Turning understanding into action

My first introduction to the Michigan League for Public Policy came this past summer in the form of a State Budget 101 Training. It had been a long week, and I wasn’t sure if budget talk was going to keep my attention. Gratefully, I was very wrong.

The League’s staff presented data and stories in a way that helped me to understand and criticize the foundational budget policies that throw people into poverty across Michigan. The information was so enlightening and exciting that I kept talking about it, Googling it and crafting new ways of sharing it for weeks afterward. (more…)

The League’s top blogs of 2016

The League’s staff blog is one of my favorite communications tools. It is always current, as we aim to post at least one new blog a week, sometimes more. It is personal, as many of us share about our personal lives and experiences in connection with what we do at the League. The blog provides a variety of perspectives, as they are written by everyone from our CEO and board members to our interns and even former staff. And our blog strives to make public policy issues interesting and accessible.

A blog is only as effective as its reach, and what I love the most about our staff blog is that people actually read it and share it with others. So, as 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at our most popular blogs of the year. Each of these blogs was shared over 100 times, showing that these issues struck a chord with our supporters. If you’ve already read these, I encourage you to take a look at them again. And if these are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a read.

  1. When are we going to really value education?: Michigan Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren talks about Michigan’s disinvestment in education and how the state spends dramatically more on corrections than education.
  2. Why we fight: I wrote about the aftermath of the 2016 election and why policy advocates need to dust ourselves off and keep fighting the good fight.
  3. Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution: Policy analyst Peter Ruark writes about his volunteer work in Flint and the need for people to get involved on the ground and in the Capitol to help residents.
  4. Changing minds by touching hearts: League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill blogs about the lives and hearts our work touches.
  5. Top ten voting tips: League CEO Gilda Jacobs writes about the importance of voting and dispels some prevalent myths around the process.
  6. Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state: Legislative Director Rachel Richards seeks to set the record straight on Michigan’s tax climate.
  7. Bundle of joy: Gilda Jacobs discusses the birth of her new granddaughter and why we need a better Michigan and a better world for all kids.
  8. Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”: Peter Ruark blogs about the impact still being felt in Michigan today from the federal welfare reform of the 1990s.
  9. 14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance: Peter Ruark writes about a policy change that will take away vital food assistance for struggling workers.

—Alex Rossman

It’s time to end racial inequity in education

My father, a man of Norwegian descent who grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, was one of many beneficiaries of the GI bill. As part of the first generation in his family to attend college, with public financial support he excelled and launched a career as a professor of economics. The opportunity given to my father changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives and mine.

While ostensibly race-neutral, the G.I. Bill did not have the same effect on educational attainment for Black and White veterans after the war, in part because of admission policies that limited access to colleges and universities. As a result, a public policy that appeared to increase equality and opportunity actually did little to overcome consistent institutional barriers and inequities in access to education and housing for veterans of color. (more…)

League forum brings hundreds of residents together to discuss solutions to poverty and racial inequity in Michigan

For Immediate Release: October 10, 2016

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

League issues new report on race and education in conjunction with event

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy held its annual policy forum today, Race, Poverty and Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan, bringing together more than four hundred residents and state and national experts from advocacy, business, government and media.

The current national climate on race, the Flint water crisis, the ongoing struggles of Detroit Public Schools and other recent policies that have made it painfully clear that policymakers, advocates and residents needed to have an honest discussion about race equity and statewide policy change. The forum included a keynote address by Rinku Sen, president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, followed by five breakout sessions to discuss challenges and possible solutions to racial inequity and poverty in Michigan. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose discovery of elevated lead levels in Flint’s children made policymakers address the Flint water crisis, was honored with the League’s Champion for Kids Award at the forum today. (more…)

Passage of third-grade reading bill good start, broader efforts to address poverty still needed

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Michigan Legislature’s passage of third-grade reading legislation today. The statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs. (more…)

Michigan improves in overall child well-being, drops to 10th worst state in nation for education

For Immediate Release
June 21, 2016

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

National 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Michigan 31st in country for kids; state ranks high for children’s health, poor for education performance and poverty

LANSING—Michigan dropped to 40th in the nation for children’s education, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation. In Michigan, more than half of young children are not in preschool, 71 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, and 71 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math. (more…)

How do Michigan kids fare compared with kids in other states? Data shows mixed results.

Everyone wants the best for their kids. We want to live in a state that invests in our youngest residents and provides a future for them. I think back to when I was in graduate school in Austin, Texas, and was offered a job to stay there. This was at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 and I decided that it was more important to me to come back home and try to make things better here. I wanted to help make Michigan a place where people would want to live, more college graduates would stay or return home, and people would want to start families and raise their children. I am a parent now of an 8-year-old, sassy, very smart, talented and beautiful girl, and I often find myself saying, and not in a good way, “This isn’t the Michigan I grew up in.” (more…)

Detroit Public Schools plan doesn’t serve kids, hurts teachers

By David Hecker, Michigan League for Public Policy Board Member and President of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan

For the past year, the future of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has been in doubt. With a massive debt run up under state control, the education of 47,000 children has been hanging in the balance.

