At Next100, we work on policy and for people. We believe the big, structural challenges facing our communities need big, structural solutions that only government can provide. We also believe that a new presidential administration and Congress must put the individuals and communities most impacted by our current structural crises and systemic inequities at the center of their policy agenda. As immigrants, educators, students, the children of the formerly incarcerated, workers, policy wonks, and the next generation, these are our priorities for a new Congress and administration in 2021, with a particular focus on supporting the next generation.
To not just recover from the pandemic, but set our nation up for a more just future, we must invest in child care and early childhood education by adequately supporting educators and working parents. We must ensure that children whose parents are incarcerated receive the supports they need to thrive. All kids—not just those with incarcerated parents—must have the protective buffers necessary to prevent toxic stress. LGBTQ+ students must know the federal government has their back. We must support the charter school sector but also ensure that it is equitable, accountable, and responsive to the communities it serves. We must leverage our national service programs—and the skills and commitment to service of the diverse next generation—to speed our recovery from the pandemic and build an improved public sector. We must allow and encourage international students to stay here after they graduate. And finally, we must close the digital divide for workers, and especially workers of color, that locks them out of power and opportunity.
These ideas are not pipe dreams—they are attainable—but they depend on bold action from the president and Congress. Read on to learn more.
Next100’s 2021 Agenda
Ensure children who experience parental incarceration are given the support they need to flourish. Mass incarceration is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans have tried to tackle. Yet too often there is not adequate focus on the children who are left behind by parental incarceration, who feel the residual pain of the carceral system, and who face many challenges in incarceration’s wake—from changing caregivers, to distance from their parents, to increased physical health, mental health, and educational risks. These challenges cut across government silos, and so should be addressed comprehensively. Congress should authorize the Flourishing Children Initiative fund, a new competitive grant program at the Department of Justice. It would provide funding to states that want to collaborate across their Departments of Corrections, Health and Mental Health, Education, and Transportation, and with impacted families and children, to create policies and programs that will support children of incarcerated parents.
Invest in a THRIVE fund to protect and help vulnerable students recover from toxic stress. Students in the K–12 public education systems are facing extraordinarily challenging circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly students of color and other historically underserved students. The country’s children with the highest needs have received the least support throughout this crisis, and it’s time to turn that around. Congress should create and fund a new program at the Department of Education to support students facing or recovering from toxic stress, including development of a screening tool for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and ensuring the collection of disaggregated data on students by ACE scores.
Protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators. To support LGBTQ+ students across the country, and allow them to live and learn in contexts that recognize and support their whole selves, the administration should proactively protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students in schools by updating and reinstating Obama-era title IX guidance at the U.S. Department of Education; and by supporting the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ students and educators who rely on federal programs through guidance and regulations at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition, Congress should enact the Equality Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act to codify into federal legislation important nondiscrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Support a more equitable, accountable, and community-focused Charter Schools Program. As we turn to a new administration and Congress, supporting schools and educators through the pandemic and the recovery afterwards must be front and center. But another issue that has been a political football will also need attention: charter schools. Congress and a new administration have an opportunity to build on the strengths of these schools, while requiring them to become more centered by and for the students and communities they serve. This should include maintaining the Charter Schools Program at its current funding level—neither eliminating it nor doubling it; ensuring charter schools must provide data for public equity scorecards that report how they are enrolling and serving historically underserved students; ensuring charter school boards and leaders more closely reflect the communities they serve; and ensuring that any equity requirement for charters be applied to traditional district schools as well.
Invest in child care and early childhood education. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to us the degree to which our child care and early childhood education system are critical not only for children, but also for working adults, especially women—the women of color who care for our children, and the other women who depend on that care for their careers. This necessary sector was tenuously positioned before the pandemic, and is struggling all the more during it. To support working families who rely on child care, the predominantly women of color work force, and young children themselves, Congress should enact the Child Care for Working Families Act, thereby taking more dramatic action to shore up the early childhood system and support working parents. Furthermore, the administration should ensure early childhood educators are able to access the same benefits as other educators by expanding Teacher Quality Partnership grants in Title II to include early childhood educators and child care workers, and by making early childhood educators eligible for TEACH grants, to allow them to benefit from loan forgiveness.
Scale and improve AmeriCorps to speed our recovery and build a diverse, responsive, and innovative public sector. As part of any additional pandemic relief packages, Congress should expand AmeriCorps to hire 1,000,000 diverse young people over the next several years to speed our nation’s recovery. AmeriCorps already hosts over 75,000 diverse young people a year across three main programs, all of which provide a modest living stipend and an education award to use toward repaying students loans or on further education. Congress should expand the programs to 250,000 members per year which would accomplish the following: providing extra capacity to support communities across areas such as education, health care, climate, and economic opportunity, with a focus on building a diverse corps that reflects the communities served; ensuring AmeriCorps is an effective workforce development program, providing young people with the skill-building they need to begin careers; and better connecting AmeriCorps alumni with government roles at the federal, state, and local levels to build a more representative public sector workforce.
