In Focus: Building the Capacity of Communities

Mar 17, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Wrong Direction: President Trump’s Budget Slashes Youth Programs

By Kisha Bird

President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) sets forth this administration’s values for supporting low-income children, youth, and families. The budget proposes drastic, damaging cuts to employment, education, and training services that enable low-income youth and young adults to stay in school, improve their skills, and be successful in postsecondary education, the workplace, and life.   

The Department of Labor’s budget shrinks by $2.5 billion—a debilitating 21 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The budget substantially cuts grants to states and local areas to provide workforce training to low-income youth and adults through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which passed Congress in 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support. WIOA provides essential career and training services to low-income adults. It’s one of the primary sources of funding that helps states and local communities support out-of-school youth in accessing job training, reengaging in school, and earning their diplomas as well as partner with employers to provide pathways into the workforce. While the budget proposes that states, localities, and employers take more responsibility for these programs, significant funding reductions will mean less help for low-income workers who are striving to build skills and advance along career pathways to better-paying jobs.

The U.S. Department of Education’s budget makes $9.2 billion in cuts (13 percent over the prior year). Student aid and other education programs for low-income students see the biggest cuts, while school choice programs enjoy dramatic increases—ignoring the systemic issues facing America’s public schools. The budget will:

  • Invest an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs, including $1 billion for Title I, $250 million for a new private school choice program, and $168 million for charter schools. The Title I funding is designed to support increased school choice options for students by encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment. These types of policies will help a select group of students but leave behind the vast majority of poor and low-income students that attend Title I schools. High-poverty schools already struggle with lack of funding, crumbling infrastructure, community safety hazards, and teacher shortages—and this budget will divert needed funding from America’s public schools. Students who participate in voucher programs forfeit important civil rights protections; when coupled with the roll back of ESSA accountability regulations, these cuts represent an unprecedented risk for students of color, low-income students, disabled students, and students who have had contact with the foster care, homeless, and justice systems.
  • Eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. 21CCLC provides critical before-school, after-school, and summer programs for low-income children and youth. This will undermine more than one million children and their parents.  The Trump Administration justifies this cut with claims that the program is not effective; however, there is strong evidence that quality after-school programs help children and youth become more engaged in school, raise their academic performance, and remain safe during non-school hours. 
  • Reduce funding for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) by 10 percent and TRIO by nearly a third. GEAR UP prepares vulnerable youth and low-income, first-generation, and nontraditional students for postsecondary education. TRIO provides services throughout the education pipeline to help students succeed beginning in middle school.

The budget also disinvests in programs that prevent youth from entering the justice system while increasing support for law-and-orderenforcement strategies that have historically targeted communities of color and immigrants. The overall Department of Justice budget is down 3.8 percent from the 2017 annualized CR level. We don’t yet know which discretionary programs will be impacted; however, it’s a good bet that reentry services, the Title II Formula Grants Program and The Title V – Delinquency Prevention Program of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act are on the chopping block. These programs provide funding to support state and local prevention and intervention efforts for court-involved youth and those at risk of justice involvement and juvenile justice system improvements. 

Lastly, the proposed budget eliminates funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This will severely limit states’ and communities’ ability to respond to critical challenges and support low-income youth.  National service is powerful tool for low-income youth and can serve as a pathway out of poverty, increasing access to education, work experience, and civic engagement. CNCS administers the AmeriCorps program, where 80,000 young Americans serve in communities to support natural disaster relief, provide critical education and social services to low-income youth and the elderly, and help local communities solve pressing issues like hunger and poverty. Many local communities use CDBG to support community-based, job training, and workforce development programs for low-income youth.

The president’s budget proposal is just that—a proposal.  It is not expected to be enacted. However, it does reveal the Administration’s expectations for funding levels and priorities. It’s now up to Congress to make the right choices through its appropriations process and invest in low-income youth and their families.   

Jan 31, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Senator Jeff Sessions: A Threat to American Justice

By Clarence Okoh and Kisha Bird

This week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Senator Jeff Sessions’ (AL-R) nomination for attorney general.  If approved, his nomination will move to the Senate floor. The vote follows a confirmation hearing where Mr. Sessions did not provide any assurances that he would diverge from his 40-year record of eroding civil and human rights and opposing federal protections for vulnerable communities.

This vote also comes in the wake of President Trump's sweeping executive orders that put immigrant and refugee families at risk. This includes provisions to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions and ban entry for immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Additionally, the orders undermine refugee resettlement programs by significantly reducing the number of refugees accepted into the United States, with strict restrictions on asylum seekers from war-torn Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries.

In light of these developments, the Senate Judiciary Committee should further question Mr. Sessions to determine his perspective on the president’s immigration policies. Given the Administration’s ongoing hostility toward immigrants and religious minorities, it’s more essential than ever to appoint an attorney general who will vigorously defend American civil liberties. Mr. Sessions’ record strongly suggests he isn’t up to the task.

Mr. Sessions has repeatedly opposed legislation and policy advancements that protect women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; immigrants; and people of color.  He voted ‘no’ on reauthorizing the Violence against Women Act and Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded hate crimes to include sexual orientation. Sessions has strongly supported policies that disenfranchise people of color, supporting voter ID laws and applauding the Supreme Court for dismantling the Voting Rights Act.  Moreover, he has endorsed mandatory minimums as well as legislation allowing states to charge and imprison 14-year-old children as adults. He has also blocked immigration reform and condemned federal investigations into law enforcement misconduct.

