What’s new in public policy? Mid-October, 2018

Janet ForbushBy Janet Forbush

Background:  In less than three weeks voters will go to polls throughout the country to exercise their civic responsibility and opportunity to cast votes in the midterm 2018 elections.  This event offers a valuable time for mentors and mentees to participate in a cornerstone activity that guides our democracy.  Many of our older mentees are of an age where they are eligible to vote.  For mentors who are matched with older youth, now is the time to be sure the young people are registered so they can be ‘players in this ballgame.’  For younger mentees, many of whom attend schools that are used as polling places and experience a ‘day off, going to the polls with a family member, caregiver, or their mentor, can serve as a vital civic experience in terms of seeing the voting process in real time.  Profound demographic changes that have taken place in the United State in the last 10-15 years will certainly influence election outcomes.   Monitoring and discussing election results provides another learning lesson for our youth…it could be the ‘Match Activity of the Month’ with their mentor.

Federal and State Developments

It comes as no surprise to Chronicle readers that there is vast variation in the ways schools allocate resources for high-need students.  Three court cases decided in July 2018 from different jurisdictions highlight the struggle to garner resources for school districts with high concentrations of high-need students.  State budget cuts forced by the Great Recession were translated into a reallocation of monies to private schools.  Three states seriously impacted by this policy shift are New Mexico, Minnesota, and Michigan.

In the New Mexico ruling (Martinez v. State of New Mexico), the court decided that the state “must provide the essential resources, including instructional materials, curricula and personnel.”  Resources were to be provided to ensure that high-need youth would be made available to create an “opportunity to compensate for any educational barriers they may face.” In other words, the court made clear that inadequate school funding violated the education article of the state constitution as well as the New Mexico state constitutional equal protection and due process rights of economically disadvantaged students.

The Minnesota case was brought forward by a group of Minneapolis parents saying public schools are segregated by race and socio-economic status and that a “segregated education is per se an inadequate education and in violation of the Minnesota Constitution.”  The Minnesota Supreme Court 2018 ruling overturned a 1993 ruling and moved to state that the Education Clause in the state constitution creates a fundamental right to education that is subject to strict scrutiny.  Likely, this will be revisited in the coming months/years.

The 2018 Michigan case turns things upside down in terms of where things stand.  The basis of the case brought by plaintiffs was that students were not ensured of being served to “reach an adequate level of literacy.”  So this is not predicated on the state constitution.  And, the case was filed in a federal court.  Since the original plea sought that high-need students would have access to equitable resources as well as an outcome of literacy.  This rulin, like that in Minnesota, perhaps has more ‘legs to grow on’ in the coming months/years.

Homeless Number of Students Hits City Record

The statistics from the city of New York reported earlier this week indicate that there are now 114,659 students living in the boroughs who are homeless (1 in 10.)  I found this to be, candidly, horrifying.  That # is clearly what authorities had documented data to support.  Yet, most of the young people, through whatever means, creative approaches, and sheer resilience, are traveling across boroughs in New York to attend school each day.  And, another startling dimension of this scenario is that there is roughly 1 social worker for every 1,860 homeless students.  Readers of the Chronicle, and all of us, need to be aware of the dramatic influences affecting our youth and we need to raise our collective voices in our communities about issues of homelessness, heightened absences, truancy.  We are a remarkable advocacy movement for young people in need.

A Good Thing Happening in America

David Brooks, legendary columnist in the New York Times, contributed a column in the newspaper on October 9 in which he described his recent visit to Spartanburg, South Carolina. He titled his column recounting the visit as “A Good Thing Happening in America.”  I instantly fell in love with the title and wanted to share it with Chronicle readers…a very special audience. 

Mr. Brooks described an initiative in Spartanburg called the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM).  He described the goals of SAM and also identified a constellation of community organizations partnering to improve the pathways and opportunities for Spartanburg youth.  It is exciting and the effort is a terrific inspiration about the value-add of collective impact approaches to work on behalf of youth in our communities.   Innovators in Spartanburg have drawn upon previous collaborations in other cities, e.g., STRIVE in Cincinnati, OH that also focused on youth needs.  This is GOOD NEWS!

Recommended Reading & Allied Resource

Doing Right by Our Kids – Protecting Child Safety at All Levels, written by Amy Tiemann PhD, and Irene van der Zande,  have introduced two valuable current resources for program staff, mentors, and agency heads, relate to our needs to be more creative and informed in work with youth in need.  How do mentor program staff ask the right questions about how staff members are identifying and addressing needs of the youth needs?  And, are there issues that are being overlooked in terms of how the volunteer mentors are responding to issues?  Are mentoring programs capacity-rich or otherwise to ask for help?  It is important.  This volume by Tiemann and von der Zandr have provided a valuable resource and it could inform several trainings for mentors/staff in preparation and revisiting how they are working with youth clients as well as mentors and parents/caregivers.

The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults – Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People by Irene Van der Zande – This is a companion toolkit for mentors, teachers, parents/caregivers and advocates to address the strengths and assets of the young people with whom you are working.  It would be a valuable for a training for new mentors at the beginning and/or refreshing session of the program year.   It can be used in programs independently of the Tiemann resource described earlier, however, together, this is a powerful constellation for program staff to put to work.

Both of these volumes are available through Amazon.com