support programs both inside and outside prison facilities. These include vocational training for prisoners and efforts to connect them directly with potential employers, as well as Transition Action Planning programs that present concrete steps once people are released from prison into the community. The increase in prisoner reentry funding from $39 million for budget year 2016 to $45 million next year is intended primarily to cover inflationary costs from rebidding contracts related to reentry services, which have been in place for at least the last five years. Without greater state investments in reentry than currently proposed, it will be difficult to reduce recidivism substantially.

BB prison reentry chart 3Goodwill “Flip the Script” Program: Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit developed the “Flip the Script” program to provide education, job training and mentoring to 16-29-year-olds in an effort to keep them out of prison. The governor proposed eliminating the program, but the House Appropriations Subcommittee maintains it at $1.5 million, a $500,000 reduction over current year spending. While controlling costs is important, underfunding reentry programs undercuts justice reinvestment efforts that place emphasis on ensuring the safety of communities once prisoners are released.

Helping children succeed through Michigan’s at-risk funding

pdficonIn the 2017 Michigan Budget, At-Risk School Aid funding should be fully funded to help our children improve their educational achievement and attain self-sufficiency. Children living in poverty often require additional services and resources, which come at a greater cost to the schools. Because of historical and systemic discrimination, children of color tend to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, creating more challenges for them. Fortunately, Michigan’s school funding formula includes a component that recognizes the extra costs associated with educating children who have been raised in very low-income families and now attend schools with high numbers of children in poverty. Unfortunately, the At-Risk School Aid program has not been sufficiently funded by the Legislature in years. We need to ensure that children are not being held back from academic success because of their economic situation, inadequate housing, poor nutrition and struggling schools, and funding the At-Risk program is the perfect mechanism to prevent this.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic1At-Risk Funding Shortfall Affects All School Districts

The At-Risk program, which provides state funds to schools based on the number of children receiving free school meals (kids at 130% of poverty, or $26,117 for a single parent with two children or $31,525 for a married couple with two children), is an excellent tool for targeting funds to districts with high numbers of children at risk of poor educational achievement. However, funds can be targeted toward any “at-risk” student, including victims of child abuse or neglect, pregnant teenagers or teenage parents, students not meeting certain proficiency standards, students that are chronically absent, homeless students, English-language learners, or students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The program focuses on ensuring all students are proficient at reading by the end of third grade and that all high school graduates are ready for college and careers.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic2The At-Risk program has only been fully funded for two years since it was first implemented in the 1994-95 budget year. For the current year, At-Risk funding is $134 million below the level needed to fund the formula set in law and the cumulative shortfall since 1995 is nearly $2 billion.

At full funding of the At-Risk program, school districts receive 11.5% of a district’s foundation allowance multiplied by the number of students eligible for free breakfast, lunch or milk in the prior year. In years in which full funding is not budgeted, the amount provided per at-risk student is prorated, which results in districts receiving less than provided in the statutory formula. This budget year, even after the At-Risk program was increased by $70 million, the allocations are reduced by about $186.17 per student, which means that school districts are seeing over 20% reductions in their amounts. This has a detrimental effect on many districts, including large ones that receive a significant amount of at-risk dollars and small ones that may have a high percentage of their students receiving free lunch.

Helping children succeed_at-risk graphic3The 2017 State Budget

Full Funding: While an additional $70 million was provided to the program in this year’s budget, neither the governor nor the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee recommended any additional funding increases to the program in next year’s budget. While the House did provide some increased funding, it was for the expansion of the program to a small number of high-risk districts rather than to reduce prorated allocations statewide. Without more funding, schools will continue to see prorated allocations.

Expansion of Program: The At-Risk program has one major drawback—schools that are out-of-formula or hold-harmless districts are not eligible for funding. These are school districts with combined state and local per-pupil operational funding that is higher than the basic foundation allowance. This unfortunately leaves out a number of districts that have a high percentage of their students receiving free lunch. For example, the Baldwin Community School District, which is the district that covers the largest area of Lake County, has over 85% of its students eligible for free lunch but receives no at-risk funding. Covert Public Schools in Van Buren County has nearly 95% of its students eligible for free lunch but receives no at-risk dollars. The House Appropriations Subcommittee recommended adding an additional $18 million to at-risk student support so that hold-harmless and out-of-formula districts that had more than 50% of their prior year membership students eligible for free lunch would be eligible for at-risk dollars. If this were to occur, it must be done with new dollars to the program so other schools would not see cuts to their at-risk funding.

