In Focus

Oct 13, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Realizing Youth Justice: Recent Legislative Updates

By Clarence Okoh and Andrea Amaechi

On September 30, President Obama declared October to be National Youth Justice Awareness Month. While much national attention has rightfully centered on the challenges young people face once they are engaged with the justice system, a more robust vision for youth justice should consider policy changes that dismantle systems holding young people back from opportunity and, instead, build systems that empower them  to realize their potential. Recently, there have been some positive movements to create better opportunities for youth, and the foundation has been laid for more robust investments in youth during the next Congress.

On September 22 the House passed the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act, which reauthorizes and reforms the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The bill preserves important provisions and updates the law in several ways. It maintains the JJDPA’s Title II formula grants, which fund programs in states that emphasize education and rehabilitation. Notably, the bill also requires state plans to include provisions that identify alternatives to detention, provide screening for human trafficking victims, and accommodate pregnant girls. Moreover, the bill phases out a policy allowing juveniles to be detained for status offenses, such as truancy or running away from home, which would not be crimes if committed by an adult. The JJDPA is halfway there to reauthorization. It is now time for the Senate to follow suit.

We need not only reforms in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, but also significant investment in the very supports that will ensure youth have the opportunity to successfully stay in, or re-enter, the community: pathways to education and employment. On September 22, Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee Bobby Scott introduced the Opening Doors Act and hosted a panel discussion featuring policymakers, advocates, and young people to discuss the challenges facing disconnected youth and the opportunities and investments needed to better support their future. The goal of the Opening Doors Act is to reduce youth disconnection through significant federal investments in employment, education, and training.  With nearly 5.25 million young people ages 16-24 who are both out of school and out of work, the need for an expanded federal role in supporting vulnerable young people and their communities is quite evident.

The legislation calls for $5.5 billion total in new funding—$1.5 billion for subsidized summer jobs, $2 billion for partially subsidized year-round jobs, and $2 billion for competitive grants to communities.  Both strategies offer promise in serving vulnerable young people. Subsidized employment strategies, such as summer youth employment, work well in serving populations with marginal attachments to the labor force, including poor and low-income young people. Summer employment assists in establishing critical early work experience and developing marketable skills setting young people on a trajectory for continued education and future employment.  Congressman Scott’s legislation would provide a stronger foundation for communities to leverage new funding to create and expand programs to better serve the employment needs of young people. This is a very important step in the right direction.  The next Congress should use the bill as a marker for future investments and a down payment towards full employment for low-income youth and young adults and reconnecting the millions of young people who are currently being left behind.  


Oct 4, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Stop-Gap Continuing Resolution Passes Congress


Last Wednesday night—with about 50 hours to go until the start of federal Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) and members of Congress eager to return home to campaign—the U.S. House and Senate passed a “Continuing Resolution” (CR) that will keep the federal government funded until December 9, 2016.

After negotiations, Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise that, among other things, includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million for natural disaster relief, notably in flood-stricken Louisiana. Congress also reached a bipartisan agreement to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate on the amount of federal aid for the urgently needed and long-overdue replacement of lead water pipe lines in Flint, Michigan, where many people still cannot safely drink, bathe, or cook using tap water. However the final legislation to help Flint was not included in the CR and will have to wait until Congress returns after the election. The CR also temporarily continues mandatory programs that needed extensions, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

While this stop-gap measure will keep the government running until after the general election, the CR leaves considerable unfinished business because it fails fundamentally to meet the resource needs of programs that support low-income families. By temporarily continuing the inadequate funding levels in the FY16 budget for all annually appropriated federal programs, Congress did very little to address the needs of the 13.5 percent of Americans who live in poverty, according to the latest Census report on poverty.

As the nation looks ahead to a new president and Congressional leaders plan for 2017 and beyond, policymakers must fully fund effective investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies that ensure all benefit from the economic recovery. After the election, Congress will enter a “lame duck session” in which some members who will not be returning in January may feel unencumbered by future elections. The consequences are grim if Congress fails in the lame duck to sharply raise funding levels as it deliberates over the FY17 budget. For example: 

  • Holding child care funding at its current levels means that fewer children will receive the stable and healthy child care they need to thrive and their parents need to succeed on the job. Recent data show that participation in child care funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program has fallen to a 16-year low, with just 1.4 million children being served in 2014, and spending at an 11-year low as of 2013.  
  • Fewer workers will receive the skills training and postsecondary credentials they need to move toward better jobs, since this year’s funding level for adult education  is more than 6 percent below the FY 2017 amounts authorized in 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law. Moreover, current funding for key adult and youth employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than levels authorized for next year by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years.
  • Communities of color have been hit especially hard by federal disinvestment in key programs such as child care, workforce training, and Head Start. Youth of color, particularly out of school youth, simply don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and young children cannot get the start they need and deserve without help. With children of color soon to be half of all children—and already half of children under five—their success matters deeply to America’s future.

We can drive down the damaging prevalence of poverty and economic insecurity if the next president and Congressional leaders make a strong commitment to addressing poverty. Such a commitment should start with the enactment of an FY2017 budget that expands and invests in the crucial education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that help people get and keep a job, stabilize families, and promote success. In addition, the commitment must focus resources and attention on those who face the most barriers—children, youth, and families of color, immigrant families, and those whose opportunities are limited by pervasive poverty in their neighborhoods and communities.

CLASP urges Congress to pass a 2017 spending bill with additional resources to support low-income families as they seek economic security. 

Aug 4, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Submits Comments on Proposed Regulations to Promote Accountability for Vulnerable and Out-of-School Youth under ESSA

By: Nia West-Bey

On August 1, CLASP submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education on proposed regulations that address accountability and state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Signed by President Barack Obama In December, ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which provides federal funds to improve elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools. 

Through the regulatory process, the Department has the opportunity to emphasize state and Local Education Agency accountability for the educational outcomes of vulnerable and disconnected students, as well as highlight opportunities for states to address these students’ needs in their state plans. Drawing on prior recommendations, CLASP’s comments focus on strengthening and prioritizing the ESSA provisions that support state and district efforts to prevent students from dropping out of high school as well as reengage out-of-school youth. CLASP also emphasizes the importance of aligning ESSA with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which targets funding and comprehensive education and training programs to out-of-school youth. 

Specifically, CLASP’s comments:

  • Express support for the proposed regulations’ focus on high schools with low graduation rates for all or key subgroups of students, as well as attention to postsecondary readiness and enrollment in accountability systems.
  • Advocate for revisions to support increased accountability for and incentives to reengage youth who have dropped out.
  • Recommend that ESSA align its definitions of vulnerable populations with WIOA’s definitions of eligible in-school youth by requesting disaggregation of accountability data for court-involved youth and pregnant and parenting youth.
  • Advocate for including middle and high school students in stakeholder conversations to develop plans for comprehensive support and improvement. These discussions should also engage vulnerable youth as well as the agencies and community-based organizations that serve them.
  • Recommend that evidence-based dropout prevention and recovery strategies be included in State plans and plans for comprehensive support and improvement.
  • Reflect agreement with colleagues from Civil Rights organizations that the regulations must address school climate, exclusionary discipline, and presence of law enforcement in schools as part of school accountability systems.

Young people who have discontinued their education without earning a high school diploma need viable options for returning to school. The current system presents obstacles; youth often lack information on available education options and where to enroll. Our comments can help to ensure that the final regulations encourage states and LEAs to recognize these students and incentivize the creation of intentional, coordinated plans for reengaging and keeping them connected. 

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