At NextGen IL Conference, Young People Set the Agenda for Their State

Oct 7, 2014Julius Goldberg-LewisDominic RusselRachel Riemenschneider

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.

Last Saturday, the Midwest Regional Team of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network met in Chicago to attend the NextGen Illinois conference, the culmination of months of discussion, caucuses, and ideas from around Illinois. NextGen IL, an initiative led by the Campus Network and Young Invicibles, is working to bring young adults in Illinois together to shape a youth policy agenda for Illinois. What set NextGen apart from so many other conferences was that its content, agenda, and execution were a direct outcome of power and coalition building among Millennials. NextGen’s attendees included high school students, college students, and graduates; they were organizers, activists, and policy wonks of every kind. Throughout the day, attendees were able to vote on a slate of statewide policy proposals that were the product of the dozens of caucuses that took place over the previous few months. Young people had the opportunity to shape the outcome of the conference and take ownership of their ideas.

One common theme that resounded through the day at the NextGen IL conference was that young people are capable of making a difference in their communities. We all have the knowledge, ability, and passion to make real change. This was thoroughly underscored by the number of young people and students that were panelists throughout the day. Each breakout session featured professionals working in the field, as well as Millennials already working to change the landscape. Whether discussing environmental policy or restorative justice, the young panelists were just as able to engage their audience in a variety of statewide policy issues.

The breakout sessions gave the audience a picture of the issues being addressed on the front lines of the progressive political fight, but the plenary sessions gave us a chance to hear from the elected officials who have the power to turn our ideas into action. Will Guzzardi, a 27-year-old candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, and Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old running for Mayor of Chicago, both spoke about how young people need to step up to make a difference. They both referenced a common realization many young adults have about growing up. When you’re young, you are told to defer to those in charge, trust your elders, and wait your turn. These candidates stressed that in order to be taken seriously and have our issues adequately addressed, our generation must step up and realize that while our parents and grandparents have a lot to teach us, they don’t have all the solutions. This realization may be scary, but it is also empowering: if no one actually has all the answers, young people have the opportunity to create just as much of an impact as older generations. We have the opportunity to think creatively, and see our age as a benefit, and not a burden to creating and realizing innovative policies that better our communities.

If there was one message that we as participants and attendees took away from the NextGen IL conference, it was an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Our generation faces seemingly insurmountable problems, but if the NextGen space was any indication, we can expect bold solutions.

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan. Dominic Russel is the Midwestern Policy Coordinator and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Rachel Riemenschneider is the Midwestern New Chapters Coordinator and a junior at Northwestern University.

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Democracy, Economic Crisis, and “Rethinking Communities”

Sep 29, 2014Sabeel Rahman

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative is emblematic of the model for democratic and economic reform needed in this New Gilded Age.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative is emblematic of the model for democratic and economic reform needed in this New Gilded Age.

As the latest Census report highlights, economic inequality continues to worsen. With a sluggish economic recovery, continued economic insecurity for many Americans, and ongoing political gridlock, it is increasingly clear that we live in a New Gilded Age. To successfully challenge this status quo, we must look to the lessons of past democratic reform movements as well as the innovative work that is being done on the ground even now in our communities.

Over a hundred years ago, the first Gilded Age witnessed a similar confluence of economic and political crises. It was the era of the rise of mega-corporations and trusts like Standard Oil. Not coincidentally, it was also an era of economic upheaval, recurring financial crises, and a growing anxiety about the ways in which economic inequality and concentrated private power would contaminate and corrupt politics, making it serve special and elite interests rather than the public good.

These crises provoked what became some of the most transformative reform movements in American history: the labor movement, the anti-trust movement, the Populist movement, and the Progressive movement. The common thread throughout these reform efforts was the desire to reclaim some form of popular sovereignty, whether through the creation of local-level policymaking powers for municipalities, the direct election of senators, the creation of national regulatory bodies to check corporate power, or the spread of direct democratic referenda procedures.

The ferment of these decades created the intellectual inheritance of the New Deal. When FDR came into office in the midst of the Great Depression, the members of his administration turned to policies initially pioneered by their Populist and Progressive precursors, especially when it came to banking, financial, and social safety net reforms.

