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Bridge Michigan
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Opinion | Former MI officials: Invest today to support children, boost economy

The idea that all persons are created equal and deserve an opportunity to create their own success is one that Republicans and Democrats embrace, one that has allowed our nation to thrive.

Michigan capitol

That’s why the Michigan Consensus Policy Project last year offered policy considerations intended to overcome barriers in the way of opportunity for too many people, with a goal of helping individuals, particularly children, to escape from poverty. Relatively small investments today can help more Michiganders realize their full potential in a way that will boost our state’s economy.

We are pleased to see that some of those same concepts are being considered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Our bipartisan group, consisting of former state lawmakers and officials from the two major political parties, has learned during our extensive and civil discussions with issue area experts and through our own experiences in government, this is an issue that has no geographic boundaries – rural poverty is as widespread and debilitating as urban poverty – and should not be partisan matter.

We encourage the Legislature and executive office to seek common ground on the following issues to create more opportunity, especially for parents and their children, for businesses to grow and Michigan to prosper.

Reducing barriers to affordable child care: Many business groups have joined with family and child advocates to recognize that the high cost of child care inhibits employment and training for many. We know that more parents could enter the workforce, work longer hours, seek better jobs or improve their education with access to affordable, quality child care. That would help parents better meet the needs of their families and address the need for talent across the state.

Gov. Whitmer’s budget would use some federal funds to help provide another 150,000 Michigan families with free or reduced-cost child care. Rep. Greg Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores, is advocating an innovative pilot “tri-share” program in partnership with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, where business, government and families would contribute to help cover child care costs. It’s important that Republicans and Democrats find common ground to address this barrier.

Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit: States with low unemployment rates and high per capita incomes tend to have a robust state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This refundable tax credit rewards work and supports families with resources that can be used to help cover necessary obligations like education costs, vehicle repairs needed to get to a job or catching up on utility or rent payments to ensure children are growing up in a safe, healthy environment.

The federal EITC has enjoyed bipartisan support for years, first originating as a key part of the Reagan tax reforms. Michigan todays allows families to get a state credit amount to 6 percent of the federal EITC, one of the smaller amounts nationally. The credit was up to 20 percent before the Great Recession of 2009-10. Now is the time to restore that credit, which had support from Republicans and Democrats in the late 2000s before the state’s budget collapsed.

Providing equitable school support: We know from research that students do not have equitable opportunities to learn. A student who grows up in a home without books or access to high-speed internet service needs more support from his school district than those in more affluent districts.

Michigan has moved to reduce the longstanding disparities that allowed wealthy districts to spend much more in state and local funds on students. But our understanding of the issues and the realities facing families suggests we should support investing MORE state support in districts with high poverty rates, or those that have special expenses, like rural districts with school busing costs.

Gov. Whitmer has proposed steps in this direction and groups including Business Leaders for Michigan have agreed that more equitable school funding is needed to provide the workforce of the future. This would help children in low-income rural Republican and urban Democratic districts have opportunities closer to those of wealthier districts. Both parties should come together to ensure each and every student has the best chance to succeed, based on their individual and community needs.

Michigan should address these key issues now, to ensure economic mobility for all families and ensure opportunity for all children. They are important to counter the dwindling middle class in Michigan and to restore faith in our economic and political system to allow all to live up to their fullest potential – and make our state stronger.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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