Michigan continues to underfund adult education, hamper workers and economy

pdficonBB-MI continues to underfund adult eduction _graphic 1Michigan continues to underfund adult education even though changes in the state’s economy make it impossible for workers to succeed without basic skills and a high school diploma. With the reduction in manufacturing jobs in Michigan, workers can no longer expect to get a well-paying manufacturing job with only a high school diploma. Laid-off workers and those trying to succeed in the job market often seek out postsecondary occupational training, as employers are increasingly requiring a postsecondary credential such as a degree or certificate. However, many workers lack certain basic skills in reading, writing or mathematics that are needed in order to participate in occupational training, leaving them in limbo. Adult education is an important transition program that addresses the need for basic skills and links workers to training, credentials and ultimately to skilled jobs.

The Need for Adult Education Is Not Being Met

The State of Michigan is not reaching nearly enough of the working-age adults who need adult education:

  • Over 221,500 Michigan adults age 25-44 lack a high school diploma or GED, yet fewer than 7% are enrolled in adult education.
  • More than 225,000 Michigan adults speak English less than “very well,” yet fewer than 5% enroll in English as a Second Language adult education programs.
  • At least 60% of Michigan community college students per year need to take developmental (remedial) education classes at an additional cost due to not having mastered one or more skill areas needed for postsecondary education or training.

BB-MI continues to underfund adult eduction _graphic 2State and Federal Funding for Adult Education Has Been Cut

Michigan has greatly reduced its funding for adult education over the past 15 years. During budget years 1997 to 2001, state funding for adult education was at $80 million a year, but the Legislature cut funding drastically after that, to as low as $20 million annually. Adult education was funded at $22 million/year for several years, and last year the Legislature bumped up the funding to $25 million. However, the amount is actually $23.8 million because the money is given to Prosperity Regions rather than to providers directly, as has been done in the past. Each designated Prosperity Region deducts 5% as an administrative fee for allocating the money to providers within its jurisdiction.

BB-MI continues to underfund adult eduction _graphic 3As federal funding has also been reduced, total funding for adult education in Michigan has dropped from $96.3 million in 2001 to only $37.3 million in 2016. This has resulted in fewer people enrolling in and complet­ing adult education programs. The decrease in total funding since 2001 has been accompanied by a 51% decline in enrollment, a 36% decrease in students completing a grade level and a 64% decrease in students completing and then advancing a grade level.

The 2017 State budget

Adult Education Eligibility: Currently, adult education is available to adults age 20 and over. The governor has proposed boilerplate language expanding adult education eligibility to high school students and out-of-school youth under age 18, which would intensify the need for more funding. If the language expanding the eligibility is included in the final budget signed by the governor, it is likely many adult education programs would be strapped for money to the degree that they cannot serve their priority population (individuals over 20 years of age) effectively. The Legislature should not expand eligibility until after further discussion with service providers and not without sufficient funding in place.

Adult Education Funding: The governor’s proposed budget funds adult education at $25 million ($23.8 million after set-aside is deducted) for budget year 2017—the same amount as last year. The Michigan League for Public Policy recommends that the Legislature increase the adult education appropriation by a minimum of $10 million for budget year 2017. At an estimated cost of $1,240 per student, this would enable 8,000 more students to be served, and would enable adult education to serve the equivalent of 10% of students age 25-44 without a high school diploma.

Michigan needs to expand child care support to keep families working

pdficonChild care is an absolute necessity for working parents; yet safe, high-quality care remains out of reach financially for many lower-wage workers and state subsidies have dropped off dramatically. For parents, the high cost of child care can result in a reliance on relatives, neighbors and friends who may not be able to make a long-term commitment; work disruptions that could jeopardize their jobs; and tough choices between job and family. For employers, the lack of child care can lead to absenteeism, job turnover and a threat to their bottom line. For children, it means an ever-changing string of caregivers, the inability to build the secure relationships needed to thrive, and lost opportunities during those very early weeks, months and years of life when scientists have shown that the very architecture of the brain is set in ways that affect lifelong learning. For the state, the lack of high-quality child care options for children and families can ultimately reduce third-grade literacy, increase the need for remedial education and other services, and slow economic growth.

