Policy Corner: Five developments that will dramatically affect our nation’s youth

By Janet Forbush

As this edition of The Chronicle is published, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on a Motion to Proceed (MTP) that will set the stage for a potential vote on repeal and/or replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The implications of these votes are vast. As readers understand, serious consideration is being given to widespread cuts to Medicaid which currently provides extensive coverage to vulnerable youth, children with special needs, and their families. It adds up to a virtual dismantling of Medicaid. The independent Congressional Budget Office has determined this would leave 32 million people without health insurance by 2026.

And on a parallel track, Senate and House Committees are holding hearings and reviewing budget proposals to be acted upon before the end of the fiscal year. All in all, a dramatic and volatile climate that demands our attention and engagement as policy advocates to protect children and youth.

Federal Developments

On June 23, Representative Karen Bass (D-CA-37) introduced the Foster Youth Mentoring Act to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that provide services for youth in foster care. Congresswoman Bass serves as a Co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. Five other members of the House serve as Co-chairs of the Caucus: Diane Black (TN-06); Trent Franks (AZ-08); Jim Langevin (RI-02); Brenda Lawrence (MI-14); and, Tom Marino (PA-10).

In the press release issued by her office regarding this announcement, Ms. Bass said “In all of my years working in child welfare, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, we’ve heard their voices clearly: They want a consistent source of advice and support—someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as supplementary. But for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have.” She went on to note that “there are kids in every congressional district that would benefit from this bill’s passage.”

The proposed legislation would fund programs for expansion of their services as well as for improvement of services delivery. In addition, the legislation would ensure that programs participating in the grant program are engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards to ensure implementation of best practices in volunteer screening, matching, and successful mentoring relationships. Training of adult volunteers would address the need for understanding child development, family dynamics, the child welfare system and other relevant systems that affect foster youth. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act would promote increased coordination between mentoring programs and statewide child welfare systems.

David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership and Representative Bass published a joint op-ed on the announcement of this proposed legislation in the Huffington Post .


State Developments

Back to school sales are already underway in office supply and clothing stores as the month of July comes to a close! Meanwhile, in the offices of governors and chief state school officers, attention is focused on language states have drafted for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the new federal policy replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Several states are still in the process of finalizing drafts of implementation procedures while a few have already received sign-off from the U.S.Department of Education.

In Ohio there has been an outcry from school policy makers and administrators about the continued emphasis on student testing requirements that prevented the degree of local flexibility for school boards on what happens in their districts.   And, parents have weighed in through meetings and webinars hosted throughout the past year. At this time, the current draft for Ohio’s approach on ESSA is on Governor Kasich’s desk awaiting signature.

In tandem, federal budget and appropriations hearings held in the past two weeks and which are continuing, will influence what states are going to be able to access to assist them with ESSA rollout. Monitoring the work of the Alliance for Excellent Education is suggested to Chronicle readers as that group posts regular updates on the federal education budget and hearings including five-minute videos. (www.all4ed.org/FederalFlash).

City Feature

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel gained approval from the Board of Education in late May to introduce a new and unusual requirement for high school seniors preparing to graduate: in order to graduate, students will soon have to show they have secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or military. Emanuel is quoted as saying “We are going to help kids have a plan, because they going to need it to succeed. You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

Experts say Chicago Public Schools is the first big-city system to make post-graduation plans a graduation requirement. But the question is whether the cash-strapped district can provide enough mentoring and counseling to help its neediest students succeed when the rule takes effect in 2020.

The first students affected by the new requirement are rising sophomores in the class of 2020. Emanuel argues that gives schools enough time to make sure students are ready, even without additional resources.

Recommended Summer Reading

Eric Liu’s latest book, ‘You’re More Powerful Than You Think – A Citizen’s Guide to Make Change Happen’ is an empowering read that comes to us at a time when we are starving for a picnic of civil discourse. He embraces citizenship in profound ways and encourages us to take steps to be involved, stay involved, and enjoy engagement in policy advocacy. Readers of The Chronicle will recall Liu’s 2004 book, ‘Guiding Lights – The People Who lead Us Toward Our Purpose in Life’ which messaged mentorship and learning. This new book is available in e-format (WWW.PUBLICAFFAIRSBOOKS.COM)