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WHITHER CHILDREN? Population Losses, Funding Gap, Heighten School Crisis

Agency Hopes for Bipartisan Budget Help to Avoid Food Cuts

April 23, 2017       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Whither Michigan's children?

In a previous column noted that the high school age population in the five-county Bay-Saginaw-Midland area dropped an average of 15 percent each year from 2006 to 2013, crimping the revenue of school districts and giving colleges as well as secondary school cause for great concern.

Those statistics were from the 2016 Kids Count report of the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP). If the trend of child population losses continued, we theorized, then it would be confirmation of a long-standing, more troubling development.

We have just received the 2017 Kids Count report -- released today -- that shows little change in the direction of the population status of Michigan's children.

Moody's Investor Service noted that "school districts in the State of Michigan have faced unprecedented fiscal stress over the past few years stemming from direct funding cuts, enrollment declines and limited revenue and expenditure flexibility."

"Moody's reported rating downgrades in a quarter of Michigan school districts between 2009 and 2012, three times the rate for school districts nationwide, as well as multi-notch downgrades during the same period at a rate six times the rate for districts nationwide. The report concluded that "the outlook for the Michigan school district sector remains negative going forward. Additional downgrades are likely to occur in the near term." Moody's has continued to cut credit ratings for scores of Michigan districts.

Historical and current public policies are adversely affecting Michigan kids' ability to thrive and widening disparities in child well-being based on where a child lives, their race and ethnicity, and their family's income, according to the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.

According to the report, more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) Michigan children lived in poverty in 2015, a 15 percent rate increase since 2008, the last full year of the Great Recession. But the rates are significantly worse for kids of color, with 47 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latino kids living in poverty compared to 15 percent for White kids in 2015.

Nearly 28 percent of children in rural counties live in poverty, 24 percent in midsize counties and 22 percent in urban counties, although poverty increased at the highest rate for urban areas.

"No Michigan child should be experiencing poverty, hunger, abuse or neglect, regardless of where they are born and grow up, their race or ethnicity, or their family's economic standing," said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

"Just as past policies and practices have created these disparities, using a racial equity lens and a two-generation approach to develop policy solutions can help resolve them. In order to have a vibrant state for us all, lawmakers need to make sure all kids in Michigan thrive."

The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Department of Health and Human Services budget (DHHS) passed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee last week. The budget included more than $100 million in cuts from the governor's proposed budget, including eliminating funding for the "Heat and Eat" program that will reduce food assistance for 338,000 families in Michigan and jeopardize federal funding, and removing the proposed funding increase for the clothing allowance for kids in need.

League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs commented:

"As passed, this budget will potentially turn away millions of dollars in federal food assistance for children, families, seniors and persons with disabilities. We were gratified to see bipartisan support in the current budget year for reversing the cuts to food assistance for 338,000 families across the state, and we hope that renewed bipartisan support can help save it.

"Overall, the continued cuts to the state's health and human services are worrisome. Today, we put out our annual Kids Count report on child well-being which found that too many Michigan kids and their parents are still struggling. These parents are working full-time or even multiple jobs, but are still barely getting by and rely on state services to survive. These programs help make sure a child has something to eat, clothing to keep them warm and dry, and access to a doctor when they're sick. These are real needs that require real services and real funding, and today's budget bill undermines these needs when it should be fixing them."


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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