2017 budget recommendationThe High Cost of Child Care

While child care providers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the state, the cost of care is prohibitive for many lower-wage parents. In Michigan, child care workers had median wages of only $8.73/hour in 2013. Nationwide, wages for child care providers are so low that almost half receive some form of public assistance.

With wages stagnating in Michigan, 2 of every 3 young children now have all parents in the workforce, so for many families child care is essential, not optional. A family of four living at the state median wage must dedicate more than 20% of its income to place two children in a child care center. At poverty-level wages, over 80% of a family’s income would be consumed by child care, making work impossible, or forcing families to look for unregulated care that may not be reliable or even safe. The average cost of placing an infant in a child care center in Michigan ($9,882 annually) exceeds the state median rental cost ($9,168 a year), and rivals tuition and fees in a public college ($11,909 a year).

bib and booties SNIPFewer Families Receiving Help With Child Care Costs

Despite the persistence of low-wage jobs, the number of families receiving state child care assistance has fallen by 75% in the last decade, and low eligibility levels and child care provider payments are major contributors. With income eligibility limits set at 38% of the state’s median income (121% of poverty), very few low-wage workers in Michigan are eligible for child care assistance—even though they do not earn enough to purchase safe, good-quality care for their children while they work.

Michigan’s income eligibility ceiling for child care assistance is one of the lowest in the country. Nationwide, child care eligibility caps range from approximately 120% of poverty to 300% of poverty. Because poverty limits were developed in the 1960s, they do not reflect the real costs faced by low-income families today, and 200% of poverty is now considered a more accurate reflection of what it takes for families to make ends meet.

fewer families getting help with child care costsThe 2017 State Budget

Child Care Expansion in Flint: The governor recommends $8 million in the upcoming budget year to provide a half day of child care to children ages birth to 3 in Flint—regardless of income. The purpose is to help identify developmental delays in children exposed to lead and aggressively counter the effects. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed to this funding.

Child Care Eligibility Limit: The governor did not increase the child care assistance eligibility limit for children statewide. The House Appropriations Subcommittee recommended an increase from 121% to 125% of poverty, but did not provide funding. While a step in the right direction, this falls far short of what is needed even if funded. Michigan currently has approximately $60 million from the federal Child Care Development Fund that it is carrying forward because of lagging caseloads—money it will ultimately have to use or lose. Michigan needs to expand child care eligibility statewide and be as aggressive as possible in heading off problems facing infants and toddlers in Flint. The state can afford to do both with available federal funds.

Child Care Payments: There are no increases in payments to child care providers in the governor’s budget or those approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees. Rates were increased in the last two years for providers that rank higher on the state’s rating system for child care, but almost 7 of every 10 licensed providers were not qualified for the raise. Of the highest-quality providers, (4 and 5 stars on the state’s 5-star rating system) less than one-third serve children receiving a state subsidy.


Crises in Flint and Detroit compound toxic stress, health risks

cities in crisis and KC logospdficonWhen babies are born, they have their whole lives ahead of them. But for too many kids, including many in Flint and Detroit, their options in life are limited by the world they’re born in to. One of the most devastating concerns with the Flint water crisis and the physical and financial struggles of Detroit Public Schools is that they primarily hurt kids who already face many hurdles.
Toxic stress will be a reality of life for the residents of Flint for the foreseeable future, and when compounded by the impacts of the lead-contaminated water, will have the potential to negatively affect the health status of those in Flint for years to come. Without concerted efforts and a focus on the social determinants of health, the already poor health status of Flint and Genesee County’s kids and residents will erode even further.

Toxic Stress and Social Determinants of Health

The Toxic stress is defined as the excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. It can adversely impact health, learning and behavior, and is most prevalent in low-income children who are under constant strain.

smart city memphisToxic stress goes hand-in-hand with the concept of social determinants of health. The League’s Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2011 outlined social determinants of a child’s health as “the emotional and physical dimensions of their family lives, the material and human resources in their neighborhoods, the support and institutional capacities in their communities.” The environment and community in which a person lives plays a key role in determining their health as does the clinical care they receive and have access to, and social and economic factor like income, education, and employment level.

