First published on the Council of Michigan Foundations blog
“There can never be equal opportunity without equal capability,” was one of Focus: HOPE founder Father Bill Cunningham’s aphorisms that made you think twice. The late Father Cunningham, a white priest who became an icon for race equity in Detroit and Michigan, was my teacher in high school, a lifelong mentor and the inspiration that led me to Michigan’s Children.
The data are clear: not all children face the same odds. The goal of public policy advocacy is not to help individual children overcome the odds, but to change the odds—in long-lasting and fundamental ways—for all children.
Sadly, long-term disparities in educational success have had profound and unacceptable economic, social and fiscal consequences for Michigan. Gaps in learning and achievement can be traced to the earliest years of children’s lives, and continue to grow through their educational careers and into adulthood. Public policies have created barriers for children and resulted in educational inequities, and public policies can be supported that remove those barriers and promote equity.
In partnership with Michigan’s philanthropic community, Michigan’s Children has advocated for public policy solutions that have been shown to mitigate disparities in outcome for children of color since its inception. Without a doubt, children in this state have benefited from the laser-like focus of Michigan grantmakers—large and small—on opportunity gaps.
We share the belief that ensuring “equal capability” requires public policies that aren’t just good for all kids and families, but those that promote equity and serve to close the gaps that exist. “Equal capability” requires having equal access to supports that span from cradle to career – that starts with having parents or caregivers who have the supports they need to be their child’s first, best and consistent teacher; access to high quality early care and education that promotes early literacy and school readiness; and a strong K-12 system that allows additional learning opportunities out of school and utilizes the 5th and 6th years of high school to complete a credential.
The single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce. Investing in children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances, must be a key part of rebuilding and strengthening Michigan’s economy. With the next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan’s Children is working to strengthen policies that promote equity across races and ethnicities so that all children can thrive in school, the work place and life.
There never will truly be “equal opportunity” for all of Michigan’s children until each and every child from families of color or low-income communities is seen by all of us as a future contributor to vibrant communities and a strong state, and not a potential resource that we allow to go to waste.