The Struggle of Low Income Students in Michigan

PRE-PROPOSAL 1. Media Artifact

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Hope Kessler and Daniel Grob Podcast: The Story of Jason  2. Persona and POV statement

POV/Persona

Persona: Persona name: Ben Archibald  Age: 18 School/occupation: Senior in the Detroit Public School System Location: Detroit   Quote: “I’m so nervous about college applications, I really want to be the first in my family to attend University”   About:
  • Just entered his senior year
  •  Works an after school job at a local restaurant
  • Loves football but can’t afford to play for school
  • Enjoys playing video games with friends
Goals:
  • Find a date for senior prom
  • Graduate from high school
  •  Attend a four-year University to become a lawyer
  • Move out of Detroit
POV Statement:
  • User:  Ben, a senior in high school with lofty goals...
  • Need:  …needs a way to continue his education and feel “good enough”…
  • Insight: …because he is from an underprivileged school with many systematic obstacles to post-secondary education.
3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

1. Our first proposal relates to the service activity we are participating in through the Community Action Network. We are working in the After School Program that helps mentor these young students both on a personal and academic level. When talking with the Director, we learned that it is extremely difficult for them to get funding due to bureaucratic obstacles. According to her, the state has enough funds for these programs but the requirements to receive the funds are so specific that almost no one qualifies. Our first proposal is to remove, or at least clean up, the red tape that is stopping these wonderful programs from receiving the funds they need. The Community Action Network, and many other programs like it around the state, make an enormous difference in promoting educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. Streamlining the process that helps fund their activities would be beneficial to students in need across the entire state.

2. Our second proposal addresses the systematic disadvantages for students in lower income areas that attend below average school districts. Our proposal is to totally revamp the public school system in Michigan. From a young age, these students are at a disadvantage by attending a school district that does not have the means to provide a proper education. We propose that the State increases funding exponentially for education. This can be viewed as an investment in the future, as we are putting money into the future of these students. By increasing funding, the schools in lower income areas can afford to hire great teachers and staff, purchase technology to better facilitate learning, and maybe even update the school itself. Sadly, these students currently do not receive the education they deserve, that can change with the proper funding from the state.

3. Our third proposal deals with the issues that arise within schools during a government shutdown. Recently, a lot of schools suffered within Michigan because they lost funding for the free and reduced lunch programs. This program attempts to tighten the gap between low and high income students by making sure that every students base level needs are met - by providing meals to lower income students, schools are making sure that the no student is hindered because they didn’t have breakfast served at home. By protecting the free and reduced lunch program from fluctuations in government legislation and shutdowns, schools across the country could continue to provide meals for all students. Without this programs, the gap between students of different income levels will only get bigger

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

We spoke with the Community Action Network Director to determine what specific law(s) need to be changed in order to fix funding requirements. Most of our research has been focused on the Ann Arbor Public Housing Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Housing becomes subsidized when the government provides assistance to build communities for low-income areas as well as cover some of the rent. Residents in subsidized housing communities apply a maximum of 30% of their income towards rent and the government covers the rest. People who earn less than 60% of the median income in their area are eligible to apply to live in subsidized housing and people who earn less than 50% of the median income in their area are eligible to receive rent assistance from the government. Most of these affordable housing areas have limited space so availability goes to those with the lowest annual income (Affordable Housing Online).

The specific legislation that determines what areas should receive subsidized housing is the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly referred to as Section 8. Residents apply to receive Section 8 funding through their county’s local housing authority - there are 69 housing authorities in the state of Michigan. These housing authorities receive funding directly from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and are responsible for deciding where that money is distributed based on the area median income (Affordable Housing Online).

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

This proposal will address the systematic disadvantages that students from low-income backgrounds face. These obstacles can negatively affect students ability to succeed academically, socially, and even economically later in life. By providing increased funding for community support networks, this proposal works to ensure that no communities, or students within them, slip through the cracks.  

The existing system helps families avoid homelessness and housing instability, both of which can cause major challenges for students in school. Because families are getting assistance with their housing costs, they are able to use more of their income elsewhere - including extracurricular activities, new school supplies, or tutoring.

According to this graphic, families with children stand to benefit the most from public housing because they typically have more costs that are related to children.

Our proposal will create an additional source of funding that expands upon the educational resources available to lower-income families. Through educational support systems, families will see financial relief by the decreased responsibility of educational spending. Instead of providing direct subsidies for housing, this proposal takes an inverse approach by decreasing the extraneous educational costs; therefore, leaving more of the families’ income to be used on fixed costs such as food and rent. Overall, it creates equal access to educational opportunity to students of all backgrounds and relieves some of the economic pressures faced in poorer communities.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Our original idea started from our personal interests in the challenges low-income children face. Through the discussions on the Michigan Student Caucus website, our volunteer experience at the Community Action Network, and further research, we determined that focusing on the issue through the lens of education would be an effective method to address the issue.