Low-Income Kids, Children of Color at Greatest Risk

Kids of color and children living in poverty are most at risk of toxic stress and poor health because they face challenges in so many aspects of their lives, and they begin before they are even born. Women with low incomes are more likely to experience inadequate nutrition and chronic health conditions, which lead to a higher probability of delivering low-birthweight babies—the leading cause of infant mortality—and can lead to other health and developmental problems.

Health outcomesPersistent health disparities based on income and race and ethnicity continue to exist because of structural barriers that have reduced opportunity for good health and well-being. Not having nutritional foods or enough to eat period, living in unhealthy homes filled with lead, playing in contaminated grass or soil and polluted communities that cause asthma, going to school in deteriorating buildings, or dealing with the stress of unemployed parents and high-crime neighborhoods all harm a child’s well-being.

Disasters in Flint and Detroit Leave Lasting Impact

These are all stresses a majority of Flint and Detroit kids were already facing before the recent crises in their communities began. And now that they’ve been drinking and bathing in lead-laced water and attending unsafe schools, they are at even greater risk for lifelong health problems.

On nearly all measures of health and well-being, children are rock bottom in Genesee and Wayne counties, which ranked 81st and 82nd out of 82 counties in the 2015 County Healthy Rankings. The Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016, which analyzes 16 key indicators across economic security, health and safety, family and community, and education, ranked Wayne County 66th and Genesee County 75th out of 82 counties in child well-being. The counties both ranked even worse in child poverty—78th for Genesee and 80th for Wayne. The already stressed situations in Genesee and Wayne counties are even more dramatic in Flint and Detroit. And sadly, these numbers are likely to get worse in Flint as the effects of lead poisoning in the community set in.

Kids Count outcomes

A Wholesale Solution to Child Well-Being

These Children need to be healthy and safe if they are to reach their full potential. Ensuring that children start off on the right path with a healthy birth, early detection of developmental disabilities, access to healthcare, and safe, clean communities to live in are all necessary to enable children to thrive. Lawmakers must first recognize the connection of all these factors, and then work to improve them—in Flint, in Detroit schools and in the state’s other struggling communities.

The policy strategies to help kids in these cities in crisis can improve the overall well-being of all children. These include providing adequate services to support kids’ health, nutrition and education; investing in schools, neighborhoods and communities; and addressing two-generation policies that help kids by helping their parents get a GED, degree or certification and a stable, good-paying job. Specifically, the League recommends increased At-Risk School Aid Funding, eliminating the asset test on food assistance, expanded access to child care through eligibility changes and investment in adult education.

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 on March 1, 2016.


A poison all around us: The threat of lead in Michigan

cities in crisis and KC logos

pdficonResidents of the city of Flint, including estimates of up to 9,000 kids, have been exposed to dangerous lead that leached from outdated pipes into the drinking water in their homes, schools and businesses. Given the harmful, lifelong effects of lead exposure, the problems and needs of the community of Flint and its people—especially kids—will last for decades to come. Unfortunately, while the breadth of lead exposure and government’s responsibility are unique to Flint, lead poisoning is not.

girl drinking waterMichigan children around the state have been exposed to lead through old lead-based paint and lead dust in older homes as well as contaminated soil and old infrastructure with lead. Because of this, the problem persists predominantly among impoverished areas of Michigan and children of color.

Lead Toxicity’s Lasting Effects

The effects of lead exposure at any level are irreversible and prevention is paramount. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in a body. It interferes with functions of positive minerals in the body, such as, iron, calcium and zinc, which are vital to the healthy development of a person’s bones, organs, brain and nervous system. Toddlers are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning due to their high levels of absorption, their rapid development and their hand-to-mouth behavior that results in them ingesting lead.1

Extensive research has shown that even small levels of lead exposure in young children and developing fetuses impacts cognitive development and is linked to lower IQ, academic performance, decision-making and impulse control. Not only is the health and well-being of the child forever changed with lead exposure, but our entire society is compromised. Childhood lead exposure costs Michigan $330 million a year in decreased lifetime earnings and increased costs for medical care, crime and incarceration, and special education.2

Poverty Poses A Greater Risk

A national survey found that children at highest risk for having elevated blood lead levels are those living in metropolitan areas and in housing built before 1946, from low-income families, and of African-American and Hispanic origin.3 This is primarily due to their exposure to lead-based paint, soil contaminated from past use of lead in gasoline and dated infrastructure delivering drinking water, the cause of widespread water contamination in Flint where 66.5% of children under 5 years of age live below the poverty line.4 Low-income children are also more likely to be undernourished with iron- and calcium-deficient diets, making them more susceptible to lead poisoning because their bodies absorb more lead when other nutrients are lacking.

