Gillard: Pass Prop 1, for the children

Matt Gillard

While much attention around Proposition 1 has been focused on roads and transportation safety, we’ve been looking at the prospects of a “yes” vote on the May 5 ballot proposal through the eyes of children and families.

We are both excited by the expectation for additional resources to help children in Michigan, particularly vulnerable children, and scared of what a “no” vote will bring.

The coalition behind Proposition 1 includes notable education leaders, school boards and child and family advocates. The Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party, which encourages election participation, particularly when outcomes impact kids, families and education, has been among them.

Why are these groups involved? Because while raising new revenues to fix roads and bridges, Prop 1 will also provide additional stability to schools and communities through new revenues. This is critical funding at a time when the public demands — and children and families deserve — more, not less, investment in K-12 schools, early childhood education and expanded learning to help all children succeed in school and life.

If approved, Prop 1 will raise $1.2 billion a year to repair our decaying roads and bridges, something all motorists who have hit too many potholes will appreciate. It will also generate an additional $300 million for the School Aid Fund and will ensure that the fund is used exclusively for early education, K-12 schools, community colleges, career and technical education — and not for four-year universities.

A linchpin in the plan, of course, is raising the sales tax by one cent from the current 6 percent. This would have been a bitter pill to swallow if not for the decision to tie Prop 1 to restoring the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Restoring it from 6 percent to 20 percent of the federal EITC tax rate is important protection for low-income working families that will offset the struggles they will face from higher sales tax costs.

For these reasons, we support Prop 1.

As we’ve kept a watchful eye of the public debate that’s unfolded, weighing the pros and cons, we’ve painfully realized that unless Prop 1 is approved then state lawmakers will be even more pressured to dip into existing state resources supporting critical programs to repair the mess on the roadways. That’s what some members of the Legislature wanted to do before Prop 1 was crafted. And this option remains on the table.

Given the political make-up of the Legislature today, we expect it will become harder to target resources for education if Proposition 1 fails. Already, child advocates worry that the dollars won’t be there to invest in programming to improve third-grade reading scores and support at-risk learners throughout their K-12 experience, hot topics in the FY2016 state budget deliberations with strong support from the governor and Senate. Should Prop 1 fail, efforts to move the needle on literacy and other necessary outcomes for children, youth and families in our state will be compromised for years.

Child advocates have been pushing this year for new state money to boost several federally-funded programs: Early On Michigan provides early intervention services for families of babies and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities; and Michigan is one of the few states in the country that doesn’t supplement federal dollars. Expanded learning programs support learning outside of the school day and year; and Michigan receives only enough federal funding to support roughly one-third of the great programs that could help close achievement gaps around the state. Those hoping to see state funding for these and other critical options in the coming year don’t expect that to happen if Prop 1 fails.

All things considered, Prop 1 is good for our children, families and our roads.

Matt Gillard is president and CEO of Michigan’s Children.