Keep talent in America by attracting and retaining international students. In order for our economy to recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States needs to recognize the skills and talents that international students bring, and create a pathway for them to stay and work in the country when their studies are over. Congress should enact the Keeping Talent in America Act (KTAA) which would provide an automatic three-year work authorization to all full-time F-1 international students who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and create a pathway to permanent residency for these international students if they secure employment.
Empower workers to organize in twenty-first century ways by offering them grants that close the worker digital divide. The digital divide undermines the economic wellbeing of workers and their ability to organize. It also impairs the worker organizations that support them—especially the organizations that support workers of color, immigrants, and those in low-wage work, limiting their reach, organizational power, and capacity. Congress should authorize a $50 million discretionary grant program through the Department of Labor to strengthen worker voice via closing the digital divide, including through enhancing the internet connectivity and digital literacy of worker organizations, and advancing their efforts to recruit, connect, empower, and provide services to workers. Closing the digital divide for worker organizations can help them and the workers they support to build the power needed to overcome inequities and to have a real voice at the table with employers and in the political process.
Ensure that children who experience parental incarceration are given the support they need to flourish.
Even as both Democrats and Republicans have tried to tackle mass incarceration, too often there is inadequate focus on the children who are left behind when a parent is incarcerated, and the myriad ways the system impacts them. These children are failed by government across many different sectors and areas of their lives; only coordinated and comprehensive government action can address this. (Read more about the challenges faced by COIP here.)
There is an opportunity to address these challenges comprehensively, with adequate funding and coordination. Congress should authorize and fund the Flourishing Children Initiative, a competitive grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice that provides funding to states that plan to work across their relevant agencies to put in place policies and programs that will support the children of incarcerated parents. Specifically, the Flourishing Children Initiative grant program should do the following:
1. Allocate sufficient funds for the program to adequately and consistently support children of incarcerated parents (COIP). Congress should appropriate $500 million annually to the U.S. Department of Justice to fund this program. In state applications for the grant, the respective state’s department of corrections will take the lead in applying for and managing the funds over a period of three years. The target population for the services funded are expectant mothers and children age 24 and younger with incarcerated parents in either state or federal prisons. While some of the policy and program changes will only be required in state prisons, as states are grantees, supportive services and policies made through the department of health and human services, department of education, and so on should be made available to children with parents in federal prisons as well.
2. Require that state departments of corrections collaborate with other departments in state government and with relevant nonprofits in developing and implementing their plan. To be considered competitive, a state department of corrections needs to show how they will collaborate with other departments, such as their state’s departments of education, health, and transportation, as well as with external nonprofit organizations that already support COIP. Tackling the many policies oppressing COIP and creating better solutions will take a multi-department approach to ensure all systems are proactively addressing the many harmful policies. An adequate plan to address the needs of COIP under this grant would entail a broad range of activities and services that no one department can handle on its own, and would require addressing issues such as prisons that do not have child-friendly visiting protocols, police departments without child-sensitive arrest policies, education systems that do not require or support incarcerated parents or teachers to understand the needs of and support COIP, lack of transportation for children to visit their parents while in prison, and the lack of access to mental health and counseling services for these children.
3. Require the creation of an advisory committee composed of children, caregivers, and incarcerated parents. To truly address the policies and services to effectively help COIP and address the wide spectrum of needs that aren’t being fulfilled, an advisory committee composed of impacted children, their caregivers, and incarcerated parents must be created, and guidelines made for how their input will be included in decision-making both during development and implementation of the grant. Each state differs in the unique needs of their COIP, and including their ongoing input on a holistic family approach will aid in closing any policy gaps and services. The grant should cover any expenses the children, their caregivers, and incarcerated parents incur as a result of their time participating on the advisory committee.
4. Ensure alternatives to incarceration for parents. While addressing the variety of challenges that COIP face is critical, ideally, the ultimate goal of this work should be to avoid removing parents from their children in the first place, whenever possible. To receive this grant, states must either currently have a parent alternative to incarceration program that allows parents to serve their time without going to prison or a plan to implement such a program within the three-year duration of the grant. For example, the Washington State Department of Corrections has successfully implemented a program called the Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA), which facilitates parents serving their time at home with their children and with the help of community resources instead of in a state prison facility. Thus far, the program has served 274 parents with sentences that include prison time in this way; of those parents thus served, 92 percent have not been convicted again. This program should be seen as a model for other states who do not currently have a parent alternative to incarceration program and want to implement one.
5. Require that funds be used to cover expenses and services for COIP to address health, mental health, access to their parents, education, and housing. COIP face tremendous barriers to living healthy lives, and almost always lack the resources to overcome them with their parent or parents gone. Grant funds must be made available to make all COIP’s daily lives safer and healthier in direct and immediate ways. Some of the most critical services they need can be: transportation to see their parents in prison; youth-led policy initiatives in their state; stipends to surrogate caregivers for groceries and clothing; and regular therapy and counseling. These supplementary services need to address the multitude of needs across education, health, financial need, and housing instability. In many cases, nonprofit organizations or community networks are best prepared to provide these services, such as Osborne Association in New York State; Pain of the Prison System (POPS), which is run out of California; and Girl Scouts beyond Bars, which has chapters throughout the United States. Tribal, state, and local governments could also provide these services, such as transportation and training for teachers. States receiving grants must have a plan to continue these services after the grant period ends.
6. Require that clear goals are provided in applications, and that activity and progress towards those goals be reported publicly and to the U.S. Department of Justice. Grantees should outline supportive goals for COIP in their applications and report publicly every quarter on their progress. COIP have been ignored and left behind by the system for too long in too many ways, and states must be held accountable for making real progress. Those goals should be a mix of short- and long-term in nature, and must cover both implementation and outcomes. For example, in the first three months, the state will: create an advisory committee of impacted children, their caregivers, and incarcerated parents; solidify their partnerships with all other relevant state departments; and establish a plan to enact a parent alternative sentencing program (if they do not have one already). Long-term goals could include: an increase in the number of COIP who have advanced their education; improvements in COIP’s mental health; and a decrease in housing instability for COIP. A mix of metrics should be used, both qualitative and quantitative in nature, in order to best understand the outcomes of individual grantees and of the grant program overall.
Invest in a THRIVE fund to protect and help vulnerable students recover from toxic stress.
Rosario Quiroz Villarreal
Students in the K–12 public education systems are facing extraordinarily challenging circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic—some more heavily than others—and many are losing some of the protective buffers they had before the pandemic began. Particularly for children growing up in poverty, the impacts of the pandemic have been more dire than they have been for other children: their communities have faced higher rates of infection and death without the adequate health care and economic resources to offset the risk of exposure to the virus. Additional factors—from higher rates of incarceration in high-poverty neighborhoods, to mixed-status or undocumented immigrant households being excluded from pandemic economic supports—have led to deeper poverty in these communities, and are compounding with the already diminished protective factors in place to ensure children have what they need for proper brain development and learning.
The country’s children with the highest needs, and the educators working with them, have not received adequate support throughout this crisis.
The country’s children with the highest needs, and the educators working with them, have not received adequate support throughout this crisis. It’s time for Congress and the new administration to turn that around, by intentionally investing in creating stable and supportive communities at schools. In order to accomplish this, Congress should take the following steps:
1. Create a New $250 Million Fund for THRIVE (Transpiring Healthy Responses In Volatile Experiences) Grants. According to Dr. Robert Block, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.” Research increasingly suggests that early exposure to adversity in the absence of supportive adult buffers results in toxic stress, which affects children’s developing brains and bodies. These consequences deeply impact schools as well. However, the role that schools can play in intentionally building supportive contexts and communities to mitigate the effects of toxic stress on children has not been aptly examined.
As the pandemic exacerbates the stress on low-income communities, Title I schools are likely to see an increased burden when working to ensure children meet expected academic outcomes, while also supporting them in non-academic ways. Congress should authorize a $250 million discretionary grant to school districts to institute long-term comprehensive psychosocial support for school communities and students impacted by toxic stress. Allocating funds through a competitive discretionary grant would allow for the identification of practices within schools across the nation that effectively serve to mitigate toxic stress, while serving as a pilot for a future formula grant effort if results are shown. These multi-year grants should begin with the youngest students in each school to maximize a strong and stable community of support for each child, and support a cohort of students through their time at the school.
School districts could use funds to do the following:
- Expand services and supports within the district that are directly related to addressing toxic stress, especially in schools identified as having 10 percent or more of their student population with high ACE scores, based on evidence suggesting that about one in ten students struggles with mental health issues, and that they tend to be overrepresented in low-income schools.
- Partner with local and national organizations to place a comprehensive, coordinated, and knowledgeable team of professionals composed of social workers, guidance counselors, health practitioners, out-of-school specialists, and parent engagement specialists in each targeted school in order to support additional programming—both virtually and in schools—to build protective buffers around children while not overloading demands on teachers.
- Provide professional development for all school faculty in targeted schools on how to create a trauma-informed educational environment (including for students likely to be particularly impacted, such as immigrant and refugee students, students with incarcerated parents, students in the foster care system, students experiencing housing instability, and students living in areas of concentrated poverty and joblessness), both within virtual and in-person learning contexts. Also provide development for school faculty on how to protect their own well-being while serving as protective buffers for children.
- Implement caregiver intervention programs for children identified as having a high number of ACEs, in order to teach families how to cope with additional stressors and connect them with relevant support resources and programs. Also, provide a stipend for families who complete the intervention program.
- Strengthen district capacity for implementing programs associated with the THRIVE grant, such as those above.
2. Implement an ACE screening tool to more quickly and consistently identify students and families in need of targeted supports. All grantees should be required to develop or identify a valid tool to appropriately identify students facing ACEs. The tool should capture pandemic-induced and -exacerbated stressors, and should also consider societal factors, including but not limited to systemic racism, living in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, lack of community safety, and lack of access to additional community support programs. The screening should be utilized to provide schools with a clear data point on students who would most benefit from targeted psychosocial support.