In recent years, policymakers have embraced bipartisan criminal and juvenile justice reform. Across the country, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, school districts, and community stakeholders are coming together around restorative justice policies, alternatives to youth incarceration, school discipline reform, and reentry pathways to jobs and education. However, Sessions has consistently undermined these efforts. His explosive rhetoric and troubling record, coupled with President Trump’s dangerous “law and order” proposals, place immigrants, communities of color, and bipartisan progress at risk. 

Law and order strategies are manifested, in part, through the criminalization of poverty and adolescent behavior; the expansion of law enforcement presence into nontraditional settings such as schools; and insufficient enforcement of civil rights protections. By reviving these antiquated strategies, the Administration will erode trust in the police, destabilize families and communities, and perpetuate disparities based on race, class, gender, and ability. Further, law-and-order interventions will result in higher rates of recidivism—straining already-tenuous state and local budgets.

It’s patently unjust to punish people unevenly based on race, ethnicity, gender, or status.  Youth justice must begin with a set of principles that recognizes the roles of structural racism and systemic barriers in creating disparities. We shouldn’t demonize adolescent behavior; instead, we need to center youth voice and invest in data-driven solutions that empower young people. That includes providing alternatives to incarceration and supporting successful reentry for those young people who have been justice involved.

CLASP calls on policymakers and advocates to reject Mr. Sessions and his blatant hostility toward civil and human rights.  The U.S. cannot afford an attorney general whose legislative and legal records are antithetical to the ideal of equal justice. Several senators, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have declared their opposition. We urge the rest of the Senate to follow their lead. And we encourage advocates to fight every effort to undermine principled justice reform with failed law-and-order policies.  There’s too much at stake to remain silent.

Contact your senators and urge them to stop Senator Sessions from becoming America’s next attorney general.  


Dec 19, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Department of Education Final Accountability Regulations Leave Many Policy Decisions for Disconnected Youth to States

By Nia West-Bey

On November 29, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued final accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). CLASP’s comments on the proposed regulations sought to promote increased accountability for vulnerable and out-of-school youth. Although the final rules contain several wins for this population of youth, there were significant missed opportunities to strengthen federal policy directives to better support these students.

In line with CLASP’s recommendations, the final rule was revised to include students as “required stakeholders” for the development of comprehensive and targeted support and improvement plans, acknowledging that “directly involving students in developing school improvement plans, particularly in the case of older students, could ensure that a school’s plan represents the perspectives of those who will be most directly impacted by its implementation.”

The final regulations also maintain graduation rates as a key accountability factor, describing targeted and comprehensive support and improvement activities for high schools graduating less than two thirds of their students or of any key sub-group of students. The regulations also clarify the calculation of high school graduation rates and which students must be included in the calculation, which ensures accountability is maintained for students who leave school. Acknowledging the importance of educational programs that primarily serve young people who are dropping back into school or are significantly over-age and under-credited, the final rule allows for differentiated improvement activities for these programs. The final rule also encourages coordination of the state plan with other key programs, including those in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act.

In addition, the final regulations maintain the proposed rule’s accountability requirements for key groups of vulnerable youth, including youth in foster care, homeless youth, and those in the justice system. Specifically, the final rule requires data disaggregation on all accountability indicators reported by schools, districts, and states for low-income youth, youth of color, and youth who have been in foster care or are homeless. Required reporting on outcomes for each of these groups that typically experience poor educational outcomes helps to support equity and enables states to target resources to the students with the greatest need.

The rule includes several provisions to support justice-involved youth; it requires states to develop a plan for transferring records and credits to facilitate increased educational continuity and only recognizes transfers to educational programs in juvenile justice facilities as valid if they can be reasonably expected to lead to a high school diploma. The rule also requires states to plan for providing and funding transportation for foster and homeless youth so they can remain in their home schools.

Despite recommendations from CLASP and other advocates, ED declined to make changes to the final rules on a range of topics, leaving many decisions to states and school districts. For example, states are responsible for generating lists of evidence-based interventions for targeted/comprehensive support and improvement, selecting school climate indicators for inclusion in their accountability systems, and

considering additional groups (such as justice-involved youth or pregnant and parenting teens) for data disaggregation. States also need to develop and submit plans to secure grant funding to meet the special needs of high-risk populations or to address school climate factors that contribute to pushing students out of school such as exclusionary discipline practices, bullying, and harassment.

Despite the helpful provisions that can support better educational outcomes for vulnerable youth and the substantial choices and flexibility left to the states, there is a risk that these rules will never take effect. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), passed in 1996 as a part of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” Congress has the opportunity to use an expedited process to overturn regulations finalized by the Obama Administration since late spring 2016. The Senate Republican Policy Committee has included the ESSA accountability regulations on a short list of regulations that it intends to target under the CRA, claiming, “the department’s final rules are too prescriptive, conflict with congressional intent, and violate explicit prohibitions on the secretary’s authority to regulate.” If the accountability regulations are overturned through this process, ED is prohibited from creating a substantially similar regulation at any point in the future.

States are required to consult with stakeholders as they develop and finalize their state education plans for the 2017-2018 school year. Advocates for opportunity youth should prepare to engage with state and local education leaders to ensure that their plans make good choices on behalf of youth disconnected from school or at heightened risk of dropping out. CLASP will continue our efforts to support this advocacy work and to keep stakeholders informed throughout 2017.

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