By the Numbers in Michigan

In 2014, 38% of 1- to 2-year-olds in Michigan were tested for lead statewide and 52% were tested in fourteen target communities where children are at higher risk of lead poisoning. The city of Detroit had nearly 31% of the entire state’s confirmed and unconfirmed5 cases of lead poisoning in 2014 followed by Grand Rapids with 9%. Highland Park, where poverty is rife at 48% living below the federal poverty threshold, 19.7% of toddlers tested had an elevated blood lead level of 5 ug/dl6, both confirmed and unconfirmed tests.

Percentage of lead poisoning and poverty ratesIn 2013, prior to the lead-contaminated drinking water that flowed in Flint, the city was already one of Michigan’s high-risk lead areas—of the 44% of 1- to 2-year-olds tested, 4.4% tested positive for elevated blood levels by confirmed and unconfirmed tests. According to data from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center, the percentage of children younger than 5 with elevated lead levels in Flint nearly doubled in 2014 and 2015. In city wards with the highest levels of lead in water, the levels more than tripled.

Moving Forward

While lead poisoning cannot be reversed, its effects can be counteracted and kids can still lead healthy, successful lives. Recently, the Legislature approved a $28 million budget supplemental bill to deal with the effects of the Flint crisis, but government must continue to assess the situation in Flint and appropriate additional funds for decades to come.

The kids of Flint that have been poisoned—and the assumption should be that they all have been exposed—should be monitored closely while wraparound education, nutrition and health services are provided. These supports must also stay with these kids wherever they end up living. Intervention must be funded through Early On, Head Start, home visitation programs, school nurses, the Children’s Healthcare Access Program (CHAP), Pathways for Potential, extension of Women, Infants, and Children benefits to age 10 with expansion of locations and full-time employees, as well as behavioral health and developmental services for children with high blood levels.  Michigan must also increase funding for the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to address the ongoing threat of lead poisoning in other low-income communities.


  1. World Health Organization. Childhood Lead Poisoning. 2010; Available at:
  2. Tina Reynolds. Flint crisis shows need for further investment in statewide lead programs, advocates say. Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing (MIALSH). Nov. 9, 2015. Available at:
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Lead Exposure in Young Children: A Housing-Based Approach to Primary Prevention of Lead Poisoning – Recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. Oct. 2004. Available at:
  4. U.S. Census. Table DP03. 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  5. Confirmed elevated BLL greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL: A child with one venous blood specimen greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL, or two capillary blood specimens greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL drawn within 12 weeks of each other. Unconfirmed elevated BLL greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL: A single capillary blood lead test greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL, or two capillary tests greater than or equal to 5 ug/dL drawn more than 12 weeks apart. Available at:
  6. Ug/dL: Micrograms per deciliter, the reference point for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define elevated blood lead levels.

The Kids Count Data Book is an Advocacy Tool

The annual Kids Count Data Book is an important tool for creating awareness about the well-being of children in Michigan and in local communities. The project provides data to help inform strategies to improve the lives of kids in our state. Here are four ways you can be an advocate for kids and ensure their voices are represented:

  1. Talk to your policymakers about your county’s data. You are the experts and decision makers need to hear from you. Share your county’s profile with them and point to the areas that need to be improved and where your community is doing well. Provide the local story behind the numbers to help them understand what the data means.
  2. Use the data to assess need and develop strategies. The data in the report and on the KIDS COUNT Data Center can help identify areas of need. Engage policymakers and other community leaders in developing strategies to make improvements for kids.
  3. Measure outcomes and impact. Each year the data book provides trend data to measure outcomes. Use the local data to monitor the impact of the policy changes at the state or local levels.
  4. Share, share, share. Use social media, e-newsletters, and other communications tools throughout the year to share data and information on the well-being of kids.


























Crumbling roads, poisoned water and unsafe schools: The effects of a decade of disinvestment


crubling roads chart 1Cities in crisis logo SNIPThe water we drink. The schools we send our kids to. The roads we drive on. These are public services that we depend on. But for too long, our public servants have been devaluing and disinvesting in them. Our infrastructure is the fabric of our society, and as we’re seeing in Flint and Detroit, it’s unraveling after a decade of budget cuts.

