From Charlottesville to Lansing, we must tackle racial equity

Like so many across the country, I struggled with the racism laid bare in Charlottesville. While I was not surprised by its existence, I couldn’t help but recoil from the highly personal nature of the hate language that was heard around the world, and the sense of entitlement with which it was expressed.

ClassroomIt is yet another reminder of how far we have to go in this country and it can feel overwhelming. At times like these, I believe that we all need to find actions that we can take—however small they may appear—to address the deep divides in our country, state and neighborhoods.

At the League, we are scrutinizing state budget and policy decisions to see if they are helping to create more equity for children and families of color or are actually contributing to the problem, even if unintentionally.

What is clear is that state budgets and policies that are “colorblind” can perpetuate pervasive and unacceptable outcomes for the state’s children of color.

One example is the passage in Michigan of a law that allows—under some circumstances—for third-graders to be held back if they are not reading proficiently. The law was well-intentioned. Lawmakers understood the importance of early reading to future school success and adopted a law to focus public schools and resources on the problem of low reading proficiency.

BB-Chart 13However, without sufficient funds to invest in the early years—from birth through third grade—the retention law could actually contribute to growing racial and ethnic disparities. In the 2015-2016 school year, 56% of African-American and 38% of Latino third-graders were not reading proficiently and could have been subject to grade retention if the policy had been implemented that year, compared to 21% of their White peers.

To avoid an inequitable outcome from the third-grade reading bill, state leaders will need to simultaneously provide schools the resources they need to improve reading skills, and address realities outside the classroom that are inexorably tied to student achievement and success in reading, including the well-documented impact of poverty.

So far, too little has been invested to overcome the historical and cumulative impact of discrimination and poverty on children’s ability to learn and achieve. The data show that women of color are more likely to lack access to timely prenatal care, and their children are consequently born too early and too small—increasing their risk of learning problems. Many women of color struggle to find healthy food for their children in the many “healthy food deserts” in both urban and remote rural communities. And, there are big holes in the state’s early learning system—including a shortage of high-quality child care that is affordable.

The reality is that outcomes for children are tied to race, income and zip code, and this must be changed for Michigan to move forward. The state budget is a potent tool for addressing the structural barriers to equity for all children in the state, but its potential won’t be realized until Michigan residents demand it.

— Pat Sorenson

Is Michigan a welcoming state?

When I was in college, I helped mentor a young high school student who had recently moved to the area with his parents from Oaxaca in Mexico. While in school, we spent time working on school work and learning English. But we also talked about missing his family back home and about why his family chose southwest Michigan, of all places, as a place to land.

While this young man and I haven’t kept in touch over the years, he has stuck with me. Our conversations come to me more today as we face a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment throughout our state and nation.

Within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially restricted travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority nations. Many people, including legal residents, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and students, got caught by this ban and were forced into limbo, to remain at airports or to return to the country they traveled from. This ban has since been halted, and a subsequent one will soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Since then, it seems some people, lawmakers and government agencies think they’ve been given license to discriminate.

More than once in the past six months, I’ve seen newspaper stories about immigration raids in cities near where I live, and in other cities, I’ve heard stories of immigration officials waiting outside of schools. In Michigan, legislation is pending on the House floor that takes aim at any local government that might have a “sanctuary policy,” and there was recently discussion on a bill that would make English the state’s official language. These bills are unnecessary—solutions in search of a problem—and are simply meant to divide “us” from “them.” The League and many of our partners opposed these bills, but the Legislature may move forward anyway.

ITEP Undoc Immigrant State 400x225Furthermore, the Trump tax plan and budget call for requiring a Social Security number to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which just stokes the anti-immigrant sentiment. The IRS already requires a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to receive the EITC. So this really isn’t a policy change. Furthermore, by targeting assistance intended to benefit children, and which studies have shown have long-lasting positive impacts on the lives and well-being of children, this only hurts many U.S. children who have no control over their parents’ immigration status.

Did you know immigrants pay taxes? In fact, in Michigan, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $86.7 million in state and local taxes (and would pay more if they were granted full legal status). Their effective tax rate is already higher than the top 1% in Michigan. And regardless of legal status, they are not stealing our jobs or our benefits.

Too often immigrants are treated as culprits for whatever ails us, when really they make this nation a richer place to live. The young man I mentored over a decade ago saw the United States—and the great state of Michigan—as an opportunity for a better life. And while I hope I helped him, I know he improved my life greatly.

I do have hope though. I have hope when I look at my son with one of his best friends, whose family comes from a country in northern Africa. While I know my son sees their differences, all he really wants to do is play with his friend. And in the future, I hope that he doesn’t see those differences as something that divides them but rather as something that unites them.

— Rachel Richards

Discrimination = poverty

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to struggle with poverty, according to a new report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for being LGBT in America.

And the study points out what we already know: There is a clear connection between economic security and anti-LGBT laws. (more…)