But where the New Deal had decades of Populist and Progressive experimentation to build on, our current context is quite different. The present moment is similar to the early twentieth century in that our fundamental problem is one of dysfunctional democracy. To address economic inequality, we must first reform our democracy to make it more accountable and responsive. But this is not so easily done now that decades of political attacks have dismantled both the public’s faith in and the actual efficacy of democratic governance and the social safety net. The challenge of our generation is three-fold: address our ongoing economic crisis, rebuild the viability of and faith in democratic governance, and do so in a way that develops innovative models of democratic economic policymaking that we can spread and build on.

Cities represent a key frontline in this effort. There is a growing interest in the city as a unit of governance, and cities are unique economic engines whose population density and diversity make them critical drivers of innovation and economic growth. They are at the forefront of economic and policy innovation. They also represent one of the best hopes for reviving a genuine, grassroots democracy. Already participatory budgeting is starting to gain traction in U.S. cities as a way to create more robust grassroots participation while also improving the allocation of resources to underserved groups.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities initiative represents an exciting effort to drive this movement forward. By focusing on their own universities, Campus Network chapters can help reinvest in their local communities by pressing administrations to direct their investment or procurement policies to local businesses, or by broadening access to universities and community colleges by accepting public assistance, such as food stamps, on campus.

There are two particularly innovative dimensions to the Rethinking Communities initiative:

First, it represents a grassroots, democratic effort. The initiative itself was devised through a participatory strategy process within the Campus Network, through a series of bottom-up meetings and discussions in campus chapters and through a nation-wide convening at the FDR Library in Hyde Park. Campus Network chapters working with local stakeholders in their advocacy efforts further accentuate this democratic ethos.

Second, the initiative also reflects a growing push in economic development circles to reorient local economic development in a more community-oriented direction.

One conventional view of local economic development is that it is a competitive process in which the city is a product to be sold on the international marketplace. Residents and businesses alike, in this view, will choose to settle in the city that offers their preferred “bundle” of goods, services, opportunities, and tax policies. But this view tends to overstate both the degree of policy flexibility that cities have to tailor their “pitch” to outsiders, as well as the degree to which a city’s lifeblood depends purely on attracting an influx of outside dollars, talent, and investment. An opposing view is that local economic development is fundamentally parochial and redistributive, and its purpose is to meet the needs of the residents and businesses that are already part of the fabric of the city. This view has its own limits, underemphasizing the ways in which a locality’s prosperity and well-being are interrelated with regional and even global trends and flows.

More recently, however, a third view of economic development has emerged, which combines aspects of these two accounts. As Richard Schragger argues, we should view cities not as products to be sold on a competitive marketplace, nor as purely closed systems in which to pursue redistributive policies, but rather as path-dependent processes. In other words, cities evolve dynamically, through an interplay between already-existing local conditions and inheritances, and regional or global forces. The task of economic development policy, then, is to find a way to tap into the rooted, existing features of a city, and leverage those local resources.

Anchor institutions like universities are the quintessential lever for economic development in this process-oriented view. These institutions are fundamentally rooted in their communities; they cannot simply leave town the way other kinds of businesses can. They also have large ripple effects on their local communities based on who they hire, who they contract with, and how they employ their own resources. Anchor institutions thus represent valuable engines for local economic development—engines that, if redirected strategically, can help lift up the larger communities in which they are based.

These two features of Rethinking Communities – its democratic and participatory origins, and its focus on leveraging anchor institutions to accelerate local economic development – make it one of many contemporary heirs to the kind of innovation that came out of the first Gilded Age. Now, as then, there is an effort to take a more purposeful and directed approach to economic policy to help create the conditions for collective well-being. Now, as then, there is a desire to approach this task in a self-consciously democratic and participatory manner. And now, as then, it is likely that the lessons learned from (and the activists inspired by) this effort can contribute to a longer-term and larger movement for democratic and economic reform – which is precisely what we need to navigate our way out of the challenges of this New Gilded Age.