The Flint water crisis and the Detroit Public Schools struggles shouldn’t be unexpected, and should serve as foreshadowing of what may come if our state government doesn’t change its course. Michigan’s history of disinvestment in its infrastructure, communities, education and people, if not reversed, will cause Michigan to become the “come apart” state rather than the comeback state.

A Numbers Game: State Spending is Down, Not Up

Our budget seems to be growing. However, when you factor in inflation, our purchasing power has significantly dropped.

  • School Aid Fund (SAF) revenue for the 2017 budget year, adjusted for inflation, will still be about 6% below the level in budget year 2000.
  • General Fund (GF) revenue for the 2017 budget year, adjusted for inflation, is about 29% below the level in budget year 2000. Future budget pressures, such as road funding, will continue to strain this pot of funding.
  • There’s also room for growth; Michigan revenue collections for the 2017 budget year will be about $9.6 billion below the constitutional revenue limit.
  • Looking back over the past decade, in overall appropriations, most budget areas are doing better. However, a significant portion of our budget growth has resulted from an increase in available federal funds. In terms of state-sourced appropriations, many important areas of our budget have been negatively affected, and others have failed to keep up with inflation.

crubling roads chart_photo 2Disinvestment Leads to Deterioration

crubling roads chart 3Communities: Michigan communities receive most of their revenue from property taxes and state aid through revenue sharing. Property tax revenue has decreased as has state aid. Statutory revenue sharing for cities, villages and townships has fallen from over $600 million in budget year 2001 to less than $250 million in the current year budget. Michigan is currently funding statutory revenue sharing at about 70% below its statutorily-set level. This means there is less money available for important public services, such as local water systems and police and fire protection. Communities like Flint have rapidly deteriorating infrastructure and less money every year to fix it, which contributed in part to the city’s water crisis.

Education: To grow, Michigan’s businesses need access to a highly skilled workforce, which means that our residents need to receive a high quality education—from early childhood to postsecondary. However, annual budget decisions are making that more difficult:

  • Between budget years 2001 and 2014, per-student state aid for state colleges, universities and community colleges has dropped about 40% when adjusted for inflation; and
  • While schools have seen increases in state aid for retirement costs, specific grants and, recently, in at-risk dollars, per-pupil spending through the foundation allowance, which is the largest unrestricted source of state aid for schools, has failed to keep up with inflation. At-risk funding, which provides funding for schools for programs and support of students at risk for educational failure, has been historically underfunded. In the current budget year, $134 million more would be necessary to fully fund it. As we look at the current struggles of Detroit Public Schools students and the likely future struggles of Flint students, this funding is more necessary than ever.

People: The impact of budget decisions on people is not often easy to see, but it is the most severe. A diminishing pot of discretionary funding and recent policy changes have adversely affected our ability to provide for our most important asset, our people. A perfect example is cash assistance; in Michigan the percentage of children living in extreme poverty (a family of four making less than $12,125 per year) has grown while the number of children under 18 receiving cash assistance has shrunk. Policymakers would not be scrambling to provide education, health and nutrition services to people exposed to lead in Flint if they had adequately maintained those support systems to begin with.

crubling roads chart 4Infrastructure: Michigan’s roads and bridges have continually deteriorated over the last several years. Even with the recently-enacted roads plan, Michigan roads will continue to crumble as the plan fails to produce a significant investment in roads until budget year 2021 and, even then, fails to provide enough money to fix the problem. The so-called solution passed in 2015 doesn’t solve Michigan’s roads mess, it perpetuates it, while putting an increasing strain on our General Fund.

Recommendation: Invest in Infrastructure to Protect People

State government has to change its approach if policymakers want to protect all Michiganians and prevent the crises in Flint and Detroit schools from happening elsewhere. If Michigan wants to become a place where people want to stay, live and raise families and where businesses want to invest and grow, it must have the resources to invest in the services our residents want and need. However, we cannot do so with the existing budget. Our recent road funding debate showed that, but we still fail to adequately invest in our state, such as repairing deteriorating school buildings and replacing dangerous lead pipes, increasing the support we provide to keep our communities safe and providing vital services for our residents. Michigan must reverse this history of disinvestment and look at increasing the amount of revenue available to prevent another disaster from harming our communities and our residents.

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