Visionello / Flickr Creative Commons

The occasional weekend sleepover at a friend’s house...

Playing on the school basketball team...

Going on a class field trip...

Getting a cell phone...

Posting an update to Facebook...

Sound like pretty average activities for teenagers, right?

Not for teens in foster care.

For a number of reasons - like cost, liability, and biological parental rights - young people in Michigan’s child welfare system have long had to jump through multiple legal hoops to do things most people would consider “normal” for kids their age.

State of Opportunity special: Your tax dollars at work

Jul 30, 2015
Chris Potter / Flickr

Michigan spends about $5.6 billion on social welfare programs a year, and that doesn't include health care. 

Even though that's only about 10% of the state's total budget, our passions and our politics are very much at work when we talk about these programs.  

In this hour-long special, we uncover why we get so emotional about social welfare spending. Do these emotions keep us from having policies and programs that would actually help families in Michigan get ahead? 

I've been planning to do a radio story on empathy for more than a year, but it's never really come together. Now I probably don't have to. This animation from the Royal Society of Arts narrated by Brene Brown breaks down the difference between empathy and sympathy so well, and why it matters.

The only thing this animation doesn't cover that I am curious about, is the connection between empathy and policies around poverty. I talked to researcher Elizabeth Segal, one of the few academics studying this, about the connection.

John Spencer / Education Rethink

At the end of 2012 Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill into a law prohibiting employers and schools from asking for social media usernames and passwords. But, California, once again ahead of the legislation pack, has taken the social media and privacy debate another step forward with a new "eraser" law, SB-568. But some critics of the law think it's, at best, a sideways step that will do more to limit web companies than protect kids from past mistakes. 

Under the new law, minors would be able to request web companies remove their online activity. The law goes into effect in 2015, giving companies time to either amend existing policies around kids and privacy or figure out how they're going to effectively implement the new law in California.

Gabe Photos / Flickr

Almost exactly two years ago, I crossed the Atlantic and took up residence in a land of rainstorms and rainbows to do a Masters in Social Policy. I landed in England in part because I was interested in social issues, and I wanted to learn more about how different governments address these challenges.

Last week, after taking my final exam, I got on an airplane to head to Michigan and start working with State of Opportunity.

We know there's an academic achievement gap between white and black students. A new study out of Baylor University tries to investigate how policymakers respond to that gap. The conclusion: state lawmakers put in more stringent policies when graduation rates for white students are low, but not when they're low for black students.

The Michigan legislature last week passed a budget that stripped funding for implementation of new "common core" education standards. The standards are an attempt to get states on the same page when it comes to evaluating students. The Washington Post dives into why Tea Party groups now see the Common Core standards as a major issue, and why they're fighting the standards across the country.

Your participation and insightful guests made for a spirited discussion about themes ranging from power to policy, but really the question was if all kids have an equal shot at an American dream. (Spoiler alert: none of the guests think all kids have an equal shot.)

Listen to parts of the show below. If you want to listen to the whole thing, here you go.

lfmuth/ flickr

 This week, the state legislature began its first hearings on Governor's Snyder's proposal to more than double preschool funding in Michigan over the next two years. Yesterday, I went to a joint House committee to get a sense of where lawmakers stand on the proposal. It was clear that many lawmakers are sincerely trying to do their job, and really investigate whether the preschool investment is worth it for taxpayers. But, some of the things I heard were pretty weird. 

Here's a list of the weirdest:

1. "It seems to me, the perverse incentive is to take the family and rip it apart."

Since the 2012 election there's been more bipartisan movement on immigration policy than we've seen in a long time. Just this week, here in Michigan, the Secretary of State began issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. But perhaps lost in the discussion are the many immigrants who continue to achieve their citizenship dreams as the children of parents who are naturalized citizens. Photographer John Moore was at the federal courthouse in Manhattan this week to take portraits of some of the country's newest citizens, ranging in age from 5 to 41. Interestingly, Moore charged his assistant with recording not only the names of the kids, but also their parents' occupations. How will the lives of children living in poverty change with incremental shifts in immigration policy at the state and federal levels? It's something to ponder, but in the meantime, enjoy the faces of these new U.S. citizens.