It’s Tax Day! Paying taxes is about building strong communities

To build a strong economy and create jobs, we must invest in what we know works. Everyone wants to live in a great community with good schools, safe roads, quality parks—and more. Not only that, but businesses want to locate and expand in areas where there is an educated and trained workforce—and in a place where people want to live. None of this would be possible if we didn’t pay taxes.

The Upside of Taxes

In order to grow the state’s economy, policymakers need to recognize that families need access to high-quality early childhood programs and schools, affordable colleges and universities, and job training to ensure that the state’s workforce can succeed in today’s global economy. Many of the jobs being created in Michigan require education and training beyond a high school diploma. Investing in education and workforce development will help businesses thrive while helping hard-working people climb into the middle class. (more…)

Now it’s in, now it’s not: the adult education funding zigzag

There were some mixed messages coming out of the Legislature last week: the Senate School Aid Appropriations Subcommittee strengthened funding for adult education, while its counterpart subcommittee in the House eliminated it entirely.

After the Michigan League for Public Policy testified before the Senate subcommittee urging more money for adult education, the subcommittee passed a budget adding $7 million for that purpose. (more…)

Let’s get real about adult education

Michigan underfunds and underutilizes adult education, the Michigan League for Public Policy testified to a Senate subcommittee this morning.

Citing a new report by the League, members learned that Michigan is not reaching anywhere near enough of the working age adults who lack basic skills to be part of the state’s workforce development push.

The governor and the Legislature have been rightly pushing to build and update the skills of Michigan’s workforce, but by neglecting adult education as a skill-building strategy, they are leaving behind a large pool of workers who have the potential to become skilled workers and better support their families. (more…)

Willing to Work and Ready to Learn: More Adult Education Would Strengthen Michigan’s Economy


Michigan 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, one out of four adults not speaking English well, and a large number of 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 post-secondary 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 221,500 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 225,000 Michigan adults speak English less than “very well,” but fewer than 5% 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.

According 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.

As seen in Figure 2, Michigan residents with “some college” or an associate degree have significantly higher earnings ($31,209) than those with only a high school diploma ($25,648) and are less likely to be in poverty. The combined percentage of Michigan residents in the latter category (32.6%), however, is barely higher than the percent-age with only a high school diploma (30.4%), and well below the percentage without postsecondary education when those with less than a high school diploma (11.1%) 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

In Michigan, 24% 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 (23%), especially for Spanish speakers (28%), than for those who speak only English (15%). With more than 225,000 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.

For 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 one-fifth to one-quarter of adult education participants each year are public assistance recipients and 7% to 12% 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. Although each category improved in 2013 over 2012, single parents and public assistance recipients still have an extremely high rate of dropping out before completing programs.

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 income is at or below $23,880 per year (only 110% of 2015 federal poverty guidelines).
    • 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

In 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 require-ments. 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.

3. 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 Fiscal Years 1997 to 2001, decreased funding slightly in the following years, and then slashed funding to $20 million in FY 2004. Adult education appropriations have been held at $22 million for the past several years—a 74% 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 been reduced by 64% since 2001, not accounting for inflation (Fig. 8).


Administrative Set-Aside: Although the $22 million the Legislature appropriated for FY 2015 is the same as the past several years, adult education providers are actually receiving a 5% cut, to $20.9 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 have an administrative set-aside for the fiduciary entities, the state should appropriate additional funds for this purpose rather than take it directly from adult education providers.

Erosion: When adjusted for inflation, the flat funding of $22 million per year since 2010 is actually a decrease each year. In 2014, that amount was equal to $20.4 million in 2010 dollars and $16.5 million in 2001 dollars.13 In inflation-adjusted dollars, Michigan reduced its state funding by 79% between 2001 and 2014, causing total funding for adult education to drop by 72% (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).

In addition to serving fewer students than in the past, Michigan does not compare well with other 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.

Michigan 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 2014 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 Year 2009-10 to 2013-14, when adult education received state and federal funds totaling between $35.1 million and $36.7 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 36,600 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 6.4% to 10%.

