Policy Corner: August Updates with Janet Forbush

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

August 2018


As the summer season comes to a close, the country is poised for the upcoming school season for students returning to school, youngsters who are just beginning their formal learning ‘careers’ and older youth entering career pathways or college. While this can be an exciting time for many children and youth, the realities for countless young people are unfortunately caste in a burdensome cloak of challenges including poverty, homelessness, the fear of uncertainty raised by parental immigration status, and, less than optimal school choices.

This column will shed additional light on current policy developments at the federal and state levels influencing the overall climate for our young people as the school year gets underway. Many good things are “happening” and it is a vitally important time to energize a new cohort of mentors and remind them of the importance of their contributions.

Federal and State Developments

Senate Work on Spending Bills: 

Despite partisan division over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, several top Senate Democrats and Republicans are working reasonably well together to pass a series of spending bills by putting the proposed legislation on the Senate floor and then allowing amendments to the proposals for consideration by the full Senate before sending on to the House. Sounds amazing, right? But conversations have been underway over recent weeks and appear to be encouraging.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) acknowledges that it has been 15 years since the Senate had passed the labor, health and education bill not under consideration before the fiscal year comes to an end on September 30. If successful, it could potentially translate into Congress gaining an upper hand over the White House on spending matters. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, is cautiously optimistic that there might be an appetite for avoiding what has been a chaotic stop-gap approach to funding. He and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the senior Democrat on the spending committee, have reportedly taken a few trips together this summer to try and work on some of the key issues that need to be resolved to continue to move this process forward. Whether House members will have the courage to stand up to the President on any type of bi-partisan agreement to a spending package is, of course, a legitimate concern.

One of the cracks in this scenario is that the Senate has yet to address the funding approach for the Department of Homeland Security which would be the agency responsible for overseeing expenditures for border security. Hence, the voice of the President with respect to constructing a border wall is an echo in the background that cannot be overlooked. That said, Chronicle readers will recall that last March President Trump vowed he would never again sign an omnibus spending measure that packaged all spending bills together in one enormous package. Senate and House members will take up the task of sorting through spending upon their return to Washington following the Labor Day holiday with the September 30 fiscal year end on the horizon.

New State Efforts for Identifying Disadvantaged Students: 

A key component of federal education law for more than 15 years is that states must report student achievement for every school both overall and for subgroups of students. One of these subgroups is comprised of children from economically disadvantaged families. Until recently, low-income students have customarily been identified as those eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program (FRL). The FRL program is available to families who earn less than 185% of the federal poverty level (currently $46,435 for a family of four; https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-05-08/pdf/2018-09679.pdf)

Almost 20% of schools currently offer free lunches to all of their students under a “community eligibility” provision. (http://www.frac.org/community-eligibility) This has translated into a considerably larger number of U.S. students receiving a subsidized lunch with just over 50 percent in this category even though the share of children who grow up in low-income families hasn’t changed significantly between 1990 and today.

Several states have adopted and/or are considering new methods for identifying disadvantaged students based on their families’ enrollment in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and the foster care system. Some school districts have been establishing linkages to these programs in order to “directly certify” students for FRL without them having to complete a form which can be a very challenging aspect of gaining eligibility. States in the lead on this effort include Delaware, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington, DC.

DC is an instructive example of an urban school system where two-thirds of students attend schools where free lunch is provided to everyone. A new accountability system recently adopted in DC will identify economically disadvantaged students as those who are “at-risk” by virtue of participation in SNAP, TANF, or being in foster care or homeless. DC school personnel are planning to examine the data underlying the at-risk designation to determine achievement gaps within District schools and better understand how to address differences in contexts across the schools serving large populations of “at-risk” youth.

Transitioning to a new measure of economic disadvantage is not without some obvious challenges, e.g., cost of making data linkages across systems maintained by different agencies, ensuring privacy and confidentiality of student records, possible adjustment to laws or regulations around the use of data. However, the laudable goal is to meet the needs of a growing student population living in poverty and experiencing food insecurity on a daily basis.

Reading Recommendations

What Truth Sounds Like by Michael Eric Dyson adds to his contributions to our political and public policy perspectives on what is going on in our country today regarding discourse and relationships among different populations and he hits home on the issue of race. He characterizes this as an “unfinished conversation.” It is compelling, thought provoking, and inspirational without being accusatory. One of his earlier books, Tears We Cannot Stop, would also be a recommended addition to your library. Dr. Dyson is University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. 

An ‘Opinion Piece’ by Frank Bruni – How to Get the Most Out of College (8/17/2018) – This is mentoring ‘rich’ and ‘friendly’ and he embraces mentoring throughout this article. It features life experiences of students who have recognized the value-add of mentors. Bruni cautions, however, “Don’t be obsequious, but do establish a deep connection with a mentor.”   (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/17/opinion/college-…)