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Sen. Kaine introduces Middle STEP Act to boost middle school career exploration

Last week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the Middle School Technical Education Program or Middle STEP Act (S. 2788).  The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Boxer, Casey and Warner and is intended to increase the exposure of middle school students to careers outside of traditional pathways through career and technical education.  When introducing the bill, Sen. Kaine said:

“Career and technical education, CTE, are a proven way to help students explore their own strengths and preferences, as well as how they match up with potential future careers. However, limited funding for middle school CTE programming often means students have to wait until high school for this exposure.

Studies have found that middle school students greatly benefit from career and technical education development programs that promote career exploration skills, as well as increase knowledge of career options and career pathways. Middle school is an important time for students to explore their own strengths, likes, and dislikes, and career and technical education exploration programs are great tools to educate them about the type of course or training that goes into a career field that matches their interests.”


Jim Jeffords: A founder of the movement to expand afterschool programs, a hero to children and families

This post was originally published on Huffington Post's Education Blog. Read the original post and share your thoughts with the HuffPost community.


Before former Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont introduced the first legislation to provide federal funding for afterschool in 1994, the federal government played essentially no role in providing meaningful support and programming for young people in the hours after the school day ended and before parents arrived home from work. Sen. Jeffords, who passed away on Aug. 18 at the age of 80, was a pioneer in the national afterschool movement. He worked tirelessly to build congressional and presidential support for a national afterschool and summer learning program infrastructure that lives on today as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative (21st CCLC).

Sen. Jeffords had many proud accomplishments, including chairing the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and helping to shape the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the No Child Left Behind Act and the Higher Education Act. But advocates for afterschool remember him best as one of the original authors of the legislation that created the 21st CCLC.


Child Protection Improvement Act gaining momentum in Congress

Congress is out on August recess until early September, however discussions on a variety of topics continue to take place. In particular, momentum appears to be growing in support of the Child Protection Improvement Act (S. 1362). The bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) about one year ago seeks to establish affordable access to an all-encompassing criminal background check database system accessible by afterschool and other youth-serving organizations. While all youth-serving organizations can check the in-state criminal records of job applicants and volunteers, only one-third of states provide these organizations with access to the FBI database to conduct nationwide criminal background checks.

Earlier this summer, Sen. Schumer joined afterschool and youth organizations in New York for a press event highlighting the need and potential impact of the legislation. The bill builds off of the now expired pilot program created by the PROTECT Act of 2004 that gave selected youth-serving organizations access to nationwide criminal records.  Statistics from that program show the importance of having comprehensive background checks.   In that program, 6 percent of applicants had a criminal record that should have prevented them from working with children.  Additionally, 40 percent of those crimes were not committed in the same state in which the person applied for the job or volunteer opportunity, meaning that the record would be undetected without a nationwide criminal record search.

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Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passes Senate, strengthens supports for youth

Last week the Senate voted 95-3 to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. The bipartisan, bicameral bill seeks to improve the nation’s workforce development system. As discussed in a previous blog, the legislation focuses in part on providing comprehensive supports and programming for out-of-school young people. Those provisions from Title I of WIOA include:

  • Expanding the definition of out-of-school youth to encompass young people ages 16 to 24 who are not attending school, have dropped out of school, and face extensive barriers to work and to completing their education. Title I targets 75 percent of youth funds to provide services for out-of-school youth.
  • Addresses eligibility issues that can make it difficult for local areas to develop comprehensive, cross-system approaches to serve youth who are most in need. Title I does so by expanding the definition of low-income individuals to include those who receive or are eligible to receive free or reduced price school lunches and adding an expansive definition for individuals with a barrier to employment. Title I also incorporates a special rule that allows young people living in high-poverty areas to be deemed eligible for services.
  • Requires a minimum percentage of youth funds (20 percent) to support work experiences for low-income and vulnerable young people.
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State afterschool policy update

While Congress remains stalled with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the 2015 budget appropriations process; states and localities are experiencing considerable momentum. Among the jurisdictions making progress in advancing funding and policy for afterschool programs are Washington, D.C., New York state and California:

  • In Washington, D.C., the city council recently passed their FY2015 budget, including a modest increase in the D.C. Public Schools Out-of-School Time Program to support afterschool and summer learning programs, resulting in a total funding level of $8.4 million. Funding to support community-based organizations providing expanded learning programming was held stable and includes $10 million for 21st Century Community Learning Center grants and $3 million for the D.C. Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation. The D.C. community schools initiative was funded at $500,000. 
  • In New York state last week the governor announced awardees for the first round of Extended Learning Time grants, while in New York City the mayor recently released details of a $145 million expansion of middle school afterschool programs as well as $52 million for the development of 40 community schools. The $24 million Extended Learning Time grants were awarded to nine school districts statewide, including NYC. The state Department of Education has posted a list of the winners on its website. The $52 million grant to launch the development of 40 innovative community schools will match comprehensive social services and learning programs with 40 high-need public schools across NYC. Coupled with pre-K for every child and expanded afterschool programs for middle school students, the mayor pledged to make community schools a key component of transforming the education system and lifting up every child.
  • In California last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced 333 programs will receive a combined $51 million in state and federal grants to provide expanded learning opportunities for students to bolster student learning outside of the regular school hours. In the latest round of funding, $51 million was distributed through three grants: the After School Education and Safety program, the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers—Elementary & Middle Schools program, and the state 21st Century High School After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens program. More information on the awarded grants can be accessed through the California Department of Education’s Before & After School webpage. 
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Bipartisan Summer Meals Act introduced in Senate

This week Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the bipartisan Summer Meals ActS. 2527, which would enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program. The legislation would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by better integrating summer learning programs with meal programs, making it easier for community-based organizations to participate in the summer meals program, addressing barriers to summer meals in rural communities and by providing a third meal for children who attend evening enrichment programs.

Across the country, 31 million children receive free or reduced price school lunch—meaning their families live at or near the poverty line—but only 1 in 7 of these high-need children have access to summer meals. The Summer Meals Act would help more children access healthful food by lowering the community threshold from 50 percent to 40 percent or more of students receiving free or reduced price lunch to be eligible for the summer meals program, making it consistent with the eligibility for summer learning programs provided through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative. This legislation would also reduce the paperwork burden for community based organizations who want to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to the summer meals sites in hard-to-serve areas, and would also offer an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.


My Brother's Keeper Task Force reports back to the president

In late February, Pres. Obama appointed a high-level task force to oversee his new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative “to develop a coordinated federal effort to improve significantly the expected life outcomes for boys and young men of color.” Recently the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force released a report on their first 90 days of actions, including key recommendations for the initiative moving forward.

Since the launch of My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the president’s task force has met with and heard from thousands of Americans through online and in-person listening sessions, including a number of afterschool and summer learning providers.  Cities and towns, businesses, foundations, faith leaders and individuals have made commitments to helping youth get a strong start in school and life and later connect them to mentoring, support networks and specialized skills they need to find a good job or go to college.

The 90-day report laid out cross-cutting recommendations, seven broad themes and specific recommendations.  The importance of afterschool is highlighted in the specific recommendations, which call for expansion of effective afterschool and summer programs to accelerate socio-emotional and academic learning and health.  The recommendations also call for a public-private campaign to recruit high-quality, sustained mentors—an important component of many afterschool programs.  Details on the recommendations are below. 

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Bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act proposed in Congress

Late last month, a bipartisan group of law makers in the House and Senate introduced the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a bill that would reauthorize and update the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and eliminate duplicative programs, improve reporting requirements and develop a set of common performance measures.

With regard to youth programs, WIOA would:

  • Require 75 percent of youth funding to support out-of-school youth, of which 20 percent is prioritized for "work-based activities." This would include funding career pathways development, dropout recovery efforts, skills training, and education and training leading to a recognized postsecondary credential.
  • Provide youth with disabilities the services and support they need to be successful in competitive, integrated employment.
  • Reauthorize the YouthBuild program; stipulating an independent evaluation of activities is conducted at least every four years for the purposes of improving the management and effectiveness of related programs and activities. The bill includes language that also allows the YouthBuild program to expand into additional in-demand industry sectors or occupations specific to its region, in recognition of the "changing demands of the economy."
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