State of Opportunity

Wednesdays on Morning Edition at 6:35a/8:55a and during All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a multi-year reporting and community engagement project focused on how poverty affects children in Michigan. It will shed light on the challenges of growing up or raising kids while struggling to pay the bills and highlight the successes and the resilience of these families and the people who serve them.

Genre: 

Podcasts

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:06am

    The Haskell Youth Center is on the front lines of violence prevention in Flint. They don’t use a complicated formula; there are just plenty of positive activities and positive adults.

    On any given day there are about 200 kids spread throughout the game room, the cafeteria, and a gym where the basketball games never seem to stop. 

    Haskell is a refuge of sorts. Violent crime is pervasive in this city, with almost 800 such crimes reported since the beginning of the year. That’s pretty extreme. But just as true outside of Flint is the effect violence can have on young people.

    "It feels like a storm that's always around – that won't go away," says 18-year-old Rico Colfer. He's been coming to Haskell since he was nine years old. He now works at the center when he's not in school, studying for what he hopes will be a career in graphic design. 

    Colfer says his house has been broken into three times. He says the stress takes a toll on him and on those around him. "Every time it happens it hurts me because I see my mom cry," he says. "She works hard to get us the best stuff to have, and they just come and take it."

  • Tuesday, July 29, 2014 1:27pm

    What will it take to fix Michigan's charter school laws?   

    The rules governing charter schools in Michigan were first put into place a little over two decades ago. Since then, there have been revisions – the biggest of which happened a few years ago when the state lifted the cap on the number of charter schools that can open in Michigan

    But after the Detroit Free Press published a blistering investigation into the state's charter schools, the law may be headed for more revisions. 

    And some are starting to make the case for a complete overhaul – not just of charters, but of Michigan's entire education system. 

    "Let's start over," says Dan Varner, head of Excellent Schools Detroit, and a member of the state Board of Education. "I think it’s time for a complete reset of the way we deliver public education in Michigan."

  • Tuesday, July 29, 2014 7:42am

    Paul Ryan is arguably the Republican Party's most amplified voice on poverty. He talks about it often in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee and spoke famously on Vice Presidential campaign trail.

  • Friday, July 25, 2014 12:56pm

    This text is adapted from a segment of a State of Opportunity radio documentary produced by Lindsey Smith and Dustin Dwyer. To hear the full documentary, click the player above. To read more about how Muskegon Heights schools made history by converting to a charter district, go here

     
    Let's talk about one statewide trend that’s played a significant role in the events of Muskegon Heights schools: private companies that run public charter schools.
     

    A recent Detroit Free Press investigation sparked a statewide conversation about why these management companies don’t have to disclose their finances to their charter school boards. The Freep found numerous examples where that lack of disclosure and oversight led to some shady deals.

    Gary Miron from Western Michigan University studies charter schools, and has a reputation as a critic of Michigan’s current charter school laws. 

    Miron says that original idea for charter schools was to have small, locally controlled, locally operated schools that would be free to pursue new ways of educating kids.

    But that didn’t happen in Michigan.

    Today, Michigan has more public charter schools being operated by for-profit companies than any other state in the country. Miron published a study last year, which found that for-profit companies run 79% of Michigan’s charters, twice the share of the next closest state. At least a half-dozen states ban for-profit charter management all together.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014 4:20pm

    There are a lot of school districts in trouble in Michigan. 

    Forty-five districts are in a deficit. Five districts are currently subject to state oversight under Michigan's emergency manager law. Two school districts completely ran out of money last year, and dissolved. 

    Today, in a State of Opportunity documentary, we bring you the story of how one troubled school district survived. 

    Two years ago Muskegon Heights made history by becoming the first school district in Michigan to convert entirely to a charter district and turn the operation of its schools over to a for-profit company. It had never happened before in Michigan, or, as far as we've been able to determine, anywhere else in America. 

    But this spring, Muskegon Heights schools were in trouble again. Just two years into a five-year contract, its management company walked away from the district. And, once again, leaders in the community had to work with the state to find a plan to keep the district's doors open. 

    This, ultimately, is the story of how they succeeded, at least for now. And what lessons we might take for the other school districts in Michigan that are facing financial problems. 

