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State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.

Musicians team up with at-risk youth in songwriting workshop
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The girls who live on the Vista Maria campus in Dearborn Heights have all experienced some kind of serious abuse or neglect. Some are the victims of human trafficking, all are in the foster care system. They come to Vista Maria to work through the trauma and heal.

Loren Kerns / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The White House released a summary last week detailing why trauma-informed schools are essential to student success.

Specifically, it focused on the educational barriers girls face when they’ve survived traumatic experiences like abuse, neglect and homelessness, and the need to rethink discipline policies to provide them with support.

Mom and kids
Rebecca L / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Finishing college and obtaining a degree is challenging. Debt, work and other responsibilities often stand in the way. The path to college graduation can be particularly difficult for students who also have kids.

Nearly 5 million college students are parents of dependent children, according to the Institute of Women's Policy Research (IWPR). That's 26% of all college undergraduates.

And almost half of them are single mothers, 89% of whom are low-income.

brunurb / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

It's officially fall. The leaves are changing colors. Cooler temperatures on the way. And if you're like me, you're about to crank up the thermostat.

But for many low-income families, the heating season presents a "heat or eat" dilemma. They are forced to choose between buying food and paying for utilities.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

How many kids are in a typical classroom in Michigan?

That’s a tough question to answer. And believe me, we’ve tried

But a new report from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan gives a clearer picture of class sizes in Michigan’s public schools.

Wesley Fryer / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

There's a growing debate about the long-term effects of harsh school punishments, like suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests

asthma inhaler
Christian Guthier / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

About 24 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma. And more than 6 million of them are children.

The percentage of U.S. kids with asthma doubled in the 1980s and 1990s. And it continued to increase steadily until the trend changed in 2013, according to NPR.

teacher in elementary classroom
User woodleywonderworks / Flickr- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Children with special needs are entitled to a “free and appropriate education” under federal law. What that looks like varies from district to district.

All schools, though, are required to make a plan for how a student will be educated. This is called an Individual Education Plan, or “IEP."   

So, what happens when a parent and a school district disagree on what that plan should look like? Melody Arabo has spent the past year finding out.

A special education classroom in Holt
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The idea for today’s State of Opportunity story comes from you. After we ran a piece about how special ed placements vary from district to district, several of you got in touch and asked: How do schools pay for special ed?

I went to Elliott Elementary in Holt to get some answers.

The first thing you notice about the special ed room at Elliott Elementary is the student teacher ratio: four students, four adults.

Metal Detector
BBC World Service / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Public schools with majority black and other nonwhite students rely on more intense security measures, to the detriment of the students.

That's according to new research paper from John P. Nance, associate professor of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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