Robert H. Dugger, founder of Partnership for America's Economic Success - Q & A Session

Robert H. Dugger, a leading hedge fund banker, is founder of the Partnership for America's Economic Success, chairman of the Invest in Kids Working Group, and a Trustee of the Committee for Economic Development - all projects focused on ascertaining and communicating the economic growth and job creation value of investing early in the lives of children. He traveled to East Lansing from his home in Virginia to address the Great Start Business Summit November 30, 2010. Prior to his speech, he sat down with Sandbox Party writer Teri Banas to answer a few questions.
Teri Banas: You are the founder of the Invest in Kids Working Group. As an economist and global investment expert, how did you come to focus on advocating for greater investment in American children?
Dugger: When I was a partner in Tutor Investment Corporation, I traveled all over the world. I was in constant discussion with finance ministries, central banks, political leaders, writers, thinkers in legislatures all over the world. I can say thank you in 15 languages. Lessons from all of that is that other countries - after WWII and after the liberation struggles of the 1960s and ‘70s around the world - understood to a very high degree that human capital was the key to economic growth, job creation and competitiveness.
Then in the 1990s we began to see in the United States that per capita income was leveling off and we began to get the signs that we were losing our competitiveness. We were not exporting as much as we should, we were importing more than we should, and we were beginning to live on debt - not income, but debt. So, in 2002, 2003, I was involved in a lot of discussions with people (concerning), ‘What can we do in the United States that would enable us to regain competitiveness?’ We looked at projects in energy, health care, information technology, education, obviously other areas of science, and we settled on education.
TB:  Who were the other people you discussed this with?
Dugger: In a phone call in the spring of 2003, I was standing in my dining room, overlooking the Potomac River, talking with Jim Heckman, Nobel prize winner (considered one of the 10 most influential economists in the world), who was in his office in Chicago. It was a three-way call. And Art Rolnick was in his office at the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis. We talked through all these areas again – energy, health care, information technology – and we agreed that our focus had to be on early years, human capital development. That’s how we decided to form the Invest in Kids Working Group.
I wrote the checks for the initial research papers. We met every month. The Invest in Kids Working Group went from about five people to over 1,000 as more and more learned about it. The monthly conferences covered microeconomics, very detailed things like, ‘What are the economic benefits of reducing low birth-weight babies? They had already worked out the economic benefits of quality pre-kindergarten. And (we) looked at what are the benefits when you scale all these micro returns into a macro story. What does it mean for state, or national economic growth and job creation?
TB: You talk about a disconnect between what federal budget planners expect to generate from the economic earnings of a child over his/her lifetime versus the reality. Can you explain?
Dugger: (There was) a remarkable paper which documented the economic value of a 3- year-old to the entire federal budget. (It stated) that a 3-year-old is expected to generate $260,000 of present value revenues to the federal government over a lifetime. The federal budget architecture as it existed in 2004 basically assumed that every American 3-year- old was going to generate almost $260,000 of revenue for the federal government. (However) it’s impossible. You could not do it with the education and success levels we had in place in 2004. What it showed us was if you don’t invest enough money to educate and provide a child with the capacity to generate that revenue … this is like asking, ‘How much fuel do you need in order to get to the moon?’. (But) if you design a rocket to have 10 gallons, and someone actually shows up and says, ‘Listen, you need 260 gallons,’ well, you know that you’re not going to get to the moon. End of story.  
TB: You make pointed comparisons between “human capital” as a sector of the economy and other economic sectors -- automotive, banking and agriculture. Explain.
Dugger: The food sector – farmers, agriculture – everyone knows. Everyone knows what the auto sector is; everybody knows what the banking sector is. How many people can tell you what the human capital sector is? Nobody. There was no definition. So we quantified the size of the youth human capital sector. And what we found was stunning!
The auto sector is 1.5 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) – hugely important. (In contrast) prenatal to five is 3.5 percent of GDP – twice as big as the auto sector. The entire financial sector of the United States – all the banks and the investment funds, and all – is 7.5 percent of GDP. It’s huge. And prenatal to 18 is 10.5 percent of GDP. What’s all this leading to? Look, if you want to get this economy back on its feet, quit thinking about green energy (for example); it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny little fraction of one little thing called the construction industry. Invest in kids! It’s big enough to get this economy going again. And low and behold, it yields you the human capital you need in order to be competitive.
TB: How would you describe where we are as a nation, a state, in regards to workforce preparedness among our young?
Dugger: Well, the Defense Department has already described it. The Defense Department did a study in 2008 that found 75 percent of American young adults - 17- to 24-years-old, high school and college-age kids - cannot qualify to be United States Army privates. They don’t have a high school degree; they have a criminal record; they have diabetes or obesity, or some other health problem; or, they have persistent drug dependencies. The top HR (human resources) officers of major companies tell me they can hire people who can’t run a mile, much less walk one. So for them, about 60 percent of high school, college-age young adults, can’t be hired by them. What this means is that Michigan has 1.1 million 17 to 24 year old young adults – 850,000 of whom can’t qualify to serve in the armed services, and 650,000 of whom can’t be hired by a modern globally competitive, technologically advanced company.
TB: Going back to what you said about the struggles of Europeans and Asians to remake their economies after WWII, what did they learn about investing in early childhood that we in our post-war boom economy didn’t?
Dugger: It was their recovery (difficulties) after WWII. They had to get their working populations stabilized, and they had so few men. A lot of their women were involved in getting their countries rebuilt. So they had the problem of providing quality child care earlier than we did.
We may have had those same struggles after the Great Depression but we didn’t have them after WWII. After WWII, we were the king and queen of the mountain. Anything we wanted, we could have. We had so much in savings, we were a world power. We could borrow whatever we needed. Furthermore, when the (American) guys came home, women left the workforce and went home and had babies - child care, early care and education wasn’t an issue. Now with both mom and dad working, we need them working because we need a competitive workforce.