Figure 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.
See PDF for Appendicies


  1. American Community Survey, 2013.
  2. Working Poor Families Project data generated by the Population Reference Bureau from the American Community Survey, 2012..
  3. State of Michigan Dashboard using data from the Michigan Community College Association (, accessed on February 5, 2015)
  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 2004.
  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, The 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 December 1, 2014). Figures for 2015 are not available at the time of this writing.
  14. An academic level comprises two school grade levels.
  15. Michigan Workforce Development Agency, 2013-14 Section 107 Individual District Reports (,5303,7-304-64362-303842–,00.html, accessed on February 6, 2015)

World class colleges, sluggish financial aid

It is a point of pride among Michiganians that we have great public universities and private colleges.

We have two Top Ten universities that are friendly rivals, and high-quality regional universities. In addition to providing an excellent education for Michigan residents, our universities attract respected scholars and cream-of-the crop students from all over the world. We have a number of widely respected private colleges as well. (more…)

Rolling back progress

The Senate Finance Committee Wednesday approved a bill to reduce the state’s personal income tax rate from 4.25% to 3.9% by 2017, a move that would reduce state revenues by up to $874 million when fully implemented in Fiscal Year 2018.

While the purely political appeal of a tax cut during an election season is obvious, the League testified, based on a recently released report, that the risks to Michigan’s economy far outweigh any benefits. Low- and moderate-income workers will see little in return while the wealthiest taxpayers would benefit the most. (more…)

Making sure kids count in Michigan

The 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Michigan No. 31 among the states for overall child well-being with No. 1 the best state. This year that honor goes to New Hampshire.

Michigan not only ranks behind 30 other states, it trails all Great Lakes neighbors. Minnesota is near the top at No. 4, followed by Wisconsin (12), Illinois (23), Ohio (24) and Indiana (30).

Last year, the only year where there is an apples-to-apples comparison, Michigan was No. 32. We inched up slightly but really we’re just treading water. (more…)

The 2014 State Budget: What’s at Stake for Low-Income Michigan Residents?

 Report in PDF


List of child and family issues at stake in budgetThe Fiscal Year 2014 state budget has been moving quickly through the Legislature, with both the governor and the Legislature expressing a desire to complete work by the beginning of June.

The House of Representatives has passed all of its budgets for Fiscal Year 2014 through two omnibus budgets, including: (1) the Education Omnibus Budget ($15 billion), which funds School Aid ($13.2 billion), community colleges ($334.9 million), and higher education ($1.4 billion); and (2) the General Omnibus Budget ($33.9 billion), that funds all other state departments and services, including community health ($15.3 billion), human services ($5.9 billion), and transportation ($3.4 billion).

The Senate has also approved most of its budget bills in preparation for the joint House/Senate conference committees that will iron out differences between the two versions–utilizing the budget targets adopted based on projected revenues from the May Revenue Estimating Conference.

This aggressive timetable is being challenged by a number of major budget issues driving the debate, including:

Medicaid Expansion: The governor’s budget included 100% federal funds—available through the Affordable Care Act–to support the expansion of Medicaid coverage to very low-income parents and childless adults up to 133% of the federal poverty level.  This expansion would increase the number of Michigan residents covered by Medicaid from approximately 1.8 million to 2.2 million, reducing the number of uninsured adults by 46%. 

Medicaid expansion would result in savings in the state’s General Fund of $206 million in Fiscal Year 2014 alone by allowing the state to use federal funds to provide comprehensive services to a population that is currently eligible for very limited state-funded health benefits. Savings to the state’s General Fund would grow to $1.2 billion through 2020.

How the uninsured in Michigan could be helped by Medicaid expansionThe governor recommended that half of the savings in state funding be deposited in a newly created healthcare savings fund to offset any future costs related to Medicaid expansion. The remaining funds were to be used to fund vital services, or expansions, including the Healthy Kids Dental program.

To date, the Legislature has not endorsed the expansion of Medicaid, resulting in pressures throughout the state budget, and threatening the opportunity for healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of very low-income Michigan residents. House Republicans recently released HB 4714, a bill to expand Medicaid to 133% of poverty, but under onerous conditions, most notably a 48-month limit on Medicaid benefits for nondisabled adults (ages 21-65), as well as a requirement that recipients contribute up to 5% of annual income on copays, premiums and deductibles. The bill could not be implemented without a federal waiver that provides 100% federal funding for current and newly eligible nondisabled adults, as well as administrative costs. The bill also ends the Medicaid expansion when it is no longer 100% covered by federal dollars, which under the Affordable Care Act is scheduled to occur in 2017. 

