Philosophy, career changes and granola bars: How kids can inspire our choices

It’s hard for high school teachers like me to motivate teenagers, but I’ve found that—surprisingly—good old philosophy always gets them talking and thinking.

I start with Plato’s cave, delve into some Nietzsche, and touch on Camus. During one unit, I explain to my students Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The lesson starts simply enough: I draw a triangle on the board and explain the concept. I show them that if we don’t have shelter, if we’re hungry, if we’re cold, we can’t move up the hierarchy.

As the lesson continues, I watch. The students begin to look around the room. I can see, suddenly, a bit of empathy. A bit of compassion. They realize that kids who may struggle academically or socially are likely facing much deeper problems outside the classroom. Maybe the girl who doesn’t say much in class is financially supporting her siblings. Maybe the boy who doesn’t hand in homework is hungry. Maybe the student who has trouble keeping friends has been moving from couch to couch, without a permanent home.

I know the power of understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy because it is one of the most impactful lessons I have learned. It gives me a helpful lens to use when I deal with frustration in the classroom. It allows me to feel compassion and to understand when kids fall asleep in class, or when they don’t finish homework. It’s the reason I keep a box of granola bars in my desk. The reason I’m willing to extend a deadline or stay after school to work with students. And this year, it’s the reason I feel called to leave my classroom.

Maslows Hierarchy 525x326This choice may seem counterintuitive, but I promise there’s a purpose. When I saw that the Michigan League for Public Policy was hiring a communications associate this spring, I realized it was a chance for me to make a difference in kids’ lives outside my classroom walls. While teaching provides incredible opportunities to impact children, we are not often able to help them meet their most basic needs. I’ve struggled with this for years, and I realized that leaving the classroom might be the best way for me to make a difference to the children in my classroom.

This new role with the League will be the best of both worlds. I can still be with my students each day as I teach part time, but I will also be able to help the League fulfill its mission of addressing poverty and creating economic opportunity for all Michigan residents—especially our kids. I will still be ready with granola bars and hugs at school, but I’m eager to help our state’s kids meet their needs beyond that realm. I am so grateful to be part of the work being done here.

— Laura Millard Ross

Michigan continues to lag behind nationally in outcomes for kids

Data point after data point seems to demonstrate clearly that we are failing to educate our children in Michigan. We know the importance that education has to achieving long-term economic security. Education levels also impact health and other outcomes over time. And poverty, health and communities have an effect on how well kids are able to learn. This means that our policies should recognize that our educators alone cannot improve the system or outcomes, and that policies need to support our teachers and schools along with their partners in helping kids to reach their potential.

infographic 2.pub - PublisherKids living in poverty or with low incomes also face a number of challenges. Of fourth-grade students whose families have low incomes, 84% were not proficient in reading compared to around 60% of students whose families were not low income. Where children live and attend school can also impact their outcomes. Albeit reading proficiency is not much better, but fourth-graders attending schools in suburban areas tend to have better rates of proficiency compared to students in city, town and rural communities.

Also impacting child development and outcomes, like education, are the notably high rates of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Michigan ranked 41st in the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book with 17% of kids living in areas with concentrated povertya worsening trend from 2008-2012. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities in the data: Michigan has the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the country for African-American children and top five highest for Latino kids. Children living in high-poverty communities and attend schools located in these areas are likely to have limited access to resources or parks and recreation and be exposed to more crime and violence. These adverse childhood experiences are not only traumatic to child well-being, but carry into adulthood. Michigan must invest in communities.

What does this mean for our kids who are growing up in an evolving and competitive global economy?

Schools with larger numbers of students with low incomes struggle to help their students overcome many of the barriers their students face and experience every day—and they cannot be expected to improve educational outcomes alone. Recent investments in the At-Risk program—an equitable approach to target resources in high-poverty schools—and in child care are moves in the right direction. Programs like Communities in Schools, Pathways to Potential and before- and after-school programs are great examples of addressing the whole child and family to help kids thrive and need to be expanded. And, using a cradle to career strategy through the use of programs like home visitation and adult education are critical.

