Organizations sign memo to White House urging youth priorities

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In a new effort to coordinate the youth work field around major national priorities, more than 200 youth-serving organizations signed a memo delivered to President Bush in late January, urging him to support a specified slate of youth policies for his second term. (Youth Advocates Vie for Attention in Washington.)

Those policies include support for the Federal Youth Coordination Act and the newly rewritten version of the Second Chance Act of 2004, investments in youth job training, and new efforts to track dropouts and youth who age out of foster care. The signatories range in size from the Child Welfare League of America and the National Youth Employment Coalition down to local operators, such as the Lighthouse After School Program in Bridgeport, Conn.

White House officials for domestic policy and planning declined to acknowledge whether they received the memo or to comment on its contents.

“The memo is trying to roll out some achievable goals issues” that the president could support with few political ramifications, says Mishaela Duran, public policy director of the Washington-based National Network for Youth, which signed the memo. Most of the recommendations would require little or no new funding.

That’s crucial, because the memo was delivered as federal budget deficits have reached record levels, and less than two weeks before the president released his 2006 budget proposal that significantly cuts or restricts funding for many youth programs. The entreaty was written by the Campaign for Youth, a public policy initiative representing more than 1,000 youth-serving organizations.

One of the main recommendations, passage of the Federal Youth Coordination Act, carries initial costs of only $1.5 million. The Second Chance Act would reauthorize the Serious Violent Offender Re-entry initiative (SVOR) under the Department of Justice. The act proposes that $30 million of $113 million for the initiative be devoted to working with juvenile offenders.

An initial version of the Second Chance Act introduced last year would have eliminated the juvenile offender portion from the legislation. Juveniles were later included by the bill’s author, Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Bush’s 2006 budget does not include a specific proposal for SVOR.

The memo also calls for the development of coherent national measures on dropout rates and outcomes for youth aging out of foster care.

“There is no uniform criteria for what is a dropout in this country,” says David Brown, president of the National Youth Employment Coalition. “It’s an issue that has been fought over for years.”

Such a measure, says the memo, should be included in accountability measures under the No Child Left Behind Act. For youth aging out of foster care, the campaign asks the president to require the Department of Health and Human Services to launch the National Youth in Transition Data System. The system was mandated under the Chaffee Foster Care Independence Act that passed in 1999, but has yet to be implemented.

The memo also urges various changes during the reauthorization of several significant funding streams affecting youth: the Higher Education Act, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Among the recommendations:

• Strengthen the ability of the Higher Education Act’s TRIO program to prepare disadvantaged youth for college.

• Recalibrate the performance measures for WIA grantees to better account for the increased risk factors incurred by programs working with at-risk kids. The memo says those factors “serve as a disincentive to engaging the youth with greatest needs,” because they could drag down performance ratings for the agencies.

• Require career preparation and technical education to be available in all secondary schools.

The prospects for White House support on those reauthorizations were dimmed by Bush’s 2006 budget proposal, which would eliminate two TRIO programs, Upward Bound and Talent Search, which totaled $425 million in fiscal 2005. It would also eliminate all funding for vocational education under Perkins, a total cut of $1.33 billion from last year.

WIA funding for youth training money ($986.3 million for 2005) would be rolled into a consolidated grant package. Under the proposal, all WIA funding would drop $61.5 million, and there is no way to tell how much would be cut from youth training. Contact: The Campaign for Youth, through the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (202) 737-6272,