Time to prioritize struggling schools, students

In her State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reinforced her commitment to Michigan’s struggling public schools –a goal that the Michigan League for Public Policy shares.

The state’s first task should be a laser-like focus on the educational barriers faced by the growing number of Michigan students who are considered economically disadvantaged. As of the 2017-18 school year, the majority (51 percent) of the state’s students are economically disadvantaged because they are eligible for free or reduced-price schools meals, receive food, income or certain medical assistance, or are homeless, migrant or in foster care.

Even more concerning is the concentration of economic disadvantage among children of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 African American students in Michigan are economically disadvantaged, along with seven of every 10 Latinx children. And, on most measures of educational success –including third-grade reading — students from families with low incomes and children of color are falling behind their peers

Those disparities in educational outcomes do not happen in a vacuum. They are related to policies both past and present that created income inequality and housing segregation.

Income and racial disparities could be further exacerbated by current policies –including the new state law that allows for the retention of children who are not reading proficiently by third grade –if lawmakers fail to provide the additional resources schools need to overcome the barriers to learning that many children face.

As we prepare for Gov. Whitmer’s first state budget, the League is advocating for a focus on education from cradle to career, including:

∫ Access to high-quality child care by increasing the income eligibility cutoff for child care assistance and child care payments to providers.

∫ Early intervention for children with developmental delays by providing an additional $20 million in state funding for the state’s Early On program.

∫ Preschool programs available for all children in families with low incomes.

∫ Resources to ensure all children are reading by third grade, like well-trained literacy coaches and new procedures for ensuring that parents are aware of the new law and their options.

∫ Additional state funding for K-12 students with high needs or in high-poverty communities by fully funding the At-Risk School Aid program and phasing in a school aid formula that is weighted by the number of students in poverty, the number of English-language learners, the district size, and geographic isolation.

∫ Access to adult education by increasing funding by $10 million, to $36 million, allowing the state to assist nearly 8,000 more adult students.

∫ State funding to help high school graduates who are older go back to school by reinstating the Part-Time Independent Student Grant.

You can learn more about those and the League’s other priorities for the 2020 Michigan Budget at www.mlpp.org/budget-issues/state-budget-priorities. We hope you will join us as we work to ensure that a high-quality education is the path to equity for the children of Michigan.

Pat Sorenson is senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy.