Everyone agrees that more needs to be done to improve Michigan schools. The recommendations for reform are many, ranging from higher-quality early education programs, improved teacher recruitment and training, stronger accountability, and even more school choice options—despite the reality that Michigan’s expansive school choice policies have not yet turned the tide.
While many of these reform proposals are worthy of consideration, they fail to fully address the elephant in the room—the fact that large numbers of children enter the classroom at an immediate disadvantage because of a history of discriminatory economic and public policies that have created blatant income inequality, segregating children of color and those from families with low incomes into schools that cannot alone narrow the achievement gap.
Children of color and students who are economically disadvantaged continue to lag behind on standardized tests, including the now crucial third-grade reading scores, which can result in grade retention beginning in 2019-20. While third-grade reading scores are disappointing statewide, only 30% of economically disadvantaged students are proficient in reading by third grade, compared to 63% of their more economically secure classmates. The barriers for children of color are also undeniable, with 81% of African American children and 67% of Latinx students not reading proficiently by third grade and potentially subject to retention.
Are these disparate outcomes critical? Unequivocally yes. More than half of all Michigan students, 72% of Latinx students, and 80% of African American students are economically disadvantaged. Michigan cannot create a top-notch educational system, or claim to have equal opportunity for all children, without addressing the issues of poverty and race.
In short, to reverse the impact of poverty and racial/ethnic inequities on children’s educational success, state leaders must be willing to address them head on. By almost any measure, Michigan lawmakers have failed to do so.
- State leaders have failed to ensure adequate revenues for education and anti-poverty programs, in part because of a tax shift from businesses to individuals in 2011 that further eroded the purchasing power of the state’s General Fund.
- To compensate for inadequate state funds, lawmakers restricted access to the state’s most critical antipoverty programs, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and income assistance for children living in deep poverty, and shifted those funds to other state programs—a blatant funding shell game—with children and low-wage workers paying the price.
- The imposition of strict lifetime limits on income assistance through the Family Independence Program (FIP) reduced the number of children receiving state income assistance from 154,000 in 2010 to only 32,000 in the first quarter of this budget year—a decline of nearly 80%. And, because monthly assistance for very poor children increased from $459 per month in 1993 to only $492 in 2018, those eligible for state support now receive monthly grants that are more than 70% below the federal poverty line.
We can and must do better for our children. With input from communities around the state, the League has created an Owner’s Manual for Michigan that lays out a plan to create thriving families, healthy communities, strong workers and a top-notch education. Join the League in advocating for a state budget that works to eliminates inequities in education and economic opportunity.