After deciding to focus on income inequality and its effects on education, we began looking further into these issues to develop our media artifact and POV statement. Through this research, we became more interested in the way a student’s home life creates advantages or disadvantages for them regarding their education.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

Our service activity directly influenced our proposal by providing a means to address a real issue. While we knew that we wanted to focus on the barriers low-income students face, we were struggling to find a tangible and feasible way to address such issue. Through working with the Community Action Network, we realized that many communities do not receive the government funding they need because of the way the current law is structured. To provide some context, we volunteer at the Bryant Community Center - it services over 260 households in the southeast Ann Arbor area and about 75% of these houses experience low income. Unlike surrounding areas like Green Baxter Court and the Hikone Housing community, the Bryant community does not qualify to receive public housing subsidies. Through discussions with the program director at Bryant, we determined that restructuring the requirements needed to receive funding need to be altered in order to ensure all communities in need are helped.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HL9cGVuaRTmKLi0MavJLSp3vJmNfrPAE/view?usp=sharing

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Bryant Community Center Director (Skylar Woodman) and Assistant Director (Colette DeRaud) - understand where Bryant Community Center gets funding

CONSULTATION 2: Community Action Network Director (Derrick Miller) - gather more information about the Community Action Network and understand the difference between programs like Bryant, Hikone, and Green Baxter Court

CONSULTATION 3: U of M Social Welfare Policy Professor Luke Shaefer - understand social welfare policy, specifically how communities qualify to be public housing communities and the benefits they receive

CONSULTATION 4: Student at Bryant Community Center - get a student’s perspective on how the Community Action Network has impacted them

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

We received relatively positive feedback when we met with MSC coordinators to discuss our proposal. One piece of advice he gave us was to seek more information from activists and people who are currently fighting for a cause similar to ours. Based on this advice we have started reaching out to faculty at the University that are knowledgeable on social welfare programs. We are hoping these faculty members will be able to connect us with people who are experts on the issues we are trying to tackle.

We have also received a lot of great feedback from Jenna Kravitz, a topic coordinator. Jenna provided a lot of ideas for how to improve our potential proposals as well as posed questions that have strengthened our idea.

Jenna also suggested that we work to find more specific data and information regarding the cost of our proposal. Based on this feedback, we have gone through each area of our proposal to include more statistics and graphics to help explain our idea. This research also helped strengthen our understanding of the issues we are attempting to address.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

Our idea came from the training we did prior to volunteering with the Community Action Network. Part of the training covered the history of the organization and from this we learned that CAN opened a program at the Bryant Community Center, our volunteering location, because it did not qualify to be a public housing community despite being a low-income area. We continued to do research on the specific criteria to receive housing subsidies and thought it could turn into an interesting proposal.

Since generating the idea, we have been working with directors at the Community Action Network to better understand its operations and how they differ in communities like Bryant that receive little government support and those like Hikone or Green Baxter Court that do.

As we continue our research, we are hoping to better understand the specific legislation by working with Public Policy faculty at the University of Michigan. We have reached out to various professors and department heads who can help us with the more technical research.

In addition to our various consultations, we have spent a lot of time looking through general statistics about the quality of education in Michigan, which areas and populations struggle the most, and how socioeconomic status affects educational attainment. This research helped us understand how our proposal would benefit students in Michigan.

To better understand the current legislation, we did research on the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. We also looked into the housing assistance programs that other states offer to get a better idea of what is working in other parts of the country.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

By volunteering together, a large majority of the background conversations that lead to the crafting of this proposal were experienced together. Beyond this, the research done was collaborative in nature with both of us contributing to the sources used. The process of developing the idea and proposal was conversational; however, we split up the typing of the proposal. 

FORMAL PROPOSAL

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS....

Low-income students face many systematic obstacles to educational, social, and economic success. In the state of Michigan, more than 36,000 students are currently facing homelessness, ranking the state 6th for the most homeless students (Jennifer Erb-Downward, Michael Evangelist). Of these 36,000 students, only 55% will graduate high school. This population has the highest dropout rate in the state and this percentage is increasing at a faster rate than any other population (Jennifer Erb-Downward).

This graph proves that housing stability directly affects students’ education.

WHEREAS....

This graphic is from a New York Times study that explores the relationship between socioeconomic status and educational attainment. The graphic compares the education level at each public school district within the United States to the respective socioeconomic level of the residents. Michigan school districts heavily populate the bottom left quadrant of the graphic, indicating the dark reality of the education system within the state. The students in these school districts are falling behind the national average in terms of educational attainment. The Michigan government has the responsibility to address the growing issue of poor education in the state. Highlighted in the graphic is the Detroit Public School System, where students are 2.3 grade levels below the national average and the median family income is only $27k. Other notable Michigan school districts that fall on the bottom left corner of the graph include:

Flint City School District - 2.3 grade levels below average; median family income of $22k

Highland Park School District - 2.6 grade levels below average; median family income of $20k

Muskegon Heights School District - 3.3 grade levels below average; median family income of $20k

Benton Harbor School District - 2.5 grade levels below average; median family income of $24k

Saginaw City School District - 1.8 grade levels below average; median family income of $25k

Buena Vista School District - 2.4 grade levels below average; median family income of $17k

WHEREAS....