Last night, with only Republican votes, the Senate passed the House plan for Detroit Public Schools—which falls far short of what DPS students deserve. However, under this legislation, which now goes to the Governor’s office for his signature, the state is paying the debt and providing some additional capital, DPS employees keep their jobs and their union representation, DPS returns to an elected school board in January, which, while not fully empowered, will have decision making powers on many important issues, and EAA schools will eventually return to the District. Detroit Public Schools, now to be known as the Detroit Community School District, will be open in September. (more…)

More funding needed for low-income students and families in 2017 School Aid, Education budgets

Budget Brief JPG USE THIS ONEpdficonThe League continues to advocate for a high-quality education—from cradle to career—for all Michigan children and youths as the state budget moves quickly through the Legislature. The League’s priorities for 2017 include ongoing early education and intervention services for children exposed to lead in Flint, funding for lead testing in schools around the state, full funding of the At-Risk School Aid program, and an increase in income eligibility caps for child care services from 121% to 150% of poverty.

Both the House and Senate have approved their versions of the 2017 budget for School Aid and the Department of Education (MDE). State economists and budget experts will get together with legislators on May 17th to reevaluate expected state revenues and set final spending targets. Legislators are planning to send final budgets to the governor by the end of May, and joint House/Senate conference committees are expected to meet right after the May 17th revenue estimating conference to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions.

This report highlights the League’s priorities in the 2017 School Aid and MDE budgets approved by the House and Senate, with a focus on decisions that will need to be made before the budget is finalized.

BB Education Pre ConfK-12 Schools/Education

Flint Emergency Funds: In response to Flint’s lead exposure crisis, the governor recommended $10 million in state funds to cover the half-year costs of programs for the children of Flint, including additional school nurses and social workers, early childhood and nutritional services, an expansion of early intervention services for infants and toddlers through Early On, and preschool programs for all 4-year-olds—regardless of household income. Funding for the remainder of the year would come from a Flint Emergency Reserve Fund.

  • The Senate and House approved the governor’s funding recommendation for Flint.

The League supports the governor’s funding recommendations related to the Flint crisis in multiple state departments, including funds in the School Aid and MDE 2017 budgets. Investments in Flint in the 2017 budget are only a part of the solution to the long-term education, health, infrastructure, housing and economic needs in Flint and other Michigan communities. The state must evaluate and reform its tax system to ensure that adequate resources are available to fix the problems in Flint and prevent similar crises in other areas of the state.

School Lead Testing Statewide: The governor recommended $9 million in the 2017 budget for school districts around the state that voluntarily test their water for lead levels.

  • Senate: The Senate reduced funding for voluntary lead testing to $4 million, placing a cap of $1,000 per school building.
  • House: The House shifted the $9 million for school lead testing to the Department of Environmental Quality budget.

The League supports the investment of $9 million for lead testing in schools across the state. While the crisis in Flint must be a top priority, there are hot spots of lead exposure all over the state that must be addressed to avoid further harm to children.

Per-Pupil Spending: Two of every $3 in the School Aid budget are used to support per-pupil payments, which are the primary source of funding for school operations. For 2017, the governor recommended increases of between $60 and $120 per pupil, with districts receiving the lowest payments per pupil currently receiving the largest increases in the new budget.

  • Both the Senate and the House adopted the governor’s per-pupil increase for 2017.

The League supports increases in school funding that help raise the quality of education and mitigate the impact of inflation and fixed costs on school operating funds. In the last decade, the minimum K-12 per-pupil allowance increased by 6%—less than half the rise in inflation at 14%.

Funding for Students Academically At Risk: The governor recommended that funding for districts with high numbers of students who are at risk academically be continued at the current year level ($379 million). Level funding is also included for adolescent health centers ($5.6 million) and hearing and vision screenings in schools ($5.2 million).

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor on At-Risk School Aid funding, as well as funding for adolescent health centers and hearing and vision screenings.
  • House: The House agreed with the governor on funding for adolescent health centers and hearing and vision screenings. In addition, the House increased funding for the At-Risk program by $18 million to provide payments to a small number of high-risk districts that are currently not eligible under the state funding formula. To be eligible for the expansion, the affected districts must have more than 50% of their students eligible for the free lunch program due to family income below 130% of poverty, or $26,117 for a family of three. Finally, the House included $3.5 million for grants to at-risk districts (at least 50% eligible for free school meals) for year-round instructional programs.