Because these screening tools are relatively new and are not being utilized in schools, grantees will be expected to work with outside partners to develop and pilot tools that can be utilized and, ideally, scaled. One promising example of ACE screening can be found in California, where pediatricians began screening children and teenagers for adverse childhood experiences in early 2020. In other cases, school districts, in partnership with trained health professionals, may be better alternatives for conducting these screenings, as their multiple and consistent touchpoints with students and families provide possibilities for addressing ACEs, and they have more access to all students, including those with limited or no access to health care.
Furthermore, screening for ACEs in schools aligns with some of what school staff already do, while providing a better framework for partnering with families to understand the contexts in which students live and challenges they face to offer necessary support. Educators are already asked to use the Vanderbilt Assessment to identify behaviors and symptoms that stem from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has been correlated to ACEs; but this tool frames the behaviors, and thus the child, as the problem without exploring root causes. What if educators have been screening for the wrong thing through an insufficient tool? Screening for adversity could support a shift in educators’ mindsets. If ACEs and childhood trauma are the culprit of some children’s challenges in schools, educators must be trained to recognize, identify, and mitigate further stress as opposed to exacerbating it. The education system is a critical partner in screening for and addressing ACEs, and this grant would help develop more tools to do so. All tools developed under this grant must be open source and publicly accessible, so other educators can learn from and utilize them.
3. Phase in a requirement for disaggregating data on students with high ACE scores and for annual reporting regarding attendance rates, academic outcomes, and disciplinary actions. With the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the disaggregation of data across six student categories (race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, disability, English learner status, migrant status, and gender) allows us to see disparities between different groups of students. However, these categories are not in and of themselves deterministic disadvantages, and they could serve to incorrectly paint certain populations as monoliths. On the other hand, disaggregating attendance, academic outcomes, and other student data by ACE scores would allow for a better look at the impact of adversity on children’s outcomes, providing better information about how to best serve students.
Such a shift in approach to data analysis would allow us to provide a framing of empathy for children who need the most support by consistently asking us to look at how schools are doing to either exacerbate or mitigate the challenges for our students with the highest needs. The data would allow us to see the progress schools made towards increasing a child’s protective buffers and community of support. Districts awarded with funds should be required to phase in reporting on the following criteria, disaggregated by students’ ACE scores, and, where possible, by the supports students received from the grant, including pre- and post-measures of the following:
- Disciplinary actions (in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions) taken by the schools.
- Attendance and absenteeism rates (whether virtual or in-person).
- Academic assessment data, to begin assessing whether program implementation is having an impact on student learning.
4. Include evaluations of program implementation and effectiveness, to determine whether THRIVE should become a formula program to ensure all Title I schools in need of support are able to implement effective programs. A discretionary grant is a preliminary step towards not only intentionally addressing adverse childhood experiences through school supports, but also of evaluating the impact of various strategies for effectively intervening. At least at first, this grant will not reach all school districts or students currently suffering as a result of heightened adversity and decreased protective buffers. It should, however, provide valuable insight into whether a larger program is appropriate, develop screening tools for use in that larger program, and begin to ensure that every child, particularly those with the greatest needs, are supported adequately throughout their learning journey.
Districts awarded funding should be required to provide data and information on the following criteria:
- The percentage of children within the district identified as having had a high number of ACEs.
- The partnerships developed and programs implemented to support students and families in healing toxic stress.
- The number of students and family members served by programs meant to mitigate the effect of ACEs.
- The screening tools developed as a part of this grant, and their strengths and areas for improvement.
Protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators.
Over the course of the last four years, the executive branch of the federal government has led an assault against the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and of LGBTQ+ students in particular. By rescinding already existing guidance that protected LGBTQ+ students, and proposing and enacting new regulations designed to harm members of the LGBTQ+ community, the executive branch has failed in its obligation and duty to protect LGBTQ+ students.
During the Obama administration, the federal government took unprecedented action to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators both within and beyond schools. In 2021, the federal government must renew its commitment to protecting the rights of all students, by enacting the following policies, which have been organized into three groups: administrative actions that protect LGBTQ+ rights in schools; administrative actions that protect LGBTQ+ rights outside of schools; and steps Congress could take to protect LGBTQ+ students and educators as well.
The administration must protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students in schools.
1. Protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students under Title IX. Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of federal assistance. As a condition of receiving federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities. During the Obama administration, this prohibition encompassed discrimination based on a student’s gender identity; for purposes of the Department of Education (ED)’s enforcement of Title IX, a student’s sex was to be determined by the student’s gender identity. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly members of the transgender community, this interpretation of gender and sex under Title IX is critical so that schools cannot exclude, separate, or deny benefits to transgender students based on their gender identity.
Moving forward, ED must interpret Title IX so as to protect students from gender identity discrimination, and so that practice is consistent with interpretations of other federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination. ED should consider a student’s self-described gender identity to be their sex for purposes of Title IX, and ED Title IX guidance and regulations must be enforced accordingly.
