Policy Corner: March Updates with Janet Forbush

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

March 2018


The early spring of 2018 has brought public policy advocacy to the forefront on a host of levels – federal, state, and local – and has highlighted opportunities available to all of us to play a role in shaping policy and lending our voices to the magnificent opportunities of civil discourse. While forward progress is not always guaranteed, it is inherently enriched when more people are involved, engaged, and enthused about engaging in the process.

The March for Our Lives demonstrations throughout the country earlier this month represent what is likely a turning point in the ways key legislators will perceive and process the essential contributions of our young people to the dialogue and action around school safety and gun control. As of now, the potential of this movement remains uncharted. However, let’s assume we are witnessing and participating in a civic endeavor of consequence.

Federal and State Developments

Before leaving Washington late last week for a spring break, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion federal spending agreement, reflected in a 2,000+ page document, which will keep the government running through September 30th of this year. Given the numerous short term spending agreements that have been passed in recent months, this development is encouraging.

That said, there are specific dimensions of the agreement relating to different agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education which signal a potential weakening of the influence of Secretary Betsy DeVos in shaping this document. Ms. DeVos has been advocating for widespread cuts in funding for afterschool and out-of-school time programming which Chronicle readers know include numerous mentoring initiatives. Good news is that funding for 21st Century Afterschool Learning Centers, for example, is restored in the new package.

Similarly, the new agreement restores full funding for the Washington, D.C. tuition aid program for D.C. residents to help them attend college. Lawmakers designated $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant initiative. This had previously been targeted for elimination by the administration.

Mentoring specific funding isn’t prominently featured in this agreement as it has been in recent years.  OJJDP, which has awarded more than $834 million in grants to mentoring organizations from FY 2008 to FY 2017, will evidently continue to support the important work of the National Mentoring Resource Center, however, grant opportunities appear to be fewer and agency solicitations have not yet been published in all categories. Forging strong working relationships between program practitioners and researchers in this field does remain a signal priority.

On a contextual level, from both a policy perspective and in anticipation of mid-term elections at state and local levels, it is noteworthy that there has been a notable recent turnaround among several GOP governors on school spending. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who made his name attacking unions and slashing school funding, is now promising an “historic investment” in public schools as he campaigns for reelection. Florida Governor Rick Scott is taking a similar tack with regular promotions boasting about his plan for more school money, which is reportedly backed by a $1M advertising campaign from supportive state businesses promoting the increases. In the Southwest, members of the Arizona Save Our Schools initiative have been expressing frustration with the level of public school funding and their Governor, Doug Ducey, also up for reelection, is promising an increase in funding for schools.

This looks to be a GOP turnabout on school spending. Here again, your voices as advocates for young people and their need for mentoring need to be raised locally and at state levels to sustain the potential turnaround.

New York Forgets Its Juvenile Lifers

An editorial of interest to bring to your attention was published on 3/24/2018 in the NYT. It describes the policy in place in New York State regarding the reviews of offenders who committed crimes as juveniles, have been incarcerated, oftentimes for decades, and have not been successful in gaining parole. The editorial cited numerous instances in which “release rates of juvenile lifers are not rising as they should.”

Last week, Mr. Carlos Flores, who was convicted in 1981 of second-degree murder at the age of 17, and who is now 54 years old, filed a class-action lawsuit against the NY State Parole Board, indicating that what are characterized as “knee-jerk” denials of applications for parole violate the U.S. Constitution. The fundamental policy point here is that parole boards throughout the country might be overlooking the need to review policies and practices, especially in terms of the juveniles under their supervision.

Are Mentors Available when Mentees Begin College/Post-Secondary Training?

This is an important question for consideration as many programs are preparing for high school graduation and celebratory events surrounding the remarkable relationships that have been developed between mentors and mentees. Several young people will be heading to workforce/apprenticeship training as well as to local community colleges, universities, or other higher education opportunities. This all sounds great…but it can turn into a nightmare rather rapidly if a young mentee lands at a spot where s/he is unable to get adequate support for the transition to the advanced training they’ll receive wherever their next step takes them.

A recent study conducted by Fabian Pfeffer of the University Michigan, has examined what particular issues are influencing young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who begin advanced training and are then, for a variety of reasons, paralyzed by the challenges. Policies that push an agenda of inequality affect these young students disproportionately. Some colleges have started to work collaboratively to address these challenges to share student-success strategies. In New York, for example, CUNY’s network has created a program that has nearly doubled graduation rates.

We need to address the ‘college graduation gap’ to help young people as they take these next important steps in the coming months. More creativity around keeping the mentors and mentees connected next fall might be a useful strategy to ‘tuck into the proverbial toolkit.’

Spring Reading Recommendation

The Self-Driven Child:  The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson. The premise of this volume is to convey to young people and their parents, caregivers, and mentors that there is a “shared delusion” about what can permeate the thinking if one is operating under the premise that if they don’t get the “Acceptance Letter” from a particular institution that their life path will be forever marginalized and opportunities for success will be limited.

Stixrud and Johnson argue that young people “want their lives to work.” So a “fear-based understanding of success” is counter-productive. Their unvarnished guidance is that we must always be honest and forthright but not fear-mongering adults. We become successful by working hard at something that engages us and by “pulling ourselves up when we stumble.” Great concept that we can all appreciate as we continue our work on ‘Planet Mentor.’