Sabeel Rahman is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Daily Digest - September 24: Students on Food Stamps Need Somewhere to Spend Them

Sep 24, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

On Campus (HuffPost Live)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

On Campus (HuffPost Live)

Caitlyn Becker speaks to Yvonne Montoya, President of the Santa Monica College chapter of the Campus Network, about her chapter's work to get food stamps accepted on campus. Her segment begins at 19:20.

New Deal Liberalism Lives On (WaPo)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's Board of Directors, says FDR-style liberalism is alive and well, pointing to leaders like Senator Elizabeth Warren and NYC's Mayor Bill de Blasio.

CEOs Get Paid Too Much, According to Pretty Much Everyone in the World (HBR)

Gretchen Gavett looks at new research on what people think the CEO pay gap should ideally be. Whether respondents felt strongly about CEO pay or not, their ideal ratios were very similar.

Fed Said to Warn Banks on Capital Charges on Leveraged Loans (Bloomberg News)

Craig Torres and Christine Idzelis report on increased Federal Reserve scrutiny of loans that lack stricter requirements that protect lenders. Earlier guidance hasn't slowed lending.

America Out of Whack (NYT)

Thomas Edsall asks a number of economists why, when the U.S. economy is growing so well, we haven't managed to ensure that some of the wealth is distributed to the lower and middle classes.

The Recovery That Left Out Almost Everybody (WSJ)

William Galston says the U.S. economy hasn't actually worked to improve the lives of average families since the end of the Clinton administration.

Now It’s Explicit: Fighting Inflation Is a War to Ensure That Real Wages for the Vast Majority Never Grow (Working Economics)

Josh Bivens looks at the discussion of a yet-unpublished paper from the Dallas Federal Reserve and points out that it essentially advises stopping progress on unemployment to limit inflation.

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Daily Digest - September 10: Could a Left-Wing Tea Party Unite Progressives?

Sep 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Why We Need a Left Wing Tea Party (The Daily Beast)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Why We Need a Left Wing Tea Party (The Daily Beast)

Sally Kohn calls on progressive factions to follow the Tea Party's lead and throw all their weight behind uncompromising candidates who are strong on every progressive issue.

Labor Market Unchanged According to July Job Openings Data (EPI)

Comparing job openings data to unemployment, Elise Gould points out that over half of the unemployed were not going to find work in July no matter what they did, because the jobs don't exist.

Government Debt Isn't the Problem—Private Debt Is (The Atlantic)

Richard Vague writes that financial crises can be tied to too-high and rapidly growing private debt, which means policy solutions need to focus on debt relief for low- and middle-income people.

Were Fast-Food Workers Paid to Strike and Protest? (The Guardian)

The answer is no, writes Jana Kasperkevic. That rumor is a corruption of the union strike fund, a pool set aside to help pay for striking workers' arrest fines and lost wages.

Warren Faults Banking Regulators for Lack of Criminal Prosecutions (WSJ)

While Senator Warren focused on the Federal Reserve, Senator Shelby blamed the DoJ for seeking fines instead of jail time for banking executives, report Ryan Tracy and Victoria McGrane.

Want to Fix the Jobs Crisis? Build a Federally Funded Worker Education Infrastructure (TAP)

Good job training programs – the kind that see both students and employers as clients – can be highly successful, writes Paul Osterman, but they're small and difficult to scale up.

The OECD’s Latest Report is Burdened by Economic Myths (AJAM)

Philip Pilkington says that until economic policymakers stop assuming that economies rebalance themselves and that high government debt is the real problem, good policy change is unlikely.

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Taxes Are Never Just a Class Issue

Sep 4, 2014Joelle Gamble

Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

The threat of corporate inversions to the American tax base sprung an interesting political dialogue around tax reform in the United States. We’ve seen debates on how to stop the spread of inversions and arguments that they aren’t a problem at all. Some call for the abolition of the corporate tax rate as a whole and others completely reject such suggestions. I find these discussions of tax reform and its effects on the economy informative yet simultaneously slightly disappointing.

What bothers me about how tax reform debates shake out is how absent they can become of socio-political realities, particularly the reality of race.