All Things Considered
5:19 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

The struggles of Muskegon Heights school district

Credit user alkruse24 / Flickr

Two years ago, Muskegon Heights made history by becoming the first school district in Michigan to convert entirely to a charter district, and turn the operation of its schools over to a for-profit company. 

This week, Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer and Lindsey Smith take an in depth look at the changes in the Muskegon Heights School district and what that could that mean for other troubled districts in the state in a new State of Opportunity documentary called Tiger Pride.

Why focus on Muskegon Heights? How does it impact other struggling school districts in Michigan?

Dwyer and Smith joined us today to give us a preview of the documentary. 

Tune in tomorrow afternoon at 3 pm to hear Tiger Pride

Families & Community
11:41 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Getting treatment for asthma is difficult for children living in poverty

Mary Kim helps Jovon White take his asthma medication.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part of our documentary, "Growing up in Poverty and Pollution," from State of Opportunity.

At the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, 11-year-old Brianna Allgood is being tested by a machine called a spirometer. It measures her breathing.

Brianna has asthma. Sometimes she has difficulty breathing. Most of us would have a hard time imagining what that’s like.

“It feels like your chest starts tightening and you’re like and you can’t really breathe much air,” Brianna said. 

Vickie Elliot is Brianna’s grandmother. She says she finds herself checking in on Brianna – a lot – just to make sure she’s breathing okay.

“Having a child like that in the home is scary because anything could happen,” Elliot said.

Brianna is luckier than some kids with asthma. Her family can get her to the clinic. They now know how to treat the asthma.

Elliott says it’s made a difference.

Read more
Education
1:23 pm
Thu January 16, 2014

Today's State of Opportunity call-in show tackles standardized testing

Michigan students may have more rigorous performance expectations on MEAP and other standardized tests.
Alberto G. Creative Commons

Update: If you missed the program, you can catch the audio on this post.

Do at-risk kids have more on the line when it comes to testing? Are low expectations playing a part in poor test performance? How does the Smarter Balance test compare to the MEAP?

Read more
Education
11:49 am
Wed November 6, 2013

What kind of education do you get if you spend $12,000 per student?

Nathan Cohen teaches 5th grade at Pierce Elementary in Birmingham
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Our State of Opportunity team has been diving into the issue school funding over the past couple months.

The vast majority of Michigan K-12 schools get between $7,000 - $8,000 per pupil every year. But there are some schools that get more…a lot more. We're talking about roughly a $5,000 difference between the richest schools in the state and the poorest schools.

Read more
Education
10:32 am
Tue October 29, 2013

5 things to know about Michigan's education gap

Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Over at our State of Opportunity website, we've been on Gap Watch: achievement gaps, literacy gaps, technology gaps, gender gaps, etc.

Our latest documentary continues the trend.

It's called The Education Gap.

I hung out in two very different 5th grade classrooms over the course of a month and a half.

Read more
Education
7:00 am
Wed July 31, 2013

Lake County's "promise" to make college affordable for low-income families

Lake County offers up to $20,000 for four years of college to all high school graduates in the district
user: Tax Credits flickr

College is expensive. For some families, it’s prohibitively expensive. Several school districts are trying to follow the Kalamazoo Promise model by offering students money to help cover tuition costs. Jennifer Guerra with our State of Opportunity project introduces us to one such "promise" in rural northern Michigan's Lake County.

Read more
Education
7:00 am
Wed July 24, 2013

In Lake County, there is such a thing as a free lunch

The Meet Up & Eat Up Program provides free breakfast and lunch over the summer for all kids in Lake County

More than 90% of school children in Lake County qualify for free or reduced price lunch. To make sure they continue to eat healthy meals once school is out, the county’s school district offers free breakfast and lunch over the summer to any child in the county.

For our State of Opportunity project, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra dropped by the cafeteria one sunny afternoon to check it out. 

Read more
Economy
7:00 am
Wed July 17, 2013

Lake County has a wealth of natural beauty but few job opportunities

The Pere Marquette River runs through Lake County
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

Lake County, in central northern Michigan, is the poorest part of the state, with nearly half of its children living in poverty. That’s according to the latest Kids Count data. So Jennifer Guerra with our State of Opportunity project went north to visit the rural county to see what life is like there for families.

The county is an area rich in natural beauty, with hundreds of lakes and streams and acres of forest land, but it's very short on job opportunities.