Transportation Funding: The Fiscal Year 2014 budget debates are also being shaped by the governor’s proposal to increase funding for Michigan roads and transportation infrastructure by $1.2 billion. The governor proposed to fund the road improvements by taxing gasoline at the wholesale level, increasing vehicle registration fees, and local taxing options.

While there is general agreement that Michigan’s roads and bridges are in serious disrepair and new investments are needed, consensus on how to pay the bill has yet to be achieved. Legislative options have included increases in the general sales tax—an option that could affect other vital state services, including human services and schools.

Michigan Tax Changes and Expected Revenues:  In 2011, the Michigan Legislature adopted a major “tax shift” that reduced taxes on businesses by 83%, while increasing taxes on individuals by 23%.  As part of that shift, Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit, an effective anti-poverty tool that helps hardworking families whose incomes put them and their children below or moderately above the federal poverty line, was cut by 70%. EITC payments in 2011 statewide were $353.5 million; for the 2012 tax year, they are expected to fall to $106 million.

The new revenue consensus by state fiscal experts is that Michigan will have an additional $702 million in combined revenues above earlier estimates for fiscal years 2013 and 2014—including a total of $579 million in state General Funds, and $123 million in the School Aid Fund.  While encouraging, these increases follow years of steep revenue declines and related budget cuts, many of which disproportionately hurt low- and moderate-income working families, children and seniors.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the Legislature has an opportunity to use the potential infusion of federal Medicaid funds and unexpected state revenues to begin to reverse some of the policy decisions made to balance the budget and provide business tax cuts, as well as to invest in the educational and human services that have been shown to improve economic competitiveness. 


Among the major issues affecting low-income Michigan residents in the proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budgets being considered by the Legislature are the following:

Access to health and mental health care:  As a result of the failure to date to expand Medicaid, both the House and Senate budgets restrict access to vital health and mental health services. 

Hundreds of thousands of currently uninsured Michigan residents will not have access to medical and mental healthcare that is fully federally funded. In addition to the budget hole of more than $200 million created by the Legislature’s failure to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, the decision affects the state’s residents and communities in a number of ways:

  • At least 320,000 currently uninsured Michigan residents would be unable to receive coverage for both Medicaid healthcare and mental health services.  More than 1.8 million Michigan residents (19.4%) now rely on Medicaid for their basic health services. Further, the share of Michigan births covered by Medicaid has been growing—from 35% in 2003 to 51% in 2010.
  • By giving more women access to healthcare before and between pregnancies, Medicaid expansion would improve the preconception health of mothers and birth outcomes, including a reduction in infant deaths.
  • Expanded access to Medicaid family planning services could also mean significant cost savings for the state.  Approximately 60% of women eligible for Medicaid deliveries report that their pregnancies are unintended, compared with 27% of privately insured women.
  • Medicaid expansion could reduce employer healthcare costs, increase economic activity, and decrease the state’s long-term healthcare liabilities—with federal funds covering 100% of the costs through 2016, phasing down to 90% in 2020 and beyond.
  • The Department of Community Health estimates that Medicaid expansion would cut Michigan’s uncompensated care costs–caused by those who must turn to emergency rooms for their care—by a total of $320 million through 2022.

More than 70,500 children will not have access to dental care. The governor proposed to add $11.6 million in state General Funds to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program to cover an additional 70,500 children in three Michigan counties—part of a multi-year plan to cover all children in the state. The House rejected the governor’s plan.  The Senate agreed with the governor, but did not specify which counties would become part of the program in the upcoming fiscal year. A failure to move forward with the governor’s plan to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program statewide could have the following consequences:

  • Approximately 70,500 children in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties would not have access to preventive oral health care. 
  • The governor’s plan to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program to the estimated 720,000 children not currently covered would be derailed. Currently, more than 440,000 children are covered by the program in 75 of Michigan’s 83 counties.  Many of the state’s most urban areas are not yet covered, including Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne counties—with a disproportionate impact on children of color.
  • Continued dental emergencies and related costs are likely.  Children enrolled in Healthy Kids Dental are 60% more likely to receive preventive dental care by age 3, and 25% less likely to have dental emergencies.  Trends in infant mortality chart