The League supports full funding of the At-Risk School Aid program. The program provides state funds to schools based on the number of very low-income students enrolled. Children living in poverty often require additional services and resources to keep up with their peers, all of which comes at a higher cost to schools. Funds are available to districts based on a formula, but because the program has been underfunded by a total of $1.9 billion since 1995, schools receive less than they are owed and need. Fully funding the At-Risk program in 2017 would cost slightly over $100 million.

Adult Education: The governor recommends flat funding for adult education programs. In 2016, funding for adult education was increased by $3 million, to just under $25 million. While maintaining funding at current year levels, the governor recommended significant changes in eligibility and fund allocation for adult education programs, including the removal of the current cap on the payment amount per participant ($2,850 per full-time equivalent) and expanding adult education eligibility to individuals younger than 20 years of age.

  • The House agreed with the governor’s recommendation to not increase adult education funding and to remove the cap on the payment amount per participant, but did not support the recommendation to expand eligibility to individuals younger than 20 years of age.
  • The Senate agreed with the governor’s recommendation to not increase adult education funding, but did not support removing the participant payment cap or expanding eligibility.

The League supports an increase in adult education funding of at least $10 million, and opposes an expansion of eligibility until there is sufficient additional funding to cover the increased number of students. Low educational achievement is a drag on Michigan’s economy, and despite the ongoing need for adult education, funding has been slashed over the past 20 years—from $185 million in 1996 to below $22 million in 2015.

Child Care and Early Education

Flint Emergency Funds: The governor included $8 million in the upcoming budget year to cover a half-day of child care for children ages birth to 3 in Flint—regardless of income.

  • Both the Senate and House agreed with the governor on child care funding for Flint.

The League supports additional funding for child care in the city of Flint as an emergency measure, and believes that income eligibility caps for child care should be increased statewide so low-income families can afford to work, and children have the benefit of a high-quality early learning experience (see below).

Child Care Subsidies: The governor made no changes in child care eligibility caps or provider payments in his 2017 budget. Child care subsidies are currently provided to families with incomes of 121% of poverty or less, giving Michigan one of the lowest initial eligibility levels in the country. Payments to child care providers also fall far below the federally suggested level of the 75th percentile of market rate, making it difficult for low-income families to find safe, stable and higher-quality child care while they work to support their children.

  • Senate: The Senate followed the governor’s lead, approving no increases in child care eligibility or payments.
  • House: The House included a budget placeholder to ensure discussion in the joint House/Senate conference committee of an increase in the child care eligibility level from 121% to 125% of poverty.

The League supports an increase in the initial child care income eligibility cap from 121% of poverty to 150%. In addition, the League supports higher payments for child care providers, bringing them closer to current market rates and allowing them to open their doors to more children receiving state subsidies. Restricted eligibility and low provider payments have resulted in fewer families receiving state assistance, even though the cost of child care is often outside their budgets. As a result, despite the persistence of low-wage jobs, the number of families receiving child care assistance has fallen by 75% in the last decade.

Great Start Readiness Preschool Program: The governor recommended level funding ($243.6 million) for the Great Start Readiness program (GSRP) for at-risk 4-year-olds. Eligibility would be retained at 250% of poverty (up to 300% if all children below that level who want to participate are already enrolled). Children who are in foster care, homeless or in special education programs are eligible regardless of family income. The governor recommended budget language prioritizing the enrollment of homeless children or children in foster care.

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor on GSRP funding and eligibility. In addition, the Senate included funding for a partnership between a school district or Intermediate School District (ISD) and a local early learning collaborative to pilot early childhood education for 3-year-olds, testing the impact on at-risk children of two years of preschool.
  • House: The House agreed with the governor on continuation funding and eligibility.

The League supports ongoing funding for the GSRP as well as efforts to test the impact of expanding state-funded preschool programs to at-risk 3-year-olds.

Early Literacy: The governor proposed to reduce early literacy programs by 10% in 2017 by eliminating: (1) $1 million for the Parent University pilot program; (2) $1 million for the Michigan Education Corps, and (3) $500,000 for a certification test of teacher literacy. Last year, the budget included $25.4 million for early literacy programs. Over two-thirds of those funds are being used for additional instruction time for students in grades kindergarten through 3rd, using proven models for reading instruction and behavioral supports. Also funded were early literacy coaches through ISDs ($3 million), grants for diagnostic tools to monitor early reading skills, and professional development for teachers.

  • Senate: The Senate agreed with the governor to eliminate the certification test of teacher literacy and the Parent University pilot, but retained $1 million for the Michigan Education Corps.
  • House: The House adopted the governor’s recommendation.

The League supports state investments in early literacy, including expanded instruction time using proven models, literacy coaches and professional development for teachers. The League also believes that learning begins long before a child reaches the schoolhouse doors, and strategies to increase reading proficiency should, too—including, for example, state funding for early intervention through the Early On program, expanded home visitation programs, and a state-funded preschool option for 3-year-olds in high-risk schools and communities.

 

 

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

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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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