New report places Michigan in bottom half for 'overall child well-being.' What can be done?

Posted at 5:49 AM, Jun 13, 2024

Alarm bells may be going off when it comes to preparing our kids for the future. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual "KIDS COUNT Report" shows Michigan ranks in the bottom half of states – 34th – when it comes to "overall child well-being."

The data book looks at 16 indicators in four areas. Michigan ranks 22nd in health, 28th in family and community, 31st in economic well-being, and 41st in education.

That 41st ranking in education is one of the most concerning findings. It puts Michigan in the bottom ten states for the second year in a row when it comes to educational outcomes.

I wanted to see how parents were feeling about this, and I talked one-on-one with the KIDS COUNT Policy Director about the findings and how we might turn these numbers around.

Chase Butler, 9, attends Detroit Detroit Public Schools Community District – one of more than 700 school districts across the state.

I asked his Dad about Michigan's low education ranking in the annual kids count data book.

"Horrible. That’s horrible," Deantae Butler said.

Other Detroit parents I spoke with agreed.

“What was your first reaction when you saw that?” I asked.

"I was shocked. I’m, like, 'That’s not good,'" Bryan Knolton said.

“I just feel like there should be more money put into the education system in Michigan for our children," said Carolyn Harveym, another Detroit parent.

"Do you think the learning loss of the pandemic is playing a part in these findings and these numbers?" I asked Anne Kuhnen, the KIDS COUNT Policy Director with the Michigan League for Public Policy.

"Yeah, I mean, the pandemic certainly, you know, increased our awareness of what was going on. But the alarm bells have been ringing about academics in Michigan, especially for many years now," she said.

Kuhnen said fewer than half of 3- and 4-year-olds in Michigan are enrolled in preschool, only 1 in 4 fourth graders are proficient in fourth-grade reading, and just about 1 in 4 eighth graders are proficient in math.

"When you look at Michigan's absenteeism rate, that's a huge concern as well?" I asked.

"Absolutely. So, Michigan's chronic absenteeism is 40%, which is higher than the national average of 30%," Kuhnen said.

"What do you think is the reason for the chronic absenteeism?" I asked Knolton

"Sometimes it can be a family issue, and sometimes it can be through the system," he said.

"Schools should focus more on the social issues with the child," Harvey added. "You know, maybe there is something going on in the home. Maybe the parent needs help."

To get kids back on track, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends Michigan:

  • Expand tutoring
  • Make sure all pandemic relief funds are obligated by the Sept. 30 deadline
  • Continue universal free meals, ensure reliable internet and a place to study
  • Improve attendance tracking and positive approaches to dealing with chronic absences
  • Ask policymakers to invest in "community schools" that support kids through nutrition, health, and social services

"What do you think could help turn these numbers around?" I asked.
"It all starts at home really," Knolton said.

"We need more parent involvement first, too, so you got to start there," Butler added. "You got to start at the home, then you got to bring it to the schools."

The bottom line, the KIDS COUNT report shows the U.S. is not preparing kids with high-level reading, math and digital problem-solving skills needed for jobs in the global economic compared to our peer nations.

To navigate through the findings in the 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book, click here.