Community programs provide many resources for low-income students that help tackle the disadvantages they face relative to their wealthier peers. This is demonstrated by the Community Action Network, a non-profit organization that partners with “students in under-resourced Washtenaw County neighborhoods to create better futures for themselves and improve the communities in which they live.” The Community Action Network has had a profound impact on improving the educational attainment of the students within their program. For example, during the 2016-2017 school year:

97% of Community Action Network students graduated high school compared to the 70% graduation rate of their economic peers

88% of Community Action Network students have an A/B average or have improved by a full letter grade

98% of Community Action Network students have improved or maintained their academic performance

Community Action Network students attend 8 more days of school per student, per year than their economic peers

Programs such as the Community Action Network provide much needed assistance to Michigan students of poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. These programs are paramount in closing the educational gap present in Michigan.

WHEREAS....

There is currently a shortage of available public housing in the country. Some community programs struggle to receive necessary funding from the government because they don’t meet the very specific criteria that has been set.

For communities that do qualify, there is rarely enough space available. The number of public housing units in America has decreased by more than 250,000 since the 1990’s. Housing agencies have had to demolish an increasing number of housing units because they have severely deteriorated due underfunding. This underfunding makes it hard to build new units when old ones are torn down (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities).

Because there is limited space available, each housing authority has a waitlist that it opens and closes based on vacancy. The Washtenaw County housing authority waitlist has been closed for a year, but some county’s waitlists close for up to 4 years at a time (Affordable Housing Online).

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED...

1. The requirements for community programs to receive funding will be altered to ensure efficient allocation of government resources. Beyond the current housing subsidies program, a new tier of funding will be established. This tier is for communities that fall below the state median income but do not necessarily qualify for housing subsidies under the current legislation. The funding will be used for educational and community support systems. These systems provide resources for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds to overcome the systematic obstacles related to their incomes. By increasing the state funding for these educational support systems, the economic pressure that families of poorer backgrounds face will see some relief. Overall, the education level of the students in these communities will increase through the expansion of resources available to them.

2. With the new tier of government funding, housing authorities will have another avenue of funding that can be used to support communities in need that don’t necessary qualify to receive full subsidized housing benefits. These communities will be able to apply to receive funding to support community programs and improvement projects. The main goal of subsidized housing is to reduce the pressure that rent puts on a family’s annual budget so that they can spend that money elsewhere. This proposal would take the opposite approach by covering some of the costs families face regarding their children’s education - like extracurricular involvement, school supplies, tutoring and assistance, and transportation.  

3. The money will be allocated from the enormous budget for the state prison system. In the fiscal year 2017-2018, the Michigan State government had a budget of $1.95B for the Michigan Department of Corrections (Detroit Free Press). This results in an average of more than $35,000 spent per prisoner per year in the Michigan Prison System. In the fiscal year 2020, $10 million from the prison system budget will be reallocated to fund the community education support system. This reallocation will increase to $20 million in 2021, $30 million in 2022, and then continue as $30 million per year in perpetuity. The yearly budget of $30 million for the community support systems will be paramount in closing the educational gap within the state of Michigan. The funds will give the community support systems the financial means to effectively provide educational support to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. The government should not provide further assistance to communities in need because there are private organizations that do this already. Groups like the Community Action Network are already stepping in to provide community support programs in low-income areas.

2. The government may be extremely hesitant to change the current system for funding. The state is currently facing a lot of pressure to make larger reforms to the education system, address poor water quality, etc. and the issue of public housing does not receive as much attention as others.

3. The government already provides some funding for communities in need based on the current requirements. For example, even though Bryant Community is not a public housing community, the Bryant Community Center still receives minimal funding from the state government. In light of this, they may see no reason to change the existing requirements and expand on the funds spent in this area.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Public housing is currently funded through the Public Housing Operations Fund, which covers rent and operational expenses, and the Public Housing Capital Fund, which funds the construction and renovation of public housing units. Since 2002, both funds have received less funding then they were expected to receive with the exception of two years. This has lead to severe cuts in both organizations and an accumulation of over $26 billion in overdue renovations. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative was set up to provide small grants to distressed public housing units but it has not received any government funding since the 1990’s (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities).

Last year, the government passed a bill to increase funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by $4.7 billion, which is a 10% increase from 2017. Even with this increase in funding, the department will still only be able to support 1 out of 4 houses that need rent assistance. As shown by the graph below, the budget for housing assistance is far below the cost required to meet the needs of families across the country (Alison Bell, Douglas Rice).

Our proposal doesn’t change the way funds are currently allocated, rather adds another avenue of funding for communities in need. It will open up funding for areas that are in need of assistance but do not quite meet the criteria for subsidized housing. The legislation can be paid for through apportioning the budget to increase community support funding and decrease funding from areas with an excess (i.e. the prison system).The areas that lose funding as a result of this proposal would most likely be opposed to the change. However, with an annual budget of $1.95B for the Michigan prison system, the proposed reallocation of $30 million per year in perpetuity will have a minimal effect on the fiscal ability of the prison system.

References:



 

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Total votes: 28

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