Investment wizard says invest in 0-5 for economic transformation

By Teri Banas
EAST LANSING – America’s return to economic prosperity – and Michigan’s - depends on the businesses  and corporations relearning the value of human capital, starting with children birth to five, global financier and economic guru Robert H. Dugger said at the Great Start Business Summit Nov. 30 at MSU’s Kellogg Center.
Speaking to 235 business leaders and early childhood advocates, Dugger said companies need to realize that their “triple bottom line” (profitability, productivity and progress) relies on a home-grown workforce that’s well-educated, and that the well-spring of a solid education begins at birth.
To illustrate, he compared the state’s suffering economy to a jet plane waiting for take-off. Without the energy of “high-powered human capital” to get airborne, it can’t fly.
“To get the U.S. economy off the runway and soaring again, we need tanks full of educated, team-oriented, ready-for-work young adults.”
Addressing the assembled business leaders, Dugger said, “You are Michigan’s hope. There is no other. Right now, from this day, you change the spirit of this state. And this state goes from whatever kind of confused, frightened, shapeless, down-trodden, troubled economic condition that it’s in to one that recognizes  (that) whatever we do from here makes it better.”
Dugger is chairman of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success Advisory Board and the Invest in Kids Working Group, projects focused on communicating the economic growth and job creation value of investing early in the lives of children. He is also the founder and managing partner of Hanover Investment Group, a firm specializing in helping business and government clients navigate significant changes in fiscal conditions. Prior to Hanover, Dugger was a partner in Tudor Investment Corporation.
Dugger’s call to action at the summit included an analysis of America’s present fiscal crisis starting with a critical juncture in the late ‘80s and ‘90s when “something very important happened” - a subtle change in how we grew the economy.
“We were importing but we weren’t selling enough. We were only growing by increasing our debt,” he said. ”We reached the point of non-competitiveness.”
In the early years of the new century, Dugger, then a managing director of a multi-billion dollar global hedge fund company, began meeting with other top national thinkers to explore causes for the decline in America’s competitiveness worldwide.
“And as we talked, it all came down to: What had the rest of the world done to become so competitive? What had we lost? And it was – human capital.”
The American fall from grace in terms of human capital development has been stunning. In 2008, Dugger said, the military conducted a study and found that 75 percent of young men and women ages 17 to 24 didn’t qualify to join the military because they lacked a high school diploma, clean police and drug records and overall physical fitness.
Based on those national statistics, Dugger estimates 850,000 of Michigan’s 1.1 million young adults between the ages of 17 and 24 couldn’t serve.
Private sector standards, oddly enough, aren’t as high as the military, so Dugger estimates about 60 percent of the nation’s young people aren’t qualified to work for most companies.
“This is a huge, huge human capital deficit and if Michigan is to recover economically, that deficit has to be solved.”
Improving  human capital deficit is fairly simple, he said. Raising ready-for-work young adults is a “Six Sigma” process, referring to the business stratagem that says the best and least expensive time to fix a problem is early in the manufacturing process.
Six Sigma can apply to people, as well, he said, which is why he believes that reaching children early is the most effective way to ensure they’ll do well in school.
“We know that 80 percent of brain development occurs before age 5, and what really stuns me is this,” Dugger said. “When you look at a 3 year old, you’re looking at a little human being whose brain is forming synaptic junctions between neurons at a rate of 700 a second. In the time it took me to tell you that, the 3 year old formed 3,500 synaptic junctions that are shaping its personality and its intelligence for a lifetime.
“That’s why … you’ve got to start at birth,” he said.
Dugger urged business leaders to focus on advocating for early childhood programs at all levels and to consider investment in young children an “economic sector” of Michigan’s economy. Cars, banking, agriculture, energy are all measures of the state’s economy, he said, but so is the “human capital” side reflected in early childhood investment.
“Question: Is the human capital sector big enough (in Michigan) to make a difference?” he asked.
The answer: A resounding yes, Dugger said. That’s because “youth human capital” surpasses even the state’s largest manufacturing sector - automobiless, he said. While autos represent 1.5 percent of the state’s GDP (gross domestic product), the “prenatal to five” sector is twice that – at 3.5 percent of GDP.
And factoring all children from prenatal to 18 years old, Dugger said the percentage of the GDP rises to 10.5 percent.
“It’s so damn big that if you want to stand up an economy you can almost do it alone by investing in human capital,” he said. “We know the economic returns are high. We know the sector is big.”
He concluded by saying that with the new political situations in Lansing and Washington, the time is ripe for change.
“If the business leadership of Michigan wants a truly competitive workforce and this economy back on its feet, it will happen.”

Great Start Business Summit speaker: Child poverty in MIchigan "shocking"

EAST LANSING – Michigan’s lingering economic insecurity is having its biggest impact on the state’s littlest citizens, according to a top child research expert.
At the Nov. 30 Great Start Business Summit, Jane Zehnder-Merrell, project director for Kids Count in Michigan, Michigan League for Human Services, said conditions for the state's children are worsening as evidenced by the rise in the child poverty rate to 27 percent.
In her talk entitled the “Status of Michigan’s Young Children,” Zehnder-Merrell said the greatest challenges today are in three troubling areas:
1) The rising number of children in poverty.

2) An infant mortality rate in which no substantial progress has occurred since the mid-‘90s.

3) Increasing numbers of children under age 18 who live in households where no parent has a full-time or year-round job.
In all but child poverty, these trends are “moving in the right direction,” she said.
A family headed by a single parent with two children under age 18 is considered at the poverty level if its gross annual income is at least $17,000, she said. For a family of four, that level is $22,000.
“At the Michigan League of Human Services, we’ve costed out what people in Michigan need to spend on average for their health care, for preschool, child care, for food, shelter, transportation, and it comes out to roughly 230 percent of poverty level. So families that are in this zone are really in a fragile economic level.”
Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has tracked the status of children nationally since 1989 and in Michigan since 1992. It follows 10 core indicators of child well-being, data that is useful in setting meaningful goals and public policy, investing in programs, and also identifying “those left behind,” she said.
In child poverty trends for infants and children under age 5, the rate in Michigan rose from 17 percent in 2000 to 27 percent in 2009, according to Kids Count. For children 0-17 overall, the rate in 2008 was 19.3 percent.
The state’s infant mortality rate is nearly 8 percent. Meanwhile, 44 percent of Michigan’s children are living “without secure parental employment.”
“We need to maintain our focus on the next generation,” said Zehnder-Merrell. “They are the future of our economy and our social structure here in our state.”
Another major problem highlighted in the recent data details huge racial disparities found in young children living in poverty.
Zehnder-Merrell called it “absolutely shocking” that poverty afflicts 44 percent of African-American children 0-5 in Michigan. Additionally, 47 percent of Native American families with young children have incomes that fall below poverty.
“That’s almost one in every two living below poverty,” she said.
Compared to white families, minority families also have more pre-term infants, babies born too soon, as well as more babies born to teen mothers.
While teen birth rates overall have declined, and Michigan has one of the lowest rates in the country, she cautioned that the United States’ teen birth rate is nearly double that of the next highest industrialized country, the United Kingdom. There are approximately 10,000 births a year to teen mothers in Michigan.
“(Teen birth rates) really speak to the opportunities that young people see for themselves,” she said.
Poor families also see a higher rate of obesity, which she attributes to families choosing cheaper “filler foods” over more expensive, but nutritious healthful choices.
“Obesity is a major issue with ramifications such as diabetes and heart disease,” she said.
Additionally, the rise in poverty has been accompanied by an escalation in childhood abuse and neglect. And it’s not just an urban problem. Rural northern Michigan counties, where poverty is high, report higher cases of abuse and neglect.
Compounding the problem of poverty is the fact that social safety nets aren’t what they used to be, Zehnder-Merrell noted, and that the minimum wage hasn’t raised a family of four above the poverty line since 1979.
Assistance checks from the state’s Cash Assistance Grant Program, created for families with children under 18 who aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance, have stayed the same, about $492 a month, for 15 years. At the same time, average housing costs have gone up to about $805 a month.

