Promoting Early Literacy in Michigan

We all can agree that children should be provided the supports they need to become literate by the end of the third grade. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone fall further behind and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. Low-income students are at higher risk of low literacy skills than their peers from higher-income families and well-resourced schools.

INVEST: States that have seen the most dramatic improvements in early literacy have made substantial investments in early interventions. Without additional funding, schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students are hampered in their efforts. For example, the substantial gains in reading proficiency among Florida students were aided by $165 million to support reading specialists and summer programs.

CURRENT SITUATION IN MICHIGAN: Roughly 40,000 of the state’s third-graders did not demonstrate proficiency in MEAP reading in 2013, and 10,000 of those had scores at the most elementary level (4)—NOT proficient.

 

EARLY INTERVENTION IS PREVENTION: Let’s begin by strengthening existing systems for maternal and infant health, child lead poisoning prevention, early intervention for children with disabilities or developmental delays and improved access to subsidized high quality child care. Expanded access to preschool for three-year-olds and dental care for Medicaid-eligible children would also enhance readiness.

POVERTY: The clear connection between poverty and academic achievement must be addressed. Raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening family supports will improve achievement. Parents in low-wage jobs with minimal benefits need family-friendly policies at work and in government programs.

 

Child poverty in the 21st century

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure.

This new measure, implemented in 2011 by the U.S. Census Bureau, was created after decades of research and recommendations from a National Academy of Sciences panel. The updated SPM not only adjusts for income but also for the variation in cost of living and work-related expenses, unlike the traditional poverty measure created over 50 years ago.

While 341,000 children in the state live in families lifted above the poverty level as calculated by the SPM, 339,000 remain in families with income inadequate to meet basic needs. Some may live in families ineligible for food assistance because of the state’s new asset test or those denied cash assistance due to redefined time limits that ignore the restrictive realities of low-wage work with unpredictable schedules and no benefits.

Child poverty undermines all aspects of child well-being, physical and mental health, safety and education.  Similar to the traditional poverty measure, the SPM shows that Latino and African-American children experience roughly triple the risk of poverty as their white counterparts.

Given the capacity of government interventions to lift families above poverty, state and federal policymakers who are concerned about improving educational achievement and workforce skills for the 21st century should be looking at ways to extend such benefits to more families and children, not reduce access.

In Michigan family savings must be depleted below $5,000 for family eligibility for food assistance, and the months that families receive as little as $10 cash assistance now count against the 48-month limit.  The eligibility level for the state child care subsidy and the hourly amount have not been adjusted for inflation in over two decades, severely limiting child care options for low-income families.

The SPM provides valuable information about the effectiveness and limitations of government investments in the next generation and its capacity to address the inequities of place and race.

 – Jane Zehnder-Merrell

‘Yes’ on road funding is right direction

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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It’s a pivotal time for Michigan public policy. Decisions made in the next few months will determine the path Michigan takes into the future.

In three short months, voters on May 5 will decide Proposal 1, the road funding package. There’s no doubt that this is Michigan’s single best chance to raise sorely needed money to pay for road repairs and put new dollars into school classrooms all while protecting families earning the least.

A ‘yes’ vote on May 5 would end the era of delaying needed road repairs or paying for them with borrowed dollars. All with a penny sales tax increase. The sales tax increase to 7 cents will put Michigan in the middle of the pack of states — the same as Indiana’s.

For working families earning the least in Michigan, the penny tax will be offset by a full restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit.

The EITC is the best tool we have to reward work and lift families from poverty. More than 1 million Michigan children will benefit. What a win-win!

Also, this month, on Feb. 11, Gov. Snyder will unveil his executive budget, offering both challenges and opportunities.

The governor, in his State of the State address, announced the merger of the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services to a new Department of Health and Human Services under the leadership of Nick Lyon, the director of DCH and interim director of DHS.

At DCH, Lyon continued impressive strides in implementing the Healthy Michigan Plan so that a half-million previously uninsured or underinsured adults in Michigan get wellness care and care when they are sick.

Lyon has kept the League and other advocates informed about the merger and he seems sincere in efforts to help Michigan families and children. I pledge to work with him to find solutions that will make a positive difference in the lives of Michigan’s economically vulnerable kids and adults.

As the new department works to streamline programs with a “people first” rather than a “programs first” approach, we’ll monitor with this principle in mind: True efficiency must be found in making sure services match the needs of families rather than measuring success by the number of kids and adults dropped from programs.

In addition, there will be strong pressure to cut programs as the deep business tax cuts from 2011 resulted in revenue shortfalls that are now apparent.

Next year, business tax revenue is projected to contribute a small share (8.3%) of Michigan’s General Fund — the state’s main checking account that covers public safety, higher education, healthcare and other needed services.

That’s a far, far cry from two decades ago when business revenue contributed nearly a third (29%) of the General Fund. To succeed, businesses need those public services, and it’s a reminder, once again, that business tax cuts do not grow the economy.

So buckle your seat belts as we head into 2015 public policy debates! It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The League will keep you informed of developments, and we hope you will be engaged in these important decisions ahead.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Celebrating good public policy in Michigan

Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, part of the bipartisan compromise on road funding approved early today, will be a boost to struggling families across Michigan.

If voters agree to the package, it will put extra dollars into working households where families have the hardest time making ends meet. It’s designed to offset additional costs from an increase in the state sales tax and wholesale gas tax to pay to fix Michigan’s battered roads. (more…)

Oh Michigan!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference. (more…)

Holy smoke Batman! We can reduce poverty

Like Batman and Robin, raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and minimum wage are best when working together, a new report concludes.

The two strategies are better than one, according to State Income Taxes and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (more…)

If there’s a will, there’s a way

A new video and visually engaging report out today strongly makes the case for rebuilding the state’s education system, protecting Michigan’s abundant natural resources and investing in roads and our communities.

The project is called The Michigan Dream at Risk, from the Michigan Economic Center, an affiliate of Prima Civitas, a nonprofit organization that works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, the League’s president and CEO, and board members Charley Ballard and Bob Kleine were interviewed for the project. (more…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

Mich.’s working families pay $247 million more

The numbers are in and they show that the reduction in the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit from 20% of the federal credit to 6% has resulted in a $247 million tax increase on low-income working families.

Recently released data on the Michigan EITC for tax year 2012 from the Brookings Institution and the Michigan Department of Treasury reveal the actual EITC dollars lost for hardworking Michigan families. (more…)

Cuts to Michigan EITC Raise Taxes on Working Families

Full report in PDF

As a result of the reduction in the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, taxes were increased on low-income working families by $247 million in 2012, according to new data from the Michigan Department of Treasury.

One of the most effective tools for supporting working families and reducing poverty—the Michigan EITC—was cut by 70% as a result of major tax changes that took place in 2011. The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Snyder reduced Michigan’s EITC from 20% of the federal EITC to 6%. Most EITC recipients claim the credit only temporarily when a job disruption or other significant event reduces their income. A recent study found that, of people who received the EITC over an 18-year period, 61% received the credit for only one or two years at a time. The EITC has also been shown to have a long-lasting, positive effect on children, helping them do better and go farther in school. The EITC also increases work effort and expands Michigan’s economy.

The EITC provides working families with additional options for housing, child care, and transportation so that the family can remain in the labor force and take steps toward self-sufficiency. Reducing the EITC from 20% to 6% pushed working families into poverty or deeper into poverty.

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