One line of progressive argumentation follows simply: If everyone pays their fair share of taxes, we can support public spending and job growth, and we’ll all do better. The argument firmly stands, but there is an important caveat.

It’s easy to harken back to the 1950s when tax rates were high, social services were relatively steady and economic security stretched across economic strata. But who was really secure then? Even the high points of job security for the American economy still left African Americans (and other racially marginalized groups) behind. This a structural phenomenon, instituted by socially racist institutions and a deep history of systemically harming the Black community.

We can’t take race out of conversations around economic inequality. The reality of race is that even fixes to the broader federal revenue landscape don’t always address the structural barriers of racism. A rising tide can’t lift all boats, if some boats are bolted to the seafloor.

Black unemployment consistently exceeds that of whites, both post-Recession and since such data has been available. Gaps between white unemployment and black unemployment shrank in 2009. This was not due to falling black unemployment but instead due to skyrocketing white unemployment.

This racial gap in economic success extends beyond the employment rate. In fact, it is deeply entrenched in the way wealth is distributed in the U.S. The gap between median Black wealth and median white wealth stands at about $236,000 dollars. Flagrant discrimination, in part, contributes to this gap. But it is perpetuated by generations of asset accumulation policies that are targeted at those who already own assets.

Corporate tax reform alone isn’t sufficient to fix the effects of decades of second-class status conferred on African Americans. The government does not just need sufficient funding to create equality within the economy. Distribution of these dollars is equally important. It needs to reflect the nuances of structural inequalities built into multiple aspects of our tax code.

Take federal housing spending policies as a prime example. Ending ineffective tax incentives, such as the mortgage interest reduction, can start to tilt the scales toward those who are not already wealthy. Seventy-seven percent of the benefits of the mortgage interest reduction accrued to homeowners with gross incomes of above $100,000. We need to rethink housing subsidies so that the benefits of federal programs do not heavily favor those who already own homes.

We need corporate tax reform to ensure that all participants in our economy are paying their fair share. But we also need a federal benefits structure that ensures that the concept of a "fair share" considers our history of discrimination when determining which Americans need those benefits most.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Campus Network Looks Ahead for Policy Engagement

Aug 22, 2014Joelle Gamble

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

We believe that local, people-centric policy change can ripple into larger national change. We believe in the power of communities organized into networks to innovate, incubate, and promulgate impactful ideas.

This statement also pulls on the history of innovation and impact that the Campus Network has had over the past nine years. Founded on the conviction that student voices matter beyond Election Day, we have seen our members from across the country inject powerful ideas into the political debate and make tangible change in their communities. From starting revolving loan funds in Indiana to creating educational access in New Haven, from building capacity for non-profits in D.C. to combating student homelessness in Los Angeles, we have been and will continue to be committed to an unconventional and effective model of policy change.

Even in the past year of the Campus Network (2013-2014), students have taken enormous strides toward building a forward thinking, locally driven, and more inclusive policy process. Our presence has grown to over 38 states, with chapters at a diverse range of institutions, public and private, community college and four-year university. Ideas generated from our network have been read over a half-million times and our work has been featured in outlets like The Nation, Al Jazeera America and Time Magazine Ideas.

But, more than the power of the ideas or the prestige of the platforms which support them, the people in this network are what excites me the most about the years to come.

This first week of August, we hosted our 9th annual Hyde Park Leadership Summit at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We gathered the leaders of Roosevelt chapters that have been around since our founding and the leaders of new chapters growing this year for a weekend of community-building, training and strategic thinking.  The overflowing energy, big thinking mentality, and willingness to pound the pavement summit attendees displayed was invigorating and holds the promise of a highly impactful year for our network.

And, we need that kind of energy and passion. We have a great deal that we want to accomplish.

  • We’re rolling out a new training curriculum to support chapters as they do policy research, organize their peers, and engage with stakeholders.
  • We’re pioneering a state-based approach to engaging young people in policy with our NextGen Illinois initiative and our new Chicago staff presence.
  • Highlighting that our network is about people, we’re investing deeply in our chapter leaders and national student leadership team, increasing opportunities for training, conferences, and publishing.
  • With specific, actionable projects under our belt, we’re launching another year of our Rethinking Communities Initiative. (Check out our new toolbox here.)
  • Through increased and innovative usage of online tools and social media, we’re building community amongst the members of our network. We recognize that you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room as someone to be connected to them.
  • As we approach out 10th year as a network, we’re making a special effort to engage and reengage our distinguished alumni. Roosevelt alumni have gone amazing places; we’re reconvening them to help chart the course ahead with us.

