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Opportunity Youth: Disenfranchised Young People

Opportunity Youth: Disenfranchised Young People

ollment is up, data on

ollment is up, data on college graduation rates show that the majority of students who enter community college or nonselective four-year public institutions do not receive degrees within six years. 6 While the rises in high school completion and college enrollment rates paint a positive picture on the academic front, youth unemployment rates tell a different story. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, youth unemployment rates in the United States dramatically increased; only about half of young people ages 16 to 24 held jobs in 2013. Among 16- to 19-year-olds, labor-force participation dropped from 54 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2013. 7 There are a number of reasons for the rise of youth unemployment. A share of this drop may be the result of young people pursuing education at higher levels. Indeed, the share of young people who are enrolled in school (high school or college) and who are also employed has dropped. Structural changes in the labor market are also driving this trend, as job opportunities for high-skilled workers have expanded while demand for less-skilled, blue-collar workers has shrunk. Some segments of the young population are faring worse than others in employment. Black young people are unemployed at almost twice the rate of white young people. 8 Though young people in general face a challenging labor market, disconnected young people face particular challenges. Many come from disadvantaged families and communities and have experienced a number of challenges and impediments to success in school and work that their more affluent peers have not. Still, analyses of longitudinal data on young people have shown that the majority of disconnected young people attempt to reconnect to education and the labor market at some point. According to one study, two-thirds of disconnected young people ultimately reconnected with education or the labor market, with the majority reconnecting first through work. 9 This study used data collected before the Great Recession, so it is not known how recent changes in the youth labor market have affected young people’s attempts to reconnect. Policies Affecting Disconnected Young People Disconnected young people are a heterogeneous population with a range of experiences and risk factors. This section provides a high-level summary of the federal, state, and local policies that have an impact on them. As this paper focuses on programs for young people who are already disconnected from education and the labor market, this section does not cover the numerous programs and policies that focus on dropout prevention. 6 Community College Research Center (2015). 7 Hossain and Bloom (2015). 8 NPR (2014). 9 Hair et al. (2009). 3

Public Schools The public school system is often the last point of “connection” for many disconnected young people, and some of these young people will eventually attempt to reconnect to public schools. Though data are not available at the national level on the precise number of dropouts who return to school, local estimates from some cities and districts have found that between one-third and one-half of dropouts attempt to reengage with the public school system at least once. 10 However, there are limits on who is eligible to reconnect to the public school system. Many states have age limits on who is eligible for public school education, leaving many young people without this option. Still, for young people who have not “aged out,” the public schools are a vital part of the system to reconnect disconnected young people. Researchers and advocacy groups have described a number of ways that federal, state, and local policies serve as obstacles to reconnecting young people to public school. Though many educational policies are set at the state and district level, federal policy also plays a role. The federal No Child Left Behind legislation requires schools to measure and report on Adequate Yearly Progress, and schools face consequences if they fail to meet their targets. One measure of Adequate Yearly Progress for a high school is its graduation rate, which is typically measured over four years. Schools face a disincentive to reenrolling students who have dropped out, because they are unlikely to graduate within that four-year time frame. However, states can apply for permission to use an extended time frame of five to six years for the purposes of calculating graduation rates. A 2012 report found that only 10 states had applied for and received approval to use extended-year graduation rates in their Adequate Yearly Progress calculations. 11 Policies on how school funds are allocated to individual schools, which are often made at the state or local level, also affect the opportunities for young people who want to reconnect to public school. Advocates for disconnected young people have called for weighted-student funding approaches as opposed to unweighted methods that use Average Daily Attendance. In weighted-student funding, schools receive more funds per pupil for children with special needs — such as low-income students, English-language learners, and those with learning disabilities. In this way, schools receive a financial incentive to work with struggling students. California is in the middle of implementing such a weighted approach to its school funding system. 12 Outside of funding, school district policies that offer increased flexibility can improve opportunities for disconnected young people by lowering common barriers they face to reconnecting with public schools. Many school districts have alternative schools that target the needs of young people at risk of dropping out or those who are looking to reconnect. Though exact numbers are not tracked at the national level, one estimate found that close to 40 percent of 10 Sparks (2015). 11 National Association of Secondary School Principals (2015). 12 WestEd and California State Board of Education (2015). 4

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