2. Collect data on the well-being of LGBTQ+ students in public schools. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has authority under section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)), and the regulations implementing several of the civil rights statutes that it implements, to collect data that are necessary to ensure compliance with civil rights laws within the office’s jurisdiction—specifically, that OCR “may determine to be necessary to enable [OCR] to ascertain whether the recipient has complied or is complying” with these laws and implementing regulations. (See 34 CFR § 100.6(b), 34 CFR § 106.71, and 34 CFR § 104.61.)
In the U.S. Department of Education’s biannual data collection, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), the Office of Civil Rights should track the well-being of LGBTQ+ students in schools that receive federal funding. Specifically, the CRDC should ask districts questions in order to determine if they have in place practices which protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students in schools, such as LGBTQ+-inclusive curricula or anti-bullying policies.
3. Competitive grants should include a commitment to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ students, where appropriate. In certain competitive grants, additional consideration should be given to applicants who include in their proposal how funds may be used to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students by the grantee, and provide a safe and healthy school climate for such students. For example, Education Innovation and Research program (a competitive grant program designed to foster innovative practices in local education agencies, and scale evidence-based practices) grantees could be asked to explain how they will ensure the protection of LGBTQ+ students with the funds utilized to foster innovation in schools; and teacher preparation programs that receive grants through the Teacher Quality Partnership grants could be asked to prioritize preparing teachers to create supportive classroom contexts for LGBTQ+ students. A cross-cutting “secretary’s priority” that covers protecting these students, and enhancing school climate, culture, and practice to support their success, would be one way to allow ED to do this across multiple K–12 and higher education programs.
The administration must protect the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ students and educators beyond schools.
1. Health care: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must reinstate the nondiscrimination policy for transgender people, including transgender young people, in health care. The transgender community faces considerable barriers to accessing high-quality health care—but in 2020, access to health care became even more difficult for the transgender community due to the removal of this policy.
LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for substance use, bullying, isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicide as compared to other youth. And often, LGBTQ+ youth do not receive high-quality health care—due to stigma, or lack of health care provider literacy regarding LGBTQ+ health issues.
And yet, over the course of the Trump administration, HHS has taken steps to construct further barriers to access for members of the LGBTQ+ community. HHS plans to no longer enforce, and in fact in some cases to repeal, regulations prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in HHS grant programs. They have announced plans to roll back regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provisions to protect transgender people, and removed questions about LGBTQ+ people that centers for independent living must fill out each year in their annual program performance report, which helps HHS evaluate programs that serve people with disabilities. These federal provisions and reporting requirements play critical roles in protecting the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination and prejudice and collecting data on any discrimination that may exist.
2. Housing: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must prohibit federally funded shelters from discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. Just recently in 2020, HUD sought to allow federally funded shelters to turn away transgender people for religious reasons with a new proposal. This rule would have given thousands of shelters the authority to utilize federal funding to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.
This is only the most recent offense in a litany of harmful actions that the current administration has taken through HUD, including the withdrawal of two important agency policies designed to protect LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness, and rescinding federal guidance for shelters on how best to serve members of the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ youth represent as much as 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ young people are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ youth. Trans youth are especially at risk: One in five transgender people will experience homelessness in their lives. To target the LGBTQ+ community with discriminatory policies, such as the proposed rule mentioned above, is to target a community which already faces significant barriers to housing. The new administration must ensure shelters do not discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community.
Congress must enact legislation which will prevent discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, educators, principals, and staff.
1. Congress must enact the Equality Act (H.R. 5 and S. 788) in order to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Introduced by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) with over 200 cosponsers, the Equality Act would would provide “consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.” Among many other critical protections, this would ensure that educators, no matter what state they work in, could not be fired on the basis of who they are or who they love.
2. Congress must also enact the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2653) to prevent bullying and harassment of students. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), introduced by Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) with over 200 cosponsors, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts in states that receive ESEA funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. This would help to ensure that LGBTQ+ students can attend school without worrying about bullying or harassment based on who they are.
Support a More Equitable, Accountable, and Community-Focused Charter Schools Program
Because the country’s consistent gaps in educational achievement are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, education should be an area of immediate focus for the federal government—and for state and local governments—in 2021. A huge part of this activity must be focused on relief for schools and educators. And part of that conversation must be concerned with charter schools, which have continued to be a political football. Charter schools are particularly controversial because they are public schools, but they have more flexibility for innovation than do traditional district schools; some argue this opens a door for exploitation and manipulation, while others believe it gives them more flexibility to meet the needs and desires of students and families. Furthermore, they receive public funding, but do not have to follow the same guidelines around programs and operations that traditional district schools must follow. They are meant to be for the community, but are not always led by people from the community.
The new administration and Congress have the ability to both protect and improve the federal Charter Schools Program, with a real focus on equity and serving the communities whose children have chosen to attend charter schools.
The debate over charter schools’ relative merits will not be resolved soon to everyone’s satisfaction; in the meantime, they remain a growing part of our public education landscape, and can both do better as a part of that landscape and deserve far more support and guidance than they currently receive. The new administration and Congress have the ability to both protect and improve the federal Charter Schools Program, with a real focus on equity and serving the communities whose children have chosen to attend charter schools. In particular, the following steps should be taken:
1. Continue funding the Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) at the same level, as well as continuing to distribute federal funds beyond CSP to charter schools that qualify (e.g., Title I funds and other funds focused on serving low-income schools and students). There is no need to take funds away from this program, which creates schools that families and communities are asking for and choosing to attend; but there is also no need to dramatically increase funding, when the vast majority of students still go to traditional public schools. Due to public debate, there has been consideration given to adjusting CSP funding, but doing so would ignore the service that charter schools currently provide to marginalized communities, and should not be pursued.
2. Create a mandatory supplemental equity scorecard specifically for charter schools. This equity scorecard should focus on collecting and organizing the data key to ensuring charters are serving students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, and other vulnerable groups fully and well, and should include disaggregated data on the demographics of students, teachers, leaders, and board members; student achievement; and student discipline. The scorecards should be required for CSP grantees, and they should be evaluated before any funding is extended or renewed..
3. Require that the members of charter school boards are connected to and representative of the communities they serve, and that they can both understand and respond to community needs. In order to ensure boards reflect the community they serve, CSP should require that half of board members be directly from the community in which the school sits.
4. Require charter schools that receive CSP funding to report on enrollment and retention, and do not fund schools that do not meet requirements concerning reporting and oppressive practices. Create a restriction in CSP funding if charters are cherrypicking students and/or kicking them out.
5. Make sure any requirements that are placed on charter schools concerning discipline, community representation on boards, or any other items also apply to traditional district schools. For example, if charter school boards must reflect the communities they serve, so should elected and appointed public school boards.
Invest in Child Care and Early Childhood Education
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to us the degree to which our child care and early childhood education systems are critical not only for children, but also for working adults, and for women in particular—both the women (overwhelmingly women of color) who care for our children and the women who depend on that care for their careers. This sector, tenuously positioned even before the pandemic began, is now struggling more than ever.
Investing in high-quality, affordable child care and early learning is a critical component of expanding racial and gender equity for children and adults.
The federal government must invest in the early childhood education workforce, to support early childhood educators, working families, and kids. Investing in high-quality, affordable child care and early learning is a critical component of expanding racial and gender equity for children and adults. By investing specifically in the early childhood education and child care workforce, the federal government can ensure that the workforce, already at increased risk during the pandemic, is paid adequately and fairly. Federal action should include the following:
- Congress should enact the Child Care for Working Families Act, introduced in the by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) with thirty-five cosponsors and in the House by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) with 176 cosponsors, which will improve access to and the quality of child care programs and early childhood education across the nation. This piece of legislation would address the current early learning and care crisis by ensuring that no family with under 150 percent of their state’s median income pays more than 7 percent of their income on child care. The bill would also support universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year olds. And the bill would significantly improve compensation and training for the child care workforce, thereby helping to ensure that our nation’s teachers and caregivers have the support they need, supporting them in giving the children they care for what they need to thrive.
- Congress should ensure that any further pandemic relief packages include at least $50 billion to help the child care sector recover. The Child Care for Working Families Act would be a crucial bolster, one that we cannot do without; but even it is not enough on its own to support the sector through recovery.
- The administration should utilize the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants in Title II to prepare early childhood educators, and it should make early educators eligible for TEACH Grants, so they are able to access student loan forgiveness if they teach in a high-need school for four years. These measures will help ensure that early childhood educators are able to access the same benefits as K–12 educators, as they deserve to be able to do.
Scale and Diversify AmeriCorps to Speed Our Recovery and Build a Responsive and Innovative Public Sector
Daniel Munczek Edelman and Emma Vadehra
We are now well past the half-year mark of the pandemic, and the damage it has wrought is coming into focus. Unemployment—and youth unemployment in particular—initially soared and has stayed high. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead. And, both in terms of lives taken and its economic toll, The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately harmed Indigenous, Black, and Latinx communities that were already severely disadvantaged compared to their predominantly white counterparts. A global public health emergency, overlaying and worsening underlying structural inequities, should have been an opportunity for government to prove its worth, but it has instead often struggled to lead. Now, many state and local governments face dramatic layoffs due to revenue cuts, which will further harm their effectiveness.
While far from a silver bullet, an expansion of AmeriCorps with a focus on increasing diversity and equity among Corps members, coupled with an investment in building capacity and innovation at the Corporation for National and Community Service (the agency that runs AmeriCorps) to rebuild the public sector more broadly, could produce a triple-bottom-line solution: tackle unemployment for young people, especially young people of color; help local communities recover; and expand a path to public sector careers for an innovative, diverse next generation, rebuilding trust in government along the way.