With our powerful team of national student leaders, an expanded level of staff capacity, and a little grit, we will continue to grow and strengthen the Campus Network to tackle issues today and build progressive leaders for tomorrow.

Let’s get to work!

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Thinking About the Women in Think Tanks

Aug 4, 2014Hannah Zhang

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

In recent years, several prominent women have replaced their male predecessors in top think tank leadership positions. Last year, Anne-Marie Slaughter replaced Steve Coll as president of the New America Foundation; in 2011, Neera Tanden took over for John Podesta as president of the Center for American Progress. In early 2012, Felicia Wong took over as President and CEO here at the Roosevelt Institute, replacing Andy Rich. While these women leaders are touted as examples of greater female representation in public policy, this is hardly the full picture.

Women are taking on leadership roles in think tank management, but men still dominate the thinking roles, making up the majority of scholars and “Senior Fellows” who influence policy. According to their public rosters, only a quarter of CAP fellows, 19 of 59 Brookings Institution experts, 20 out of 65 fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, and seven of 33 Heritage Foundation fellows are women. In academia, an incubator of think tank experts, women hold only 24 percent of tenured positions at doctoral-granting institutions, and merely 19 percent of tenured full professor positions.

Perhaps contrary to common assumption, women’s lack of representation in think tanks isn’t due to their lack of academic expertise. In fact, women are quickly edging to surpass men in higher education. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Report ranked the United States number one for gender equality in educational attainment among more than 130 countries. Last year, 31.4 percent of American women 25 years and over had completed college, compared to 32 percent of men. 27,300 men and 27,600 women received doctoral degrees.

Why does equal education attainment fail to translate into equal representation in policy research institutions?

Possible answers to this question range from women having more family obligations to self-selecting against policy areas like defense and finance. Other potential explanations include difficulty securing mentorship early in their careers and systemic biases.

A related problem is the lack of women in political positions, since many policy wonks rise from the ranks of former politicians and government officials. Less than 20 percent of federal and state legislators are women. They occupy only six of 23 cabinet and cabinet-level positions. If fewer women enter politics, fewer women join think tanks after serving their term.

We may be able to find a better answer in looking at a woman’s career ambitions, where a fundamental gap exists between young men and women’s political ambitions. The School of Public Affairs at American University conducted a survey last year of more than 2,100 college students ages 18 to 25 and found that young women are less likely to be socialized by their parents to consider politics as a career path and less likely to think they will be qualified to run for office.

Yet we need young women more than ever to step up and ensure that the next generation of American policymakers remains committed to full gender equality. According to a recent World Bank Report, women’s participation in government results in greater responsiveness to citizen needs and policies that prioritize families and women. When at least a quarter of a country’s legislators were women, laws discriminating against women were more likely to be repealed.

We cannot change existing structures in governments and think tanks today. Rather, we must invest in women of the future to change the gender gap in political ambition. Currently, a number of programs exist that encourage young women to run for office, develop female graduate students in public policy, or offer brief leadership trainings for college women. However, these programs lack a long-term support network to engage undergraduate women in public policy at the beginning of their careers.

With chapters at 115 colleges and universities, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is well positioned to fill this gap, beginning with the Eleanor Roosevelt Policy Initiative. This summer, the Campus Network is hosting an essay contest on gender equality, selecting six young people to attend the Women and Girls Rising Conference. In September, the winners will engage with prominent activists, officials, and scholars on the past and future of international women’s movements.

Following the conference, these individuals will continue to work with the Campus Network on promoting young women in policy spheres. To move forward with a vision of equality, we must tell young women today that their ideas are vital in creating stable governments and societies of tomorrow.

If you are a current college student or recent graduate, enter the contest here

Hannah Zhang interned for