More students of color disciplined in Michigan

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — An analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s national civil rights data shows widespread disparities in the way public schools discipline students of color and those with disabilities.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, analyzed data for the school year 2013-14 and found that black students, boys and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined in K-12 public schools.

In Michigan, Agustin Arbulu, the executive director of the state Department of Civil Rights, said that the situation is similar to that in other states, and part of the reason is the low  percentage of teachers of color.

“Approximately 83 percent of teachers in public school settings are white, while the number of African-American teachers continue to decline — I think it’s about 6.5 percent. Hispanic teachers are somewhere around 7 percent,” Arbulu said.

The GAO study found that disparities were consistent regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty or type of public school. Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all students, but 39 percent of students suspended from school — an overrepresentation of about 23 percent.

Rodd Monts, the field director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said some of Michigan’s policies facilitated the strictness of disciplinary measures against Black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities.

“Our zero-tolerance policy and lack of alternative discipline strategies were primarily to blame,” Monts said.

Zero-tolerance is a policy that started with a 1994 gun-free schools law that requires schools that get federal aid to impose harsh punishment such as suspension or expulsion when students break certain rules.

In 2015. the ACLU, in partnership with other advocacy groups, conducted a study similar to the GAO’s. It collected data from 40 districts across the state and found that in many cases, suspensions and expulsions from suburban districts were more disproportionate than in other districts.

“I get a lot of complaints from suburban school districts and charter school districts,” said Monts.

Arbulu agreed and said that wealthier school districts, where 90-plus percent of students are white, have the greatest problem.

“We have seen that in the complaints that we have received, where students of color who go to school districts that are primarily white, file complaints based on racial discrimination claims,” he said. He added that school districts should develop space for dialogue so minority students can feel included.

The GAO report noted that disciplined students who get removed from the classroom are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out and get into the juvenile justice system. And that could create costs for society, like incarceration.

The ACLU’s findings, coupled with the efforts of other advocacy groups and people in education, law enforcement and the court system, prompted the Legislature to abolish the zero-tolerance policy. The change took effect last August.

Now, Monts said, schools must give greater consideration of the factors that lead to misconduct before suspending or expelling a student.

Arbulu said the vast percentage of teachers who are white may not be equipped to understand different cultural factors and socio-economic factors that many students of color come from.

“If you have 80 percent-plus teachers that are white, they’re coming from a totally different perspective. They’re coming from a narrative that’s quite different than what an African-American student faces,” he said.

Whether a student is African-American, Latino or Arab-American, Arbulu said education leaders should more actively provide training on how to address those issues among administrators, teachers and school board members.

“A lot of factors come into play — the role of implicit bias, the role of structural racism that’s built into education and should be dismantled in a way that can be responsive to the changing makeup of the student population,” he said.

Therefore, there’s a need to increase the percentage of minority teachers, especially African-American teachers, by attracting them to the profession and keeping them there, Arbulu said.

The Civil Rights Commission will hold a series of hearings across the state on the connections between civil rights and education starting in Ypsilanti on May 21.

The GAO report analyzed discipline data from nearly all public schools for the school year 2013-14 and interviewed officials from five districts and 19 schools in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Texas.

 

New census question threatens Michigan’s federal funds, voice in Congress

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — If a “citizenship question” is added to the 2020 U.S. Census, an undercount of noncitizens and communities with immigrant-heavy populations might worsen the negative impacts of Michigan’s population decline, immigration experts say.

Critics of the question, announced in March by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, claim that asking if someone is a citizen means fewer people will complete the census. And that will lead to underreported local governments receiving less federal aid and other resources and could threaten the size of Michigan’s representation in Congress.

The Commerce Department said it’s adding the question to more accurately enforce the Voting Rights Act by learning more about the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

But a question about citizenship could drive some people away from the census. Undocumented immigrants or their families might fear deportation, while those with legal immigration status might worry that their status doesn’t protect them from other consequences, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows nearly eight out of every 10 travelers stopped when President Donald Trump’s travel ban was in effect were legal permanent residents.