1. Expand AmeriCorps to hire 1,000,000 diverse young people over the next several years to speed our nation’s recovery from the pandemic. AmeriCorps already hosts over 75,000 diverse young people a year across three main programs (Americorps State and National, VISTA, and NCCC), all of which provide a modest living stipend and an education award to use toward repaying student loans or on further education. Congress should expand the programs to fund 250,000 AmeriCorps positions a year over the next four years, with new openings focused on helping rebuild the communities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. This expansion would provide extra capacity to state and local governments and nonprofits to support these communities across areas such as education, health care, and economic opportunity.
Two key pieces of legislation would lay out a strong framework for this expansion: the bipartisan Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act, introduced in June by U.S. senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of sixteen other senators; and Representative David E. Price (D-NC)’s Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, with sixty-seven bipartisan cosponsors. The CORPS Act would cost about $16 billion a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the $2 trillion CARES Act. Moreover, due to its public–private nature, AmeriCorps actually creates a net savings for taxpayers. A dollar invested in AmeriCorps recoups over three dollars from higher tax revenues and reduced spending on social programs over the long term. When one also counts gains for society in health, education, and productivity from AmeriCorps members’ service, the value of benefits gained for every dollar invested grows to over $17. Americorps members can provide crucial services, including expanding educational opportunities for students both during and as we recover from the pandemic, tackling needed climate sustainability and resiliency projects, contributing to our public health response, and providing other services needed to rebuild the communities and systems hardest hit by COVID-19.
2. Upgrade AmeriCorps into a workforce development program, aligned with in-demand jobs and sectors, and provide young people with the skill-building they need. AmeriCorps programs should be required to take two steps to increase the long-term value of a service year for Corps members—steps whose success will depend on the programs receiving adequate funding and support from CNCS and other federal and state agencies. First, programs should be required (and adequately funded) to provide—either directly or through an external provider—intentional, sector-specific, and soft skills training, so that participants gain the skills needed to progress in their field of service. Trainings could also set participants up for career pathways by partnering with labor unions, businesses, community colleges, and technical schools to place people in jobs or educational or training programs after Corps completion. (Evidence suggests that workplace training yields dividends for employers and that sector-based training increases trainees’ placement in the targeted sector.)
Second, AmeriCorps programs should support interested Corps members with obtaining in-demand, industry-recognized job certifications that place trainees on high-quality career pathways. Where possible, programs should provide the scheduling flexibility to earn the certifications before the program’s completion. Together, these shifts would enable alumni to qualify for higher-paying jobs following their year of service, and possibly use their education award in a way that is aligned with an intentional career path. While not all Corps member roles may be in a growth sector, many will be: education, health care, and climate are three of the highest-potential service areas, and all three are high-growth (or expected to be high-growth) sectors.
3. Strengthen AmeriCorps to reflect the diversity of the United States, and reflect and support the talent within the communities AmeriCorps serves. AmeriCorps participants continue to be over half white, and while good data does not exist on the demographics of communities where members are based, programs are likely not representative of these communities. Data on the family socioeconomic status of participants is not available for the program at the national level, but we know the structure of the program does not make it equally accessible and attractive to those from low-income backgrounds.
- Congress should increase the living allowance to better cover member expenses as VISTA has an annual living allowance that varies between about $12,000 in lower-income areas to about $25,000 in places as expensive as San Francisco and AmeriCorps State and National has a minimum living allowance of around $14,000.
- CNCS and AmeriCorps grantees should be required to proactively recruit from, and have hiring goals for, people from communities served. Grantees should also be required to collect and report data on both the socioeconomic status of participants and the degree to which participants are from served communities. NCCC already has a requirement that 50 percent of members be “disadvantaged youth,” which should be maintained.
- Congress should eliminate the taxability of AmeriCorps education awards, consistent with the bipartisan Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Tax Relief Act (H.R. 1794/S. 1355) that was introduced in the House and Senate last year.
4. Better connect AmeriCorps alumni with government roles at the federal, state, and local levels to build a more representative government workforce. Some federal agencies already allow AmeriCorps VISTA alumni to go through an expedited hiring process, but these efforts should be expanded across all agencies and to alumni of other AmeriCorps programs. Moreover, CNCS and state commissions should work with governors and state and local governments to identify and develop state and local pathways, for the short as well as the long term. To ensure AmeriCorps members are well-equipped for these jobs, state commissions and programs should facilitate training that prepares members to work in specific federal, state, and local government agencies in or near where they are serving, organize presentations and site visits to offer exposure to careers in those agencies, and connect members with the hiring staff in those agencies to facilitate placement in public sector jobs after completing their service.
5. Waive AmeriCorps’ short-term match requirement and provide AmeriCorps programs with the support needed to maintain operations until the economy recovers. AmeriCorps grantees are usually required to raise a substantial “match” from state, local, or private funds. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—AmeriCorps’ parent agency—thus waived match requirements for the 2019–2020 fiscal year so that nonprofits that cannot meet their match this spring are not further punished with a loss of federal funds. This requirement should continue to be waived until the economy fully recovers and AmeriCorps’ partner organizations can once again afford their matching funds. Relatedly, a small investment of flexible funds in CNCS would allow it to support grantees in shoring up gaps created by the decrease in private matching funds and support programming changes made necessary by the pandemic, such as transitioning to online service delivery.
