In Focus

Jul 28, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Immigrant Youth, DACA’s Future Under Immediate Threat

By Duy Pham and Wendy Cervantes

On July 20, 2017, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, which would enable “Dreamers”—immigrant youth who entered the U.S. as children—to earn their citizenship. One week later, the House version of the bill was introduced by Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). The new bill is more progressive than previous iterations and reflects the full diversity of the undocumented youth population. An estimated 1.8 million Dreamers would be immediately eligible for conditional permanent resident status under the bill’s requirements.

While the Dream Act provides a path forward, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remains under threat. If DACA is discontinued, over 800,000 beneficiaries—many of them students—would be placed in peril.  Moreover, the move would severely undermine our shared national interest.  

For over five years, DACA has significantly changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, providing eligible immigrants a reprieve from deportation and a two-year work permit. According to a 2016 survey, 46 percent of DACA beneficiaries were currently enrolled in secondary or postsecondary education. Of those students, 92 percent said DACA allowed them to pursue educational opportunities that they previously could not. Despite verbal attacks on undocumented immigrants during the 2016 presidential election, many postsecondary institutions and associations have pledged to support DACA students. K-12 school districts have also stepped up efforts to protect young immigrants. The program’s impact goes beyond beneficiaries to their families and communities. DACA youth bolster the U.S. economy, promote a dynamic workforce, and strengthen our nation’s educational institutions.

Despite broad support for Dreamers, the current Administration has continued to send mixed signals regarding DACA’s future. Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, 9 other state AGs and the Governor of Idaho petitioned the Trump Administration to rescind DACA by September 5, 2017. Specifically, their joint letter asked the Administration to “rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and…not renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future.” If the Administration does not rescind DACA, Paxton has threated to bring the program before the United States District Court. That would require the Trump Administration to defend it in federal court. If the Administration does rescind the program, over 800,000 DACA youth and young adults will eventually lose their status.

Recognizing this threat against immigrant youth, attorneys general from 19 other states and the District of Columbia are urging the Administration to maintain and defend DACA and to continue to support Dreamers. In addition, 42 Democratic Senators have separately called for the President to keep DACA in place. Other bills have also been introduced in Congress that would provide a path to citizenship to DACA beneficiaries and other undocumented youth, including the American Hope Act, introduced by Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and the Recognizing America’s Children Act, introduced by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). With so much on the line, the time to act is now.

The Dream Act has given Congress an opportunity to provide Dreamers a permanent solution, free from harmful enforcement provisions. However, it’s also critical that the Trump Administration stand up for the future of our nation’s immigrant youth and keep DACA in place until Congress passes a long-term solution. Ending DACA would be a devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of young people who consider this country home. It would also be disastrous for the educational institutions that serve DACA students. 

Jul 27, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Homeless Students Gain Their Education While Navigating Challenges

By Del Smith

Earlier this summer, SchoolHouse Connection hosted “Voices of Youth: A Discussion on Education, Resilience, Homelessness, and Hope” in partnership with Senators Patty Murray and Lisa Murkowski. The briefing spotlighted the 1.3 million homeless students enrolled in public K-12 or postsecondary education.

“Voices of Youth” featured 11 young adults who were homeless during their school years and who are currently attending (or recently graduated from) college. The discussion covered many important topics, including economic insecurity, family trauma, barriers to college success, and mental health battles. Additionally, panelists recommended policy solutions based on their lived experiences.  

Among many obstacles, students discussed missing school to take care of their younger siblings because their parents had to work. They also highlighted immigrant students’ barriers to accessing benefits and services. Finding housing and securing financial aid are also challenging for homeless young people. Several panelists said it was hard to prove they were homeless when applying for financial aid. Homelessness also affects their ability to get an apartment or car. Even when students are employed and can afford to make payments, lenders want co-signers to be ensured the debt will be repaid. Typically, a co-signer is a parent or legal guardian; however, homeless students are often independent or have parents who won’t co-sign.

Mental health was another important topic. Students said they were often told to forget about past traumas, invalidating their experiences. In comparison to housed teens, homeless teens have dramatically worse health outcomes. In one study, over 20 percent of students living in poverty experienced some form of mental illness within the last year. Further, homeless teens are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. These challenges are compounded by students’ struggle to afford health care. Oftentimes, they have to rely on student health offices, which provide quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.

Students also highlighted the importance of outreach. Low awareness can minimize the impact of even the best policies.  To address that issue, panelists recommended that every college and university have a homeless liaison to help students make the most of their college experience. Typically, liaisons are former homeless students who now work closely with organizations fighting to end student homelessness. 

Current federal policy proposals threaten homeless youths’ access to housing, health care, and other support services. The president’s FY 2018 budget would cut over $200 billion from SNAP and TANF over the next decade. It would also cut $600 billion from Medicaid, another crucial support for youth. These proposals demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about homeless youth’s needs as well as our country’s future.