An undercount could further reduce Michigan’s congressional delegation, Reed said. And if populations are undercounted, local governments could lose portions of $675 billion in federal funds for public programs, which is divided among communities across the nation based on census data.

“That funding is there, and the question is whether or not a community will get its fair share,” said Reed, whose center has offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. “Representation and resources really are the question, and really are at stake.”

Reed said the question was proposed during a period of harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration, which is also running the census. That context means non-citizens might not feel safe disclosing their status.

“The (citizenship) question has not been asked since the 1950s, and the reason why is because it’s been shown to depress participation by non-citizens,” Reed said.

People with legal immigration status, non-citizens and members of households that include non-citizens are reluctant to have contact with the government involving questions of their citizenship, Reed said.

Few people have a good handle on the language of citizenship, so many people don’t understand what it means to admit they’re non-citizens, Reed said.

People who would classify themselves as  “non-citizens” can be undocumented immigrants, those with a student or other temporary visa or legal permanent residents — someone with a  green card who isn’t yet a citizen, said Victoria Crouse, a senior policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy institute that focuses on social issues.

Immigrants made up 6.3 percent of Michigan’s population in 2015, compared to 5.3 percent in 2000, according to the league. Michigan had an immigrant population of 622,875 in 2015.

“That’s something to keep in mind,” Crouse said. “We’re talking about this group of non-citizens, but it’s people with all sorts of different immigration statuses.”

The state’s population growth has slowed since 1970, shrinking by roughly 55,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to census data.

The reluctance of immigrants to answer the proposed citizenship question can be magnified by a lack of a visible benefits to people responding to the survey, Reed said.

Families might disclose their citizenship to receive benefits they’re entitled to based on immigration status, but in the context of the census, it might be difficult for them to see benefits that would offset potentially negative consequences, Reed said.

“The benefits for the community of a complete count are tremendous,” Reed said. “But the benefit of an individual filling out the census form is almost impossible to detect.”

If Michigan population trends continue, the Census Bureau predicts the state will lose a congressional representative following the 2020 census, dropping from 14 to 13 seats, according to Carolina Population Center, a population research group at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Michigan has lost five House seats since the 1970 census, when it had 19.

Proposed constitutional amendment would streamline voter registration

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING – Voter advocacy and civil rights groups are petitioning for a state constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Michigan residents to vote.

The campaign, called “Promote the Vote,” seeks to give military members more time to vote, automatically register citizens when they conduct business at a Secretary of State office and allow absentee voting without the need to give a reason. It also would allow same-day voting registration with proof of residency and straight party voting.

Under current state law, you need to be registered at least 30 days before an election  to vote. Military operating from an overseas installation are advised to send back their absentee ballot 35 days before election day, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

“We just want voting to be accessible, convenient and everyone’s vote to be counted and secure,” said Judy Karandjeff, the president of the League of Women Voters.

The proposal which is targeted for next November’s election, is backed by the league, the American Civil Liberties Union and the state and Detroit branches of the NAACP.  

The Secretary of State’s office is confident in the state’s current voting process, said Fred Woodhams, the elections agency’s director of communication.

“We believe that Michigan elections system does an excellent job of allowing voters to cast a ballot and have their voice heard.”

“Michigan saw the most registered voters ever in 2016,” he said. “Recent elections have seen near-record turnout.”

The Board of State Canvassers has approved the petition language, “and people will be able to sign the petition shortly,” Karandjeff said.

Backers of the proposal must get 315,654 valid signatures of registered voters to make the November ballot.

Only 15 states and the District of Columbia allow same-day registration, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. The organization says there is strong evidence that election day registration increases voter turnout.

Promote the Vote isn’t the only campaign seeking to reform Michigan’s elections laws. Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, a group of activists introduced a constitutional amendment proposal called Voters Not Politicians.

It would establish an independent commission to oversee the drawing of Michigan’s electoral districts. Elected officials would be ineligible to serve on the commission.

In December the group turned in more than 425,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State, where the petition is under review. The redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years, was controlled by Republicans in 2011 and the party has since maintained legislative majorities in elections.

New study highlights impact of immigrants in Michigan

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING Amidst contentious congressional debate about immigration policy, including the future of the Dreamers program, a new report sheds light on one important aspect of the controversy surrounding immigration –  its impact on the U.S. economy.