The full version of this proposal is available here.
Keep Talent in America by Attracting and Retaining International Students
In order for our economy to recover from the devastation of the novel coronavirus, the United States needs a long-term strategy for economic growth and workforce development. International students are part of the solution: they strengthen our economy, improve educational quality and cultural diversity, and alleviate talent gaps in America’s workforce. And yet, international student enrollment in the United States was dropping precipitously even pre-pandemic. The enrollment of new international students in the United States have declined by 43 percent this fall. The current administration has created a hostile climate for international students and used multiple strategies to discourage them from seeking an education here, such as a proposed rule that would limit how long they can study in the country. We need to create a proactive vision of an America that welcomes and embraces international students. That is why we recommend that Congress enact the Keeping Talent in America Act (KTAA).
KTAA would create a new federal program that would do the following:
1. Provide an automatic three-year work authorization to all full-time F-1 international students who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The act would provide a three-year work authorization to all full-time F-1 international students who have attended schools in the United States, remained in good standing, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher. An initial KTAA work authorization would not be conditional on employment status. For example, in the event an F-1 international student is not already employed or has not yet received a binding offer of employment, they may remain in the United States for three years post-graduation as long as there is evidence that they are seeking employment. Furthermore, KTAA would rely on existing filing procedures to save time and resources for students and the government. To file for KTAA, all F-1 international students would be required to apply for this status prior to graduation by filing an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765), the same form used by all foreign-born individuals who are authorized to work in the United States; and pay a total fee of $550.
2. Offer a three-year extension of the visa for international students who have secured employment. After three years, any F-1 international student who has secured ongoing employment will be eligible for a three-year extension of the original authorization, to allow them to continue to work in and contribute to the United States.
3. Create a pathway to permanent residency for international students. After six years of successful employment in the United States under KTAA, provided that the individual has remained in good standing, they may be eligible for permanent residency—as long as they apply prior to their KTAA status expiring (similar to F-1 visa holders who apply for OPT, or many other immigration programs).</a
The full version of this proposal is available here.
Empower Workers to Organize in Twenty-First-Century Ways, through Grants That Close the Worker Digital Divide.
The digital divide undermines the economic well-being of an estimated forty-two million Americans, and hinders the ability of millions of workers to organize. It also impairs the worker organizations that support them—especially those organizations that support workers of color, immigrants, and those in low-wage work—via legal aid, low cost insurance, career development, and training services. These organizations may lack financial resources and access to the most effective digital tools, or their leaders and staff have not had the opportunity to develop digital literacy, knowledge, and technical skills—all of which limit their resources, and their ability to reach and effectively serve workers in real time, as challenges and opportunities arise.
A 2018 study by Ársælsson and Rogers found that when equipped with the right pieces of digital technology, worker organizations have greater reach, organizational power, and capacity. Therefore, closing the digital divide for worker organizations can help them and workers build power to overcome inequities and to have a real voice at the table with employers and in the political process.
To close the divide and support workers, Congress should authorize a $50 million discretionary grant program through the Department of Labor to strengthen worker voice, including through enhancing the internet connectivity, digital capacity and literacy of worker organizations, and advancing their efforts to recruit, connect, empower, and provide services to workers. Specific activities that could be supported under this grant could include: building or creating new digital tools and applications or services for worker organizations; investing in new technology to improve service delivery to workers; hiring technical staff or expertise to increase internal organizational capacity in the digital space; or providing technical training, and education, for workers using the digital tools and applications that the organizations develop. This program would also strive to promote fairness and equity, and contribute to a more inclusive and diverse worker voice and power through focusing on organizations that serve the nation’s workers who are disadvantaged, including workers of color.
The grant program should have the following key design components:
- Worker advisory panel: To build worker power and voice into the grant design, a worker peer advisory panel composed of representatives from worker organizations around the country who are proximally located to the workers they are trying to serve, would be established to advise on the selection of grantees.
- Eligible organizations: Eligible grantees would include U.S.-based, non-union, community or grassroots, 501(c)(3) or (4) organizations, whose missions are to advocate for, organize, and provide direct support to workers, and who are not labor organizations as recognized under federal labor law. To be eligible to receive a grant, at least 75% percent of the workers that the organization supports must be from socially or economically disadvantaged or historically underserved communities, including people of color. While all organizations meeting these criteria are eligible, priority would be given to those organizations where at least 51 percent of the leadership (i.e. highest, “executive,” “c-level” or director positions responsible for overseeing and managing the organization’s day-to-day operations) are women and/or people of color, including: Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian-Pacific, Asian-Indian, and Native American.
- Application requirements: Applicants must demonstrate that they meet the above criteria as well as provide a rationale and plan for how they intend to use the funds to deliver the intended benefits and outcomes of connecting, serving, and empowering workers to contribute to a more inclusive and diverse worker voice and power.
The full version of this proposal is available here.