“Many families are in desperate poverty but no longer qualify for the cash assistance grant. Michigan really needs to buck it up in order to help more kids be successful earners, learners, readers and parents of the next generation.”

Community leaders discuss candidate survey results

By Brenda Brissette Mata
LANSING - Thirty seven candidates who answered a Great Start candidate survey prior to the election will take the oath of office for the 96th Michigan Legislature in January.
Of those 37, 28 answered yes to the first question on the survey, “Will you hold infants and young children harmless as you take the steps needed to balance the state’s budget?”
Through forums and candidate interviews, members of Michigan’s 54 Great Start Collaboratives and 70 Great Start Parent Coalitions gave all 300 candidates for the House and Senate a chance to answer the survey.
Eighty nine candidates took the survey. Seventy answered yes to the question, “Will you hold infants and young children harmless as you take the steps needed to balance the state’s budget?” Of the 37 elected, 30 answered yes to this question.
Seventy two answered yes to the question, “Would you support bringing Michigan’s current early childhood investments together into an office of Early Childhood?” Of the 37 elected, 30 answered yes.
Seventy three answered yes to the question, “With 45, 882 families needing child care subsidy (94,672 children) in order to work, would you support innovations to improve the system serving Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens rather than further cuts?” Of the 37 elected, 35 answered yes.
Seventy eight answered yes to the question, “Do you consider Michigan’s investment in our youngest citizens one of our top 5 priorities?” Of the 37 elected, 35 answered yes.
Seventy six answered yes to the question, “As the budget recovers from current economic stresses would you consider increased investment in young children and their families based upon documented return on investment data?” Of the 37 elected, 35 answered yes.
One of them was Rep. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who added, “As the current budget recovers, I would advocate for increased investment in young children and their families. Based on the Perry data, the investment would save substantially down the road.”
His reference was to the landmark High/Scope Educational Foundation’s Perry Preschool longitudinal study out of Ypsilanti that indicated a return of more than $17 for every dollar invested in early childhood.
For Washtenaw County Success by Six Director Sian Owen-Cruise, the election wins by David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, and Mark Ouimet, R-Chelsea, is good news for the state, but bad news for the collaborative. Both men are members of the collaborative’s executive committee but will step down when they take their House seats.
Of Rutledge, she said: “He really understands about the necessity of meeting the needs of particularly vulnerable children in the first six years of their lifelong trajectory. He sees early childhood as workforce development and as an essential part of how as a community we are more than just a group of people living in the same place.”
And of Ouimet, who has who has been involved in the collaborative since the birth of his grandson, she said: “He really understands that early childhood is vital to our community.”
“The truth is both men absolutely get how important early childhood is.”
Lori Noyer, parent coordinator with the Shiawassee County Great Start Collaborative, admits she was concerned when she saw that Sen.-elect Joe Hune, R-Fowlerville, answered no to the survey question about holding children harmless in the budget.
But she was heartened by a comment he added about how early childhood development “does show a significantly high return on investment.”
“The evidence from research proves that investing in early childhood shows long term cost savings,” Noyer said.
“Fewer drop-out rates, less crime and an improved workforce. It’s hard to deny the evidence. I’m hopeful that through continued interactions we can advocate for the importance of investing in early childhood because, as Senator Hune noted, early childhood development does show a significantly high return on investment.”
Ronda Rucker, coordinator of the Eaton County Great Start Collaborative, said she’s looking forward to continuing her work with Republican Sen.-elect Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, a former member of the House. Jones’ survey answers indicate support for early childhood. 
“We have always had great access to him and his staff in his former position as state representative,” Rucker said. “Rick is very concerned about families and jobs and he understands that connection to the early childhood work.”
During the Senate Republicans’ first post-election caucus in Lansing, Jones was elected majority caucus chair.
State Rep. James “Jase” Bolger, R-Marshall, who was recently elected Speaker of the House, attended a round-table discussion and candidate forum held in Kalamazoo County on Oct. 21.
Jacque Eatmon, coordinator of the Kalamazoo County Great Start Collaborative, said the collaborative is “looking forward to working with him and showing him that the Great Start Collaborative can be a great resource for him.”
Eatmon said the collaborative hopes to meet with Bolger individually “so that we can come together on common ground and show him that programs are being effective and have proven outcomes. “
Charles Brunner, D-Bay City, will become a member of the House of Representatives serving the 96th District.
In Brunner’s response to the survey, he wrote: “I value education and the Great Start early childhood programs, and will do my best to give infants and young children a high priority when balancing the state budget next year. I would always encourage efficiency in government, and better yet if it helps kids. As the budget discussion unfolds in Lansing, I promise to look at all options on the table before further cuts are made. Education is one of my top priorities.” 
Amy Trogan, parent liaison for the Bay-Arenac County Great Start Parent Coalition, said she personally interviewed Brunner and felt that he truly understood the importance that community plays in early childhood.”
“He recognized the value of any investment in early childhood,” Trogan said. “Obviously, everybody wants to make sure the budget is responsible, but he realizes that quality child care and programs and services are truly an investment. The community plays a vital role in early childhood and he really understands that.”
To view the results of the survey, click here.