There is no question that changing the immigration system is a priority of the administration.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address reaffirmed his intentions to tighten the borders, reduce the number of refugees coming into the country and change the system that determines who can legally immigrate.

In its new report, WalletHub, a Washington-based finance website, analyzed all 50 states for immigrantsoverall economic impact, workforce, socio-economic contributions, brain gain and innovation.

Michigan ranked 14th overall in the national ranking, while New York took first place.

The report addressed the question of how more than 40 million immigrants living in the U.S. impact the economy.

Michigan has a growing immigrant community, with nearly 7 percent of the states residents having been born outside of the United States, according to the American Immigration Council, with the largest number living in the eastern and southern areas of the state.

The council is a pro-immigration advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The state ranked high in the WalletHub report in brain gain and innovation — 6th in the nation — an assessment that supports an American Immigration Council conclusion that immigrants “make up a vital, educated share of Michigan’s labor force.

“Nearly 40 percent of immigrants in the state possess a college or higher degree, and more than four in five report speaking English well,” the council says on its website.

In addition to contributing to innovation, immigrants in the state  have been an important part of promoting agriculture, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

The center which operates as an advocacy program and provides legal resources, has offices in Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

Our clients contribute to the economy in various ways, she said. In urban communities, they spur entrepreneurial energy. Migrants farmers contribute to agriculture. They work on West Michigan farms mostly, where they help produce fruits and vegetable.”

New York-based New American Economy said immigrants make up  35 percent of workers in agriculture and 11.6 percent in manufacturing in West Michigan’s Mason, Oceana, Ottawa, Lake, Muskegon,and Newaygo counties and part of Kent County. The organization represents mayors and business leaders who “support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today.”

In that area of West Michigan, the group said 842 immigrants are entrepreneurs who contribute to the economy as consumers and taxpayers, paying a total of $72.2 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

Karen Phillippi, the deputy director of the Michigan Office of New Americans, said her agency “strongly believes in the positive impact that immigrants and refugees have and will continue to have, on the state.”

The office established by Gov. Rick Snyder “strives to make Michigan a more welcoming state for new Americans from all of over the world who are making Michigan their home, and appreciates the significant economic and cultural contributions they make to our state,” Phillippi said.

The Dreamer program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals –under review in Washington has 12,418 eligible participants in Michigan and 92.5 percent of them are employed, according to the New American Economy.

The Center for American Progress, a national liberal-leaning policy institute estimates that

removing them would have a $389.4 million negative impact on Michigan annually.

Michigan optometrist helps the world see

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-one years ago, Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. Since then, he has helped the rest of the world see.

While studying optometry at Ferris State University, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. Edwards is an optometrist in Fowlerville.

Edwards’ first mission was to Haiti in 1986. But that trip was cut short by a social uprising and overthrow of the Haitian government.

Upon returning to Michigan, Edwards realized he wanted to go again.

Continuing to volunteer with VOSH, Edwards has participated in 40 missions. His 41st was planned to be to Nkuru, Kenya, beginning Oct. 26. But reminiscent of that first trip to Haiti, politics and safety again disrupted his travel plans.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in August, accusations were made against the incumbent president of irregularities in ballot counts and interference in the election.

While protesting the election results, 33 civilians were killed as a direct result of police violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report. After an appeal, the Kenya Supreme Court nullified the election, and a new election was planned for the same date in October that the VOSH group was to arrive.

David Muiru is the director of projects for the Nairobi Utumishi Rotary Club and has worked with Nelson to plan VOSH missions to Kenya since 1998.

That inaugural mission was also met with adversity as the American Embassy in Kenya was bombed just months prior to the group’s arrival.

“When Nelson and I chose the date, we thought that the election fever would have settled down,” says Muiru.

The group now plans to arrive in Kenya on Jan. 12, 2018, and stay for 13 days. Muiru says the change was made because political disagreement would not allow the clinic to get the attention it deserves.

Muiru is responsible for ensuring that all the permits and procedures are followed.