Read more
Law
7:30 am
Wed July 3, 2013

Program aims to keep kids safe in homes and out of foster care

user Childrens Book Review flickr

More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the U.S. Once a child has entered the system, they remain there on average for nearly two years, according to a federal report. Our State of Opportunity team looked into a unique program that’s working to prevent kids in Michigan from even entering foster care in the first place.

Read more
Education
7:00 am
Wed June 26, 2013

'People would expect me to fail, to keep popping out more babies.' An essay by a former teen mom

Three generations: Jacquise Purifoy (mom), Jasmine (daughter), Vivan (grandmother)
Photo courtesy of Jacquise Purifoy

The latest Kids Count data show that roughly 11,000 teens gave birth in Michigan in 2010. Statistically speaking, teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, and their children are more likely to wind up in prison. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Read more
Health
6:00 am
Wed June 19, 2013

Drug shortages are affecting children in the NICU

NICUs across the country are or have experienced medicine shortages ranging from drugs used to resuscitate a newborn to drugs that provide nutrition.
Credit user herval / flickr

Our State of Opportunity project focuses on kids and what it will take to get them ahead. At the most basic level, that means ensuring children are healthy. But as Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra reports, nationwide drug shortages could threaten even that most basic task.

We called every neonatal intensive care unit in Michigan, and all but one got back us. Each one has experienced or is experiencing a wide variety of drug shortages in the NICU.

Read more
Education
10:03 am
Wed June 12, 2013

'It's so worth it.' The story of three girls, six buses and the hope for a better education

Navia Daniel (left), Shaqueria Harris-Bay and Tanesha George take a total of six buses to get to the school of their dreams.
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio
  • Tanesha, Shay and Navia captured their morning travels in an audio diary.

School is almost out for summer! For some students, that means camp. For others, it means time to get a job. For the three high school sophomores you’re about to meet, it means a break - not just from school, but from riding the bus.

Read more
Education
9:03 am
Wed March 27, 2013

$700,000 for baby scholarships

Tiffany Burns' daughter Yalana will be one of the first recipients of the new Early Start scholarship program.
Credit Dustin Dwyer

We think of scholarships as a way to help more students go to college. But there’s a new scholarship program in Michigan that has nothing to do with college. It offers scholarships to babies.

If you have a baby and you want to have a job, or you need to have a job, you have to find childcare. And childcare costs money—thousands of dollars a year.

Read more
Economy
8:30 am
Wed March 20, 2013

Getting kicked off cash assistance, a personal story

Keisha Johnson gets her three kids ready for school.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. This is an update on one of those families.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out poverty, and their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Read more
Education
11:11 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Head Start is not a failure

Sylus Sims practices writing his name at South Godwin Head Start.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The debate over federal spending cuts has made Head Start a major topic of conversation in Washington. Leaders from both parties warn that tens of thousands of kids will lose a chance at Head Start’s preschool program, if the across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to happen.

To some critics, cutting Head Start would be a good thing. They think it is a failure, and not worth the money. 

Read more
Education
9:00 am
Wed November 28, 2012

How a Nobel Prize-winning economist became an advocate for preschool

economist James Heckman
heckmanequation.org

There's a growing consensus that more needs to be done to prepare children for kindergarten. 

But does preschool really have a significant impact on the lives of children? State of Opportunity's Dustin Dwyer recently sat down with economist James Heckman to find out.

Read more
State of Opportunity
1:16 pm
Wed September 19, 2012

How to avoid burnout and help more people

Krista Nordberg, the Director of Advocacy for the Washtenaw County Health Plan.

Health insurance is such a political issue, talked about all the time and so dispassionately, that it can be easy to forget just how important it is to some families. But, last year the Census estimated paying for health care pushed at least 10 million Americans into poverty.

Read more
State of Opportunity
11:52 am
Tue September 11, 2012

Census to release poverty numbers showing America likely back at 1965 levels

About one in six Michigan children live in poverty. Economic mobility studies show these children will have a difficult time climbing out of poverty within their lifetime.
Michael Newman flickr

State of Opportunity is covering tomorrow's announcement of poverty estimates by the Census Bureau. The numbers will show how many Americans lived in poverty during 2011.

Read more