Candidate survey positive for Michigan infants and young children

Over the past few months, early childhood advocates interviewed House and Senate candidates across the state.  These advocates asked 5 very specific questions related to early childhood.  Out of the candidates interviewed, 37 will take office as a member of the 96th legislature in January. 

More importantly, of those 37 individuals, 28 responded "yes" to the question "Will you hold infants and young children harmless as you take the steps needed to balance the state's budget?"

Some did not answer this question and others noted tough economic times.  Check out all 5 of the questions and responses in our "Voter Guide."

Delta-Schoolcraft GSC provides free child care at polling place

By Brenda Brissette-Mata
ESCANABA - It doesn’t take long to vote. A few minutes in line, a few minutes to fill out the ballot and you’re done.
But the process can slow down considerably when you have children. Get the kids in the car, get the kids out of the car, keep an eye on them while in line to get the ballot, and then how do you keep them happy while you vote?
The Delta-Schoolcraft Counties Great Start Collaborative (GSC) has come up with a unique solution, which it will employ during Tuesday’s election – free child care at a polling place.
Tara Weaver, director of the collaborative, said the topic came up during a conversation with Great Start Parent Coalition Liaison Vickie Maher.
“We wondered if we might be able to offer some sort of little day care on site - some way that we could keep kids busy for a few minutes so parents could vote.”
“We don’t want parents to have to worry. Maybe one of the kids is feeling crabby and you start to think, ‘Is it worth it? Maybe I just won’t go.’ I’ve been in that position,” added Weaver, who is the mother of three children, ages 4, 6, and 9.
They took the idea to a recent Parent Coalition meeting and parents there loved it. They immediately offered to staff a polling place child care at Escanaba City Hall from 9-11 a.m. Tuesday.
Because the service will be offered while parents are on-site there was no problem with licensing or red tape.
The coalition plans activities for the children, including coloring pages and games, like a “cast your vote” fishing game.
And, for parents, the coalition will also provide a table of information about the work of Great Start and how to join the parent coalition.

Van Buren GSC Reaches Out and Educates

 By Brenda Brissette Mata
LAWRENCE - All aboard! That was the call issued by the Van Buren Great Start Collaborative this summer as it continued its ongoing educational outreach.
The group held a “virtual bus tour” for local leaders and candidates to help them understand the needs of local children 0-5 and how those needs are being addressed.
The tour was held at the Van Buren Intermediate School District conference center in Lawrence, and more than 70 people attended, including nine state legislative candidates.
Margie Murphy, director of the Van Buren GSC, said real bus tours had been held in neighboring counties - Berrien and Cass - but since several early childhood programs are closed during the summer, Van Buren decided to hold a “virtual” bus tour instead, featuring a 20-minute slide show.
“It was a three part program,” Murphy said.  “First, candidates and the public could come on our ‘virtual’ tour and see what Van Buren has to offer and second, at the same time, the candidates were provided an opportunity to respond to the public and give a little bit of information about their views on early childhood. Third was a social hour where candidates, parents and community members could just talk and ask questions.”
Murphy, involved in early childhood for more than 30 years, said it is imperative that legislators and leaders in the community become aware of the importance of early childhood.
“The early years in the life of a child are absolutely critical,” she said. “I’m delighted to be part of Great Start, to work to make what we do have, sustainable. Seems like we take a few steps ahead with great programs and projects and then funds get cut. I think this systematic, organized approach to changing the status of early childhood statewide is finally going to elevate it to the level of concern that it needs to be, in order for us to have a long-term, long-range support, not only from legislators but from the community at large so that our efforts don’t keep waxing and waning with funding opportunities.”
At the event, the Van Buren GSC had a large map of Michigan with photos of the candidates indicating which district they represented. There also was a voter registration table and each candidate was allowed a table for promotional items.
To encourage parents to attend with their children, the GSC included dinner and child care.
The tour used photos gathered from directors of area programs, including Tri-County Head Start, Community Mental Health, Child Care Resources, Intercare, Telemon, Van Buren Public Health and Early On. Members of both the GSC and Great Start Parent Coalition narrated part of the program.
Murphy said she was surprised at the number of candidates who attended since the bus tour followed closely on the heels of another event to which candidates had been invited.
“But more attended this event, than the first,” she said.
The event was also a hit with parents who reported positive feedback and enjoyed personal conversations with the candidates.
“Candidates, parents, community members, everybody walked away more informed than when they arrived,” Murphy said.

Lapeer Great Start Parent Coalition Learned that Interviewing Candidates Isn't that Hard at All

By Brenda Brissette Mata

LAPEER - Teresa Gormley never imagined she’d be sharing information and interviewing candidates for the state Senate or House of Representatives, let alone gubernatorial candidates.

But that’s just what she did this election season.

Gormley, parent liaison for the Lapeer County Great Start Parent Coalition, helped the small but growing group conduct candidate interviews in order to educate voters.

Marissa Zamudio, a technical assistant with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, helped the group learn how to conduct mock interviews and research statistics.

The idea was to learn where the candidates stood as it pertained to early childhood and to pass along the information so that parents could make an informed choice at the polls.

“I did the research and learned about the candidates and when I felt like I had enough ammunition, I started making calls,” Gormley said.

Her first opportunity came back during the primary when Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra came to Lapeer to speak.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “But I was ready. I had materials to give him and questions to ask.”

She shared statistics about poverty and details from a survey that found one in three children in Michigan aren’t ready to succeed in kindergarten, emotionally, socially, intellectually or physically.

She also explained that the purpose of Great Start is to assure a coordinated system of community resources and supports to assist Michigan families in providing a great start for their children from birth to five.

“We just want every child in Michigan to have the chance for a great start,” she said.

About two weeks after she spoke with Hoekstra, she heard him talk briefly about early childhood.

“I was so excited,” she said. “It was a sentence or two. I guess it could have been a coincidence, but I like to think it was because he got my materials and got what I was saying.”
Gormley said it took her about 2 ½ weeks to complete all of the candidate interviews.

“I started to realize how much power we have as voters and I realized that most of the candidates are just people who care about this state. We have to tell them what we care about.”

She compiled a synopsis of what each candidate had to say and sent the information she compiled to parents in the Lapeer County GSPC database.

Gormley said she’s excited about the upcoming election and hopes she can get a lot of other people excited about the power that comes with voting.

“Next time there’s an election I would like to see all the parents get involved,” she said. “I felt like I was so much more informed as a voter. I shared what I learned with the coalition, with co-workers and just about everybody I met.”


