Senate Approps Bill Signals Commitment to Youth Education But Shows Little Promise for Dropout Recovery
By Kisha Bird
A Senate subcommittee recently released an appropriations bill that makes important investments in programs to develop career and education opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Unfortunately, the bill doesn't go far enough in investing in programs to re-engage youth who have already dropped out of high school.
The Senate Labor Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee released its appropriations bill for FY 2011 earlier this week. The bill provides discretionary funding for a range of safety net, workforce, and education programs. While the overall bill provides limited opportunities for dropout recovery and reengagement, the bill does make important investments in education and workforce innovations that potentially offer resources to support states and communities in developing career and education pathways for disadvantaged youth, especially high school dropouts.
The bill funds the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Title I Youth activities at $995 million, a slight increase from its FY 2010 allocation of $924,069 million. The bill requires that $95 million of these funds be directed to a Youth Innovation Fund to support innovative strategies, replicate best practices, and leverage reform efforts to improve the service delivery of youth education and training programs. In addition, at least 30 percent of the Youth Innovation Fund resources must provide summer employment activities for youth. Taking these new provisions into consideration, the actual proposed FY 2011 funding level for Title I Youth activities is 3 percent ($24 million) less than its previous year appropriation.
The bill includes an Innovation Fund which presents an opportunity to rethink service delivery to high need communities and youth populations. Nevertheless, the funding level is woefully inadequate. The Senate bill is nearly 40 percent less ($59 million) than the modest $154 million proposed by President Obama to pilot innovative models for delivering summer and year-round work experiences and comprehensive services to disconnected youth. Additionally, unlike the House companion bill, which funded summer jobs for youth at $250 million, the Senate bill fails to maintain sufficient funding for summer and year-round jobs for youth, a very successful strategy funded under the in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Other Department of Labor allocations include an increase in FY 2010 funding to YouthBuild by $7.5 million to $110 million, expansion of the Green Jobs Innovations Fund initiated through ARRA from $40 million in FY 2101 to $65 million. The Green Jobs Innovation Fund includes a strategic focus on partnerships with community-based organizations in underserved communities serving targeted populations, such as disadvantaged and disconnected youth.
The Senate bill also provides significant resources in education to leverage existing reform programs and build on initial investments set forth by Congress and the Administration through the ARRA. These funding streams place increased attention on improving the high school graduation rate and ensuring all students are college and career-ready. The bill provided funding in areas that focus on turning around the nation's lowest performing schools, supporting innovation and testing new ideas. Funding streams which can have an impact on high school reform, dropout prevention and recovery at the state and local level include:
- $625 million in School Improvement Grants to support schools in the bottom 5 percent, or high schools with less than 60 percent graduation rate. This amount is $275 million less than proposed by the President but nevertheless, roughly a $79 million increase from its FY 2010 appropriations level.
- $675 million to expand Race to the Top grants, the Administration's signature education reform program. This is half of the President's request and less than the $800 million House Subcommittee's funding level.
- $250 million to expand the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program to make competitive awards to develop and expand innovative strategies and practices that have been shown to be effective in improving educational outcomes for students. This allocation also represents half of the President's request and $150 million less than House subcommittee's provision.
- $20 million for expansion of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative -a competitive grant program designed to improve educational and developmental outcomes for youth in the nation's most distressed communities using a cradle through college/career-ready continuum. This is far less than the $210 million requested by the Administration.
- $100 million for the High School Graduation Initiative, doubling its FY 2010 funding of $50 million. This competitive funding stream supports coordinated dropout prevention and re-entry programs in high schools with high annual dropout rates as well as targeted efforts in "feeder" middle schools.
This bill is just one step in the budget process for FY 2011. The next steps following a full Senate vote include a conference process with House, which released its Labor, Health and Education Appropriations, Subcommittee Bill earlier this month. As specific language and funding levels are further refined throughout the budget process, youth practitioners and advocates have an important window of opportunity to ensure these funding streams include resource-levels commensurate with local needs and are directed to support high poverty communities, emphasize cross-systems partnerships, dropout recovery, multiple education options and pathways to careers and post-secondary education for disadvantaged and disconnected youth.