Our educators, however, are the foundation for our kids’ learning and they must be supported. Recent moves by the Legislature to “reform” the teacher retirement system will do nothing to retain and attract some of our most important figures for our kids. This is a move backwards and will do nothing to improve the quality of education. The League will continue to support students, families, schools and communities as we work to get Michigan heading in the right direction on education.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Department of Health and Human Services budget has bright spots, but misses many opportunities

For Immediate Release
June 8, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

Positives include funding for “heat and eat” fix, Healthy Michigan Plan and healthy food incentives for Flint

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Department of Health and Human Services budget passed out of conference committee today. It can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“Health and human services have always been a focus for the League, especially in the context of the major cuts to federal programs that the president has proposed. Using our human services budget priorities as a scorecard, today’s legislation is mostly a draw.

“One of our focal points since last year’s budget has been fixing ‘heat and eat’ to secure additional food assistance for hundreds of thousands of Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities, bringing in more federal dollars in the process, so we are very happy to see that continue on in this budget. Another positive in today’s budget is funding for double-up food bucks in Flint, which enables residents who receive food assistance to stretch their dollars further when purchasing healthy fruits and vegetables that help combat the effects of lead exposure. Another big win is that the state continued to fund the Healthy Michigan Plan that provides healthcare for 660,000 residents—though the shadow of the federal American Health Care Act that will eliminate it still looms.

“We are disappointed that there was no funding included today for the expansion of the Pathways to Potential program that places ‘success coaches’ in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families and make appropriate referrals for needed services. The program is currently in 259 schools in 34 counties and has been proven to be effective, and we had hoped the Legislature would follow the governor’s recommendation to expand it to other parts of the state. There was also no increase for the clothing allowance for children in families that receive cash assistance, which is another area we emphasize each year and another area that we hoped would see an increase per the governor’s request.

“Pieces of this budget still reflect some of the growing sentiment in Washington that ‘poverty is a state of mind’ and health and human services for people who are struggling are the ideal places to cut. Our various reports and analyses show that many people in Michigan are working but still living in poverty and are one unexpected expense away from financial disaster. They are doing their best to get by but still need this support to survive. We will keep fighting to support all people in Michigan, especially our most physically and economically vulnerable residents.”

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

Protecting food assistance to preserve our future

While in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (AHPC), I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was particularly fascinated by the exhibit on the Inka, who developed an expansive system to store surplus food for redistribution during hard times to ensure the empire’s survival. It was a timely experience since the AHPC was bringing together more than 1,300 anti-hunger advocates from all over the country just as the federal food assistance programs that so many American families rely on to survive—programs that have traditionally had bipartisan support—have come under attack by the president and congressional Republicans.

Conference presenters outlined threats to the mainstays of federal food assistance, most notably a proposal to convert funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from an entitlement structure to a block grant. Recognizing the interconnection of hunger, health and the economy, speakers also touched on feared cuts and structural changes to Medicaid and several tax credits that encourage work and empower families with low income to achieve economic independenceThemes that came up over and over again were the disproportionate impact of poverty and hunger on children, people with disabilities and people of color, and the disturbing effect that recent hateful, dishonest rhetoric and changes in immigration enforcement policy have had on access to public benefits by eligible immigrants and their children.

Under such gloomy circumstances, what can anti-hunger advocates to do to protect the programs that have lifted so many, enabling them to contribute to the American economy and society? How can we be effective when we’re on the defensive? Conference speakers and attendees alike spoke of the power of storytelling and shared values in framing statistics in a way that humanizes the frequently maligned recipients of food assistance and connects federal policy changes to the lives of real people in our communities and neighborhoods. (Note: If you receive food assistance and would like to share your story, please email our Communications Director Alex Rossman.)