The first step, Muiru says, is to notify local medical facilities and apply for the required licenses from the Kenyan medical board. Locally the process begins with contacting the county medical officer to request local doctors and nurses, working with government and police departments, and arranging transportation and lodging.

During the 11-day clinic each doctor will examine and prescribe glasses for about 500 patients. Most patients will receive three pairs of prescription glasses and one pair of sunglasses.

“Because we never know what kind of glasses or prescription requirements a patient might need, we bring between four and five thousand pairs of refurbished eye glasses,” says Nelson.

Any extra glasses are left with local eye care clinics.

If a required prescription is not available, VOSH and its partner Lens Crafters will fill the prescription upon returning to the U.S. and mail the glasses to the patient.

The Illinois chapter of VOSH has gone a step further. During a mission to Guatemala in 2014, the group engineered a field lab capable of completing glasses on location.

Most commonly the glasses are donated through groups such as the Lions Club, according to Daniel Wrubel. Wrubel is the faculty advisor to the Student VOSH program at Ferris State.

“We receive around a third of a million pairs of Lions Club glasses in a year,” he says.

First-year and second-year SVOSH students are responsible for assessing, tagging and verifying prescriptions to be taken on missions. Funds are raised for students in their third year to go on a VOSH trip if they’ve put in enough volunteer hours.

“We raise about $30,000 a year to cover the cost of their trip,” says Wrubel. “Last year I believe they only had to pay the deposit, so around $250.”

That is also the amount of hours that Wrubel estimates he puts in each year preparing for a mission to Dominique. Wrubel has captained the Dominique mission for 21 consecutive years.

Working with VOSH is only one of nearly 40 projects that Muiru works on in Kenya. He credits his education with instilling an understanding of community.

“I can never do enough for my community, I consider it a part of my life,” he says.

For Wrubel, the desire to help others comes from his own problems with sight.

“In school, I was held back, made fun of, because I had trouble reading,” he says. “Fortunately, there was a therapist who helped me. So I can relate to what it’s like to struggle without proper eyesight.”

For Nelson, the gift is not just a chance to see the world, but to see the world differently.

“You make friends and you hear news stories about a country you’ve been to,” he says. “You make a personal connection.”

Past pay should not affect women’s income, Dems say

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.

And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.  

As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”

In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent. Continue reading

State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Try 17-year-olds as juveniles, report suggests

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Raising the age of juvenile offenders by a year could reduce crime, cost little, and lead to better lives for thousands of young people, a recent report concludes.

In Michigan, 17-year-olds can be tried as adults in court. Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute Executive Director Marc Schindler said placing juveniles in adult detention centers can create problems, like kids committing more serious crimes more often after being incarcerated with adults.

Seven other states have recently raised the age for juveniles to be tried as adults to 18, and Schindler said those states have seen some benefits already.

Kids incarcerated in juvenile centers are less likely to continue committing crimes when they’re released, unlike kids incarcerated with adults, Schindler said. Continue reading

Efforts lag to help mentally ill prisoners

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Despite recent efforts, treatment of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons is still inadequate, experts agree.

Up to 64 percent of inmates in Michigan jails have a mental illness, according to an August 2014 report from the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. In Michigan prisons, the figure hovers just above 20 percent.

Stepping Up, a 2-year-old program launched by the National Association of Counties, aims to reduce the number of those with mental illnesses in jails across the state. By closely monitoring the status and collecting data on those with mental illnesses, the program aims to link various groups to solve the issue.

Despite the endorsement of the Michigan Association of Counties, the situation is still bleak. Continue reading

40 percent of households struggle in Michigan, study shows

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — While state officials celebrate the plunge of Michigan’s unemployment rate from its 14.9 percent peak in 2009 to around 5 percent today, more than a million families are missing the party.

Some 40 percent of Michigan households, or 1.53 million, are considered as either living in poverty or among the state’s working poor, according to a new report from the Michigan Association of United Ways.

That group includes both the 15 percent of households living beneath the federal poverty level and the 25 percent of struggling households that earn too much to meet poverty standards but not enough to afford basic household needs.

The United Way, a nongovernmental health and human services provider, reached these conclusions after studying income and employment in the state from 2007 to 2015. Continue reading