In today’s difficult political landscape, the briefing served as an important reminder to policymakers and advocates: in order to help homeless students, we must first understand their experiences.

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Jun 19, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Trump Order Weakens Apprenticeship System, Continues to Slash Funding for Workforce Training

On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) meant to “expand apprenticeships in America.” Under  the current system, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and state apprenticeship agencies register all apprenticeship programs. However this EO proposes to decentralize the registration of apprenticeships to enable third parties—including a variety of corporate, nonprofit, trade groups, or other entities—to independently register or recognize apprenticeships. The implementation of this EO is likely to expand apprenticeship programs while potentially damaging the integrity and reputation of the current system and diminishing the value of this important earn-while-you-learn program to workers seeking to gain greater skills and improve their economic opportunities.

The current federal-state apprenticeship system in the United States was established through the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937. The primary purpose of the Act was to “promote the furtherance of labor standards necessary to safeguard the welfare of apprentices.” DOL regulations set the framework for registered apprenticeships and require equal employment opportunity standards. President Trump’s EO does not include any guarantee that the new “industry-recognized” apprenticeships will uphold the current job quality and equal opportunity standards for the program. These standards include delineating the type and structure of the training, form of supervision, terms of employment, and health and safety requirements. The EO also does not mention any requirements—as currently codified—that apprentices receive wage increases as they achieve milestones, such as the development of skills and competencies or time spent in on-the-job training. Furthermore, the EO does not specify that graduates of this new program will receive a nationally recognized credential that is portable among employers within an industry, a hallmark of the current Registered Apprenticeship system.

In addition, the EO fails to require any equal opportunity, affirmative action, or racial/gender fair hiring practices in the new “industry-recognized apprenticeships.” These Equal Employment Opportunity requirements in the current system for registered apprenticeships ensure that underrepresented groups can access and benefit from these critical job-training opportunities. In the absence of strong quality assurance design and monitoring,  these new apprenticeships would allow federal funding to promote low-value training programs that are allowed to discriminate, provide few job protections, and offer little opportunity to advance from poverty-level wages.

Notably, the EO also directs federal agencies to make recommendations for eliminating workforce training under consideration in next year’s budget. Just as the proposed alternative to registered apprenticeship would weaken a proven workforce development strategy that enjoys bipartisan support, the Trump Administration continues to attack other key federal workforce development and job training investments. The president’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018 proposed cuts of almost 40 percent from job training programs provided through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); proposed to reduce adult education by 16 percent ($96 million), even though two-thirds of adults with lower literacy and numeracy skills are already employed but face severe challenges in moving up at work due to their skill levels; and called for a 15 percent ($168 million) cut to Perkins career and technical education.

While the EO pays lip service to expanding access to and participation in apprenticeships among youth and students in secondary and postsecondary institutions, the administration’s budget would undermine these goals. The president’s budget proposes some of its deepest cuts for a program that provides crucial opportunities for youth to earn while they learn: the 20 percent dedicated WIOA Title I youth formula funding for work-based learning, which can include pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. Furthermore, WIOA’s provisions for subsidized transitional jobs for individuals with barriers to employment—and its enhanced reimbursement of up to 75 percent of wages for on-the-job training—offer valuable incentives for employers to participate in earn-and-learn activities, including pre-apprenticeships. These policies also encourage relationships between employers and the public workforce development system, leading to job training programs that are informed by industry needs and better prepare youth and adults with the right competencies for job opportunities.

The EO also promotes the development of apprenticeship programs at colleges and universities. By decentralizing the registration of apprenticeships, the Trump Administration would create a system for these new programs that resembles the accreditation system used in postsecondary education, where the Department of Education approves accreditors, who then in turn approve specific programs and institutions. This system, which both political parties agree is badly in need of reform, has allowed fraud to flourish. As of October 2016, the Obama Administration had approved 16,000 borrower “defense to repayment claims” (made by former students who reported being defrauded by colleges), and 13,000 “closed school claims” (for students who attended institutions that abruptly closed), for a cost to the taxpayer of $350 million. This is in addition to countless settlements and judgments that states attorneys general have received from schools that were accredited under the current model, yet that had made false claims about their programs’ performance to prospective students and committed other crimes.

Creating a mirror image of this accreditation system for registering “industry-recognized” apprenticeship could lead to similar waste, fraud, and abuse, allowing for the creation of sub-optimal education and training experiences that disproportionately draw in low-income students and students of color. This again raises significant questions and concerns that the new registration process suggested in the EO will weaken existing job quality and equal employment opportunity rules—and create a two-tiered system that will further undermine the current Registered Apprenticeship system.

Our workforce training system already struggles with having too few resources to meet the existing demand. It is possible to have both well-funded job training programs and quality assurance. Unfortunately, through its FY18 budget proposal and this new EO, the Trump Administration has yet to provide American workers with either.

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