Armed with lots of new information and propelled by the energy of my fellow conference attendees, I was proud to join a well-organized group of Michigan anti-hunger advocates in visiting nearly all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation to educate them about the impact of federal nutrition programs on their constituents’ lives and the critical need to protect the funding and structure that make these programs so effective.

As the Inka wisely recognized, a robust nutrition assistance program isn’t merely charity to people having a tough time, it’s an essential investment in the nation’s future. At this critical time in our history, it’s vital that stakeholders from all sectors, ranging from anti-hunger advocates and human service providers to the healthcare and agriculture industries, band together to defend the food programs that help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s parents, workers and leaders. To get the latest news and find out how you can get involved in the federal fight against hunger, check out the Food Research and Action Center.

— Julie Cassidy

From first-generation college student to social justice warrior

As a child, my mother always motivated my brother and I to achieve through public education. In her heart, she knew that being educated would be the only route that we would have out of poverty.

As a kid in elementary school, I faced two main challenges: 1) English was not my first language, and 2) my mother’s lack of education prevented her from being able to help me with my academics. Living in a predominantly Mexican American community in San Bernardino, California, my teachers faced extra pressures in aiding my development. I found myself falling behind due to my inability to complete homework assignments. For a while, my brother who is one year ahead of me held the responsibility of trying to teach me various subjects. Finally, I received an invitation to participate in an after-school program to address my needs. (more…)

A leaguer for life

By Sharon Parks, Former President and CEO of the League

My hubby and I recently moved from the home we had been living in for nearly 35 years. We downsized somewhat and now have a lovely house that fits our lifestyle. It’s a home that we will gradually make more personal over time. Our former home was where we raised our kids. We made many, many changes over the years—each one changing the house for the better.

That’s not unlike the organization where I spent 34 years of my work life—the Michigan League for Human Services, now the Michigan League for Public Policy. In retirement, I haven’t lost touch with the League. I have lunch often with staff who, over the years, have become good friends. I follow the League’s work and share it on social media. I am always proud when I see the League quoted in the media. (more…)

We need to narrow Michigan’s income gap

It’s no secret—income inequality exists in Michigan. However, when nearly 1 in 4 kids still live in poverty in the state and when too many Michigan residents must cobble together multiple part-time jobs just to barely make ends meet, income inequality is a problem. And more must be done to lift our most vulnerable residents to help narrow the gap. (more…)

Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”

It was 20 years ago, in 1996, that Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that transformed cash assistance from a federal entitlement program (meaning that all who meet the eligibility requirements receive a direct federal benefit) to a block grant through which states fund their own programs. The Family Independence Program (FIP) is Michigan’s cash assistance program that is funded by the block grant—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Unlike Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), TANF gave states wide latitude to set their own eligibility levels and work requirements. It allowed states to use federal funds for other things besides cash assistance as long as the expenditure fit within four general purposes of TANF. (more…)

Flint crisis is Michigan’s crisis

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Whether you’re Governor Rick Snyder or Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow or Jimmy Fallon, Madonna or Ziggy Ansah, it’s all about Flint right now. The same is true for us here at the League. This man-made disaster has drawn the national spotlight to Michigan for all the wrong reasons. Every day another story or scandal arises. But for me, the main question is: What do we do now?

Fixing the poisoning of Flint’s water will require action in every single area of public policy. It is a public health issue. It is an environmental issue. It is an infrastructure issue. It is an education issue. It is an economic issue. It is a racial issue. And down the road, it will likely become a corrections issue. State government largely caused this problem, and at every turn, it must be there to help. This is a battle that must be fought on all fronts, with offensive and defensive strategies, and the League is committed to that.

(more…)

A banner year for better policy

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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It is 2016. A new year with new hopes, and a new set of challenges.

But before we look ahead, I want to take a moment to reflect on 2015 and what you have helped us accomplish. (From here on out, when I say “we” or “our,” know that I am including you, because the League’s work is all thanks to you.) When fighting the good fight, the victories can sometimes be few and far between, so it’s important to celebrate the ones we get, big or small. (more…)

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