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The media and public have screwed-up priorities

Apr 26, 2016

There are a couple of stories today you may have missed that I think are profoundly significant, but which won’t get a fraction of the attention they should.

The first is that one out of every ten children in Michigan has a parent who is or has been in prison. The Michigan League for Public Policy notes that studies show having an incarcerated parent is, quote,

“a traumatic experience that can lead to increased poverty, stress and unstable environments, affecting kids’ health and academic performance.”

We are talking about nearly a quarter of a million children. The league also notes that our state and society does virtually nothing to support such children, or other family members of people, usually men, who are in prison. In many cases, that helps doom these children to continue the vicious circle and lead lives of violence, poverty and crime. This is nothing less than a ticking time bomb aimed squarely at our state and our society’s future.

If this were anything like a rational society, this would be the lead story today, and our leaders would be convening a summit conference to tackle this problem, which is clearly related to our decision decades ago to dramatically increase how many people we keep behind bars.

This, by the way, is a nationwide problem; while Michigan has a higher percentage of such kids than most places, Indiana and Kentucky are worse.

When this was reported Monday, Mary King, who runs something called the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, urged lawmakers to “address this issue from both sides,” by which she meant passing reforms to reduce the number of people in jail, and finding “the necessary supports to help these kids through difficult times and connect their parents with the proper job and education training assistance,” when they get out of jail.

Of course, that’s exactly what we should do.

That’s also exactly what our ideologically bound legislature won’t even consider doing. They will instead continue to worry about trying to stop certain bullied kids from using whatever bathroom makes them feel most comfortable.

Meanwhile, there’s another new report that is also disturbing. The Michigan Association of School Boards says that fewer and fewer people are interested in running for board of education seats in this state. They are trying to recruit some civic-minded people to do so.

Well, this is also disheartening, but doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Politicians have been waging war on teachers and public schools for years now. Serving on a school board is hard, time-consuming and unpaid work, and those who do it deserve honor and respect.

Yet we have crippled our public schools, destroying many of them by allowing so-called charter schools to drain resources away, trivializing education, tying districts into a funding straitjacket created by Proposal A, and holding the threat of emergency management over them.

Fixing public education would not be easy, but is essential, if Detroit and other large cities ever hope to be vibrant again. I’ve just told you about two vitally important stories that are significantly impacting our future.

Neither of which, by the way, will get a tenth of the coverage the media will devote to the fifth day of reaction to the death of the pop star named Prince.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.