Policy Corner: April Updates from Janet Forbush

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

April 2017

This issue of The Chronicle is being published in the last week in April when federal lawmakers are returning from a spring break peppered with numerous district level town hall meetings flavored with lively discourse with constituents. Many of those meetings, as described in reports from throughout the country, highlighted concerns of voters about key public policy concerns and directions on potential shifts in some policies such as the Affordable Care Act and discretionary funding for programs affecting vulnerable youth. Immediately looming over specific policy shifts is the prospect of a potential government shutdown that could occur as early as the close of business on April 28. This could take place if legislators are unable to reach agreement on a budget whether through a continuing resolution (CR) or, a temporary spending plan.

While this might seem a possibility that would not have implications for each of us in our own communities, think again! Mentoring and other youth programs currently funded by federal dollars, whether in whole or in part, could be affected. There is an ‘escape hatch’ that congressional leaders can bring to bear on this situation. That is for them to agree to keep the government running, perhaps for another week, while they work to try and craft a longer-term spending measure.  The President’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, appearing on several recent news programs, characterized a shutdown as “not something we want to have” but went on to say “we want our priorities funded.”


Federal Developments

Among current bills with bipartisan support that will be taken up in the near future is the Child Protection Improvements Act (CPIA).    This legislation, H.R. 695/S. 705 (reflecting House and Senate numbers), would provide access to all youth serving organizations to run national FBI fingerprint background checks on their volunteers and employees in a timely manner.  For those of you who have already contacted your U.S. Senators and Representative to urge their support of this Act, thank you!  If you have not yet done so, please consider reaching out to invite their endorsement of this important and much needed legislation.  MENTOR/The National Mentoring Partnership has highlighted the importance of this legislation in recent ‘Alerts’ and has further provided language to use in communicating to your delegation.

The First 100 Days on Criminal Justice Reforms introduced by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions include what is being described as an attack on “inner city” crime by the new administration.  Mr. Sessions maintains that inner city crime is “surging in American cities.”  By contrast, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reported in early April that overall crime has fallen in the nation’s 30 largest cities to 2,857 incidents per 100,000 people from its peak of 5,856 incidents in 1991.  Violent crime has dropped from 716 incidents per capita to 366, and murder from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3 in that same time period.

Mr. Trump directed the Attorney General to create the Task force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety in February.  Criminal and juvenile justice reform advocates are interpreting this as a step back from recent reforms that have helped to reduce incarceration and placement of juveniles in adult correctional facilities.  This new task force would replace the 21st Century Policing Task Force created by President Obama.  This is a significant shift from the tenor and direction pursued in recent years and has the potential, according to observers, of redirecting grant streams to more directly fund local law enforcement activities.  Readers of The Chronicle will continue to be informed about developments about this in upcoming issues as new budget details emerge.


Mentors as Role Models for Youth and as Engaged Citizens…A Larger Role to Build Community Capacity?

Research of Richard D. Kahlenberg and Clifford Janey, two scholars and writers who have observed and examined the American electorate in recent years, teamed up to produce a report published by the Century Foundation in November of last year entitled “Putting Democracy Back into Public Education.”  The report argues that “schools are failing at what the nation’s founders saw as education’s most basic purpose: preparing young people to be reflective citizens who would value liberty and democracy and resist the appeals of demagogues.”  Janey, who served as superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., Newark, NJ, and Rochester, NY, and Kahlenberg agree that public schools aren’t pulling their weight in this arena.

The report highlights the emphasis schools place on trying to prepare “college and career ready” youth adequately prepared for economic globalization and economic competition and find somewhere to lend their skills in the marketplace.  So here is where mentors can, and often do, pick up much of the responsibility for encouraging students along this tricky trajectory.  Yet, where do the mentors pick up the ‘flag’, so to speak, to help young people learn about civic education?  Increasingly ‘civics’ has been eliminated from school curricula.

In a 2011 World Values Survey cited by Kahlenberg and Janey, they report that when asked whether democracy is a good or bad way to run a country, 17 percent of respondents said bad or very bad, which was up from 9% in the mid 1990’s.  The importance of skills for workplace democracy has been uniquely highlighted by the authors.


20th Anniversary Celebration of America’s Promise Alliance – Announces New Institute

America’s Promise Alliance (APA) has been a leading bipartisan national organization to embrace the importance of mentoring as a key strategy to address the needs of vulnerable and disconnected youth.  Mentoring – ‘caring adults’ – is one of five key ‘promises’ that the organization articulates in its mission. Founded in Philadelphia in 1997, earlier in April APA celebrated the 20th anniversary benchmark celebration in New York City featuring a keynote address by President Bill Clinton and speakers from several national organizations focusing on the needs of young people.

When originally convened in Philadelphia, four former presidents and the widow of the late President Ronald Reagan attended.  They were joined by key partners General Colin Powell and Mrs. Powell who continue to co-chair the leadership of APA.  As part of the New York celebration, APA published “Our Work – a Framework for Accelerating Progress for Children and Youth in America.”  The study identifies two key areas of research and learning that APA intends to prioritize in future work – 1) study of child and youth development and, 2) study of economic mobility.

In addition to the release of the “Our Work” study, APA announced a new collaboration with a non-profit organization, Say Yes To Education, to foster public and private-sector collaboration to help students.  George Weiss, founder of Say Yes to Education, announced that he will invest $3m in the joint venture with America’s Promise to establish an institute in his name that will deploy 13 researchers at the Center for Promise at Boston University to work with communities and programs to help youth earn a college degree or other postsecondary credential.