As we approach the beginning of the state’s 2016 budget year, the League’s latest report weighs in on whether or not lawmakers have made the investments needed to give all Michigan residents a chance to succeed. It concludes that more needs to be done to ensure that children get a healthy start in life and a high-quality education, and their parents have the skills and resources required to succeed in the workplace.
The report outlines both wins and losses for Michigan children and their families in the 2016 budget, but the greatest concern raised is the ongoing failure to invest in programs that can lift children out of poverty and create the economic security needed to overcome deep and discouraging disparities based on income, race and place.
While there have been economic improvements nationally and in Michigan since the Great Recession, the data don’t support the claim that this is a comeback state, at least not for all Michiganians. Here are the discouraging facts:
- Despite slight improvements in overall child poverty, nearly half of all African-American children and 1/3 of Hispanic children live in poverty.
- The percentage of students who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade has been increasing, but there are unacceptable disparities based on race and ethnicity.
- African-American and Hispanic students are 2 to 2 1/2 times more likely to leave school without a diploma.
- African-American and Hispanic young adults are less likely to be enrolled in college, more likely to require remedial courses, and less likely to graduate within six years.
Among the positive budget decisions addressing these disparities are new initiatives to improve reading by third grade, increased funding for schools with high numbers of children from low-income families, and an expansion of dental care to children in three of the state’s most populous counties.
The budget falls short in key areas related to economic growth and opportunity, including woefully inadequate investments in the youngest learners ages 0 to 3, restrictions in state income assistance programs that have thrown more children into deep poverty, and limited investments in financial aid for students from low-income families.
The League has an agenda for building a stronger Michigan that lays out what is needed to create equity and opportunity for all of the state’s children and families. There are some obvious places to start including the protection and expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit—a proven anti-poverty tool, investments in child care and other supports parents need to work, the elimination of an asset test for federally-funded food assistance and the adoption of new policies that allow families to retain and build the assets they need to weather temporary economic downturns or family crises.
In the next budget and beyond, the League will be working with the governor and the Legislature to make sure that all children and families in Michigan can benefit from the state’s economic recovery and contribute to its growth. It is critical that we use the state’s resources to address the issues of equity because it is the right thing to do, and because it is the foundation for a competitive and strong economy.
– Pat Sorenson