Macomb GSPC Interviews 50 Candidates this Election Season

By Brenda Brissette Mata

MT. CLEMENS - Lisa Carter Bates is undaunted by the children vying for her attention in her home day care while she handles questions from an interviewer with ease and still manages to give her husband a sweet send-off as he leaves for work.

“You have to get right in there and get done what needs to be done,” Bates said. “I start off with a plan and a prayer when taking on tasks. It helps when you are surrounded by positive people with positive agendas.”

It was that can-do attitude that motivated Bates, the parent liaison for the Macomb County Great Start Parent Coalition, to see to it that more than 50 Macomb County candidates were interviewed about their views regarding early childhood this election season.

Bates worked hand in hand with Monica Bihar-Natze, the GSPC communications advocacy specialist, and a few parent coalition members, including Regina Hannah.

“It can be kind of intimidating to think about talking to senators and representatives and people running for those offices,” Bates said. “You want to make sure you articulate yourself and speak with professionalism and poise. You want people to realize we are serious about early childhood.”

The group gathered background information and statistics about brain development and early childhood, as well as background on the candidates.

Bates held trial runs to help the parents – Regina Hannah, Jennifer Crooks and Michelle Anderson - who volunteered to help conduct the interviews.

There were about 70 candidates in the Macomb County area and Bates was determined to get to as many as possible.

“I never did anything like it before, but I figure the candidates put their pants on one leg at a time, same as me,” Bates said.

Hannah shadowed Bates on a couple of the interviews until she felt comfortable enough to conduct her own. She said the experience changed her view about her voice, and her vote.

“At the beginning, I didn’t think my voice would really matter,” Hannah said. “But I take my vote a lot more seriously now. I often thought my vote didn’t count. But then I started learning more about it and I realized that’s a cop out. Every vote matters. You need to make an informed decision, not just say eeny-meeny-miney-moe.”

The candidate interviews and information were published in a newsletter and distributed to through the group’s e-mail database.

“We didn’t endorse any candidates, we just wanted to get the information to parents in the area,” Bates said.

“I told (candidates) there weren’t any right or wrong answers. We just wanted to know where they stood concerning early childhood development.”

For Hannah, the candidate interviews were not only a way to learn more about the candidates, but she learned plenty about herself.

“I’m so glad I did it,” Hannah said. “It taught me to open up. I’m usually pretty quiet, but I know how important this issue is. I know what it can mean to have people in places to make decisions about what happens with our children.”


Wexford-Missaukee GSPC Sponsor Voter Education Event

By Brenda Brissette Mata
LAKE CITY - At a “Meet the Candidates” night in Lake City, more than 70 community members gathered at Missaukee County Park to meet 14 candidates for state office.
Sponsored by the Wexford-Missaukee Great Start Parent Coalition, the candidates were invited to share their thoughts and ideas about the importance of early childhood.
“We wanted face to face time with candidates to educate them about our issues and provide them with an opportunity to share their thoughts with voters,” said Rachel Rogers, parent liaison for the coalition.”
The event was held at a county park, just a few feet away from a playground so that families could bring their children to the event. The park includes a “Born Learning Trail” with 10 signs demonstrating activities that parents and children can do while they walk. The trail was built through a partnership between Great Start and the United Way.
“We invited everybody from state legislators right up to the candidates for governor,” Rogers said. While none of the gubernatorial candidates could make it, the group was happy to learn the vast majority of other candidates invited said they would attend.
Candidates or legislators who couldn’t attend were contacted by coalition members and asked to meet separately so that the groups concerns about early childhood could be shared.
Prior to the event, each candidate was mailed a questionnaire, a list of six questions. At the forum each candidate was given an opportunity to answer three of the six questions.
“Members from the parent coalition formed a communications committee and focused on the statistics from our counties and then created questions to reflect on those stats,” Rogers said.
“One candidate was surprised that 28 percent of our kids came to kindergarten without any kind of preschool experience,” Rogers said.
Many were also shocked to learn that in Wexford-Missaukee, one in five children live in poverty and more than 65 percent of households have both parents working, which creates a huge need for quality child care.
Several candidates also were surprised to learn that Wexford and Missaukee counties have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state.
Members of the audience were given the statistics, a list of candidate names and a pencil for taking notes.
“There were a lot of people taking notes while the candidates talked,” Rogers said. “I think the candidates noticed.”