Michigan infants, and particularly infants of color, will continue to die unnecessarily. For Fiscal Year 2014, the governor recommended $2.5 million to begin to implement Michigan’s infant mortality reduction plan. The House rejected the governor’s proposal, while the Senate included a placeholder for further discussion in conference committee. Without additional funding:

  • Michigan will be less able to move ahead with its plan to reduce infant mortality, particularly for African American infants who are much more likely to die in the first year of life, including regional perinatal care, initiatives to reduce medically unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks, the promotion of safe sleep practices for infants, and expanded home visiting programs.
  • Michigan’s infant mortality rates will continue to be higher than most states.  Michigan ranks 37th among the states in infant mortality, with rates for African American infants that are more than two-and-one-half times higher than white babies.Map of lead poisoning case rate

Many children will continue to be exposed to toxic lead poisoning. Last year, the Michigan Legislature approved an additional $2 million for Michigan’s lead abatement program, known as Healthy Homes, for total funding of $4.9 million.  The governor vetoed the expansion, and the program is funded at $2.9 million this year.  For Fiscal Year 2014, the governor maintains funding at $2.9 million.  The House added $1 million for total funding of $3.9 million next year, while the Senate included a placeholder to ensure discussion at the joint House/Senate Conference Committee.

  • Lead has a particularly devastating effect on young children when it can compromise the developing central nervous system and cause irreversible damage to cognitive capacity and behavior.
  • Of the nearly 69,000 children targeted for lead poisoning testing (who are insured by Medicaid or live in one of 14 targeted communities), 57% were tested in 2012.  Testing for lead poisoning peaked in 2010, and has  decreased slightly since.  Nearly 150,000 children under the age of six were tested in 2012.
  • Prevention works.  While, the number of children with confirmed elevated lead blood levels has declined dramatically, some areas of the state still have very high rates of lead poisoning.   The city of Detroit had over half the state’s lead poisoning cases in 2012.  The second highest total was in Grand Rapids.

Public assistance for low-income families, children and adults: The governor, House and Senate have recommended cuts in funding for the Department of Social Services of approximately 10-11% in Fiscal Year 2014, with most of the decline coming from continued steep drops in caseloads for basic assistance programs such as the Family Independence Program, FIP, and the Food Assistance Program , known as FAP. These caseload declines reflect policy changes over the last several years that have restricted eligibility for basic assistance programs. 

More very poor children will be denied access to basic income assistance The governor reduced funding for FIP by $15.8 million to a total of $239.4 million to reflect continued reduction in caseloads—projecting caseloads will fall from 53,298 in the current year to 49,226 in Fiscal Year 2014—a 7.6% reduction.  Both the House and the Senate agreed with the governor’s caseload projections.

  • FIP caseloads have been declining dramatically in recent years, in large part the result of policy decisions, including the adoption in 2011 of changes in lifetime limits for assistance. Between 2010 and the projections for 2014, caseloads will have fallen from 79,233 to 49,226—a drop of 38% in just five fiscal years. 
  • Approximately seven of every 10 FIP recipients are children, and 60% of those children are under the age of 9.
  • To be eligible for FIP, the average family of three must have an annual income of less than $9,800, and the maximum benefit is $492 per month.Chart shows drop in FIP caseloads

The number of Michigan residents with access to basic food assistance will continue to decline. The governor reduced funding for the Food Assistance program (formerly called the Food Stamp program) by $683.7 million in recognition of the loss of temporary federal funds, as well as caseload reductions—largely based on changes in FAP eligibility, including the adoption of an asset test.  The governor assumes that caseloads will fall from 1.1 million cases appropriated this year, to 876,650 in 2014—a 19.4% reduction.  The actual average monthly FAP caseload through March of this year was much lower than appropriated at 912,755. The House and Senate agreed with the governor’s caseload recommendations.

  • Between 2004 and 2011, FAP caseloads grew by 135%.  In 2011, Michigan adopted an asset limit for families receiving assistance, limiting access to food assistance for families, and turning away federal funds available to assist low-income families. Since that time, FAP caseloads have declined slightly.
  • Over 70% of FAP recipients receive no other state cash assistance, and the average monthly benefit for a two-person household is $267.

Low-income working families will continue to struggle after losing significant income with the 70% cut in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  In 2011, the Michigan Legislature slashed the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 20% of the federal EITC to just 6%. The state EITC is a refundable tax credit for working families, designed to promote and reward work and offset other taxes paid by low wage workers that consume a higher percentage of their total income. The governor, House and Senate have not recommended EITC restorations.

  • The EITC is a proven tool in the fight against poverty.  Last year, at 20% of the federal credit, the state EITC kept 14,000 children from falling into poverty.  This year, at just 6%, only 5,000 children will escape poverty, leaving another 9,000 behind.
  • The EITC serves as a temporary income supplement for most families—three out of five use the credit for just 1 or 2 years while they get back on their feet.
  • The credit has been shown to increase employment, reduce the need for public assistance, boost local economies, and benefit businesses by helping low-wage workers cover work-related costs such as transportation and child care. 

Adequate funding for a top-notch cradle to career educational system:

More low-income 4-year-olds will benefit from early childhood education.  The governor increased funding for the Great Start Readiness Program by $65 million, from $109.3 million in the current year to $174.3 million in Fiscal Year 2014, while indicating his intention to expand the program by another $65 million in Fiscal Year 2015.  The governor’s proposal would open up approximately 16,000 new half-day slots for 4-year-olds, requiring that at least 90% of the children live in families with incomes below 300% of poverty (up from 75% this year).  The governor also increased the preschool slot payment from $3,400 to $3,624. 

The House provided only $38 million for the GSRP, increasing the per-slot amount to $3,500. The House requires that at least 80% of children served by GSRP live in families with incomes at 200% of poverty or less.  The Senate agreed with the governor on the funding increase ($65 million), but maintained the per-slot amount at $3,400. The Senate would require that all children served live in families with incomes at or below 300% of poverty, with the poorest children being enrolled first.

  • Evaluations of the GSRP show that participants are more likely to be ready when they enter kindergarten and pass 4th grade MEAP tests.  In addition, fewer GSRP participants are retained in grade and more graduate on time from high school.
  • A growing number of economists and business leaders, including heads of Fortune 500 companies, the Federal Reserve Bank, and Nobel Prize-winning economists agree that early childhood programs can generate government savings and produce returns that exceed public investments, with savings accruing from lower costs related to such public services as special and remedial education, high school graduation rates, lower unemployment, higher earnings and reductions in the need for public assistance.
  • An increase in the per-slot payment for GSRP is a priority.  The GSRP per-slot payment has not been increased since 2007, when it was raised by only $100. As a result, districts have been forced to subsidize their preschool programs even as overall district funds become increasingly tight. GSRP per-student funding has steadily lost ground to inflation over the past 10 years, and even the governor’s proposed increase to $3,625 per half-day slot only makes up for a small part of this decline in real funding. The result is less access to services and challenges in maintaining program quality, which is the key to school readiness. 

Michigan public schools will continue to struggle to balance their budgets.  The governor’s budget did not include an across-the-board increase in the per-pupil allowance received by public schools.  The governor instead recommended $24 million for equity payments of up to $34 per pupil to further close the foundation funding gap between districts by raising the per-pupil payments for the lowest funded districts receiving the minimum grant from $6,966 to $7,000 per-pupil. However, the governor reduced funding for “best practices” grants by 70% (from $80 million to $25 million), and kept performance funding for districts at the current year level of $30 million.

The House also did not fund an across-the-board increase in the per-pupil allotment for schools, but provided total funding of $36 million to bring the equity payment up to $50 per pupil for districts with foundation allowances below $7,016. The House did not fund best practices grants, but included a placeholder to further discuss them in conference committee.

The Senate included $24 million for a $9 increase in the basic foundation allowance for schools, as well as an $18 per pupil in the minimum foundation allowance.  The Senate did not include the equity payments, and eliminated funding ($80 million) for `best practices payments.    

  • In school year 2012-13, Michigan public schools suffered a cut of $470 per pupil in their foundation allowances, and this budget fails to offset those cuts. 
  • School districts not eligible for the equity payments could actually suffer additional cuts in their overall per-pupil allotments if they are affected by cuts in best practices grants.

As tuition skyrockets at public four-year universities, fewer people will be able to afford a college education. The governor’s budget provided $1.24 billion for university operations, including $24.9 million in new funding (a 2% increase) that would be allocated based on six performance metrics:  undergraduate completions in critical skills (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health); research expenditures; six-year graduation rates; total completions; administrative costs as a percentage of core expenditures; and tuition restraint.

The House and Senate appropriated the same level of overall funding as the governor, but the House made tuition restraint a prerequisite for receiving performance funding, lowering the tuition threshold from 4% to 3%. The Senate also made tuition restraint a prerequisite for receiving performance funding, but retained the governor’s 4% tuition restraint threshold.

  • At most Michigan public universities, tuition for four years of college has more than doubled in the past 10 years; students graduating in 2013 will pay more than twice the amount paid by students who graduated in 2003.
  • The 2% increase for performance funding is below the current year increase of 3%.

Low-income adults will struggle most, as needs-based financial aid becomes more scarce. In 2009, the Michigan Legislature eliminated five needs-based grants for students, and the governor, House and Senate again failed to restore those grants in their Fiscal Year 2014 budgets.  The governor provided continuation funding for two of the remaining grant programs, including: (1) $31.7 million in federal TANF funding for the Michigan Tuition Grant, a needs-based grant; and (2) $18.4 million in TANF for the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship with eligibility based on ACT scores. Under the governor’s budget, private colleges with students receiving Michigan Tuition grants would be required to participate in the state’s P-20 longitudinal data system, and report on the number of Tuition and Pell Grant students graduating, as well as the number taking remedial education classes.

In his Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal, the governor increased funding for the Tuition Incentive Program by $3.2 million (7%) in state General Funds, adding to current spending of $43.8 million in federal TANF to bring total funding to $47 million. The TIP is available to students who are eligible for Medicaid, and the governor’s budget limits reimbursements to universities under the TIP to 300% of the average community college tuition rate.

The House agreed with the governor on funding levels, as well as the governor’s TIP policy changes, but did not require private colleges to participate in the P-20 data system.

The Senate also agreed with the governor on funding levels, but did not include the governor’s TIP policy changes or the Michigan Tuition Grant language requiring P-20 data system participation for private colleges.

  • Student loans often make up a large part of a student’s financial aid package, but the rising costs of tuition and high interest rates make it imperative that grant aid be available as well. Federal aid programs such as Pell Grants do not cover a large enough portion of costs by themselves to keep postsecondary education a?ordable for low-income students, so all states have state-funded programs that allocate some grants on the basis of income as opposed to merit or other factors.
  • Over the last 10 years, states across the country increased investments in need-based grants by an average of 84%.  Michigan, running counter to the national trend, decreased state funding by 20%–one of only two Midwest states to cut needs-based grant funding during that period.
  • In 2010-11, Michigan invested the least in grant dollars per student of all Midwestern states. Michigan spent 4.6% of its higher education budget on state grants in that year, while Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois all spent higher than the national average of 12.5%.
  • In 2010-2011, only 14% of Michigan’s full-time students received some kind of grant aid, ranking the state second to lowest in the Midwest, and 40th in the nation.



Wrong priorities in higher ed appropriations

While a national report was being released Tuesday making the case for more investment in higher education, a House subcommittee in Michigan approved a controversial spending plan that could lead to even more disinvestment in our universities.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education has been deliberating a university funding bill for several weeks. Tuesday morning, however, a last-minute substitute (made available to some members only a couple hours before) contained a new anti-collective bargaining stipulation and several “social issue” stipulations that have nothing to do with the quality or affordability of higher education. These stipulations could lead to reduced funding for some universities. (more…)

Improving college performance funding

The budget hearings are under way for Michigan’s higher education and community colleges.

For this fiscal year, a portion of the appropriations for postsecondary institutions is in the form of performance funding and the proposed budgets for the coming year do the same.

With 36.5% of community college students and 13% of university students in Michigan enrolled in at least one developmental education course, it’s important that the performance funding system rewards institutions that facilitate the success of these students. A new report, Leave No College Student Behind: Rewarding Institutions That Help At-Risk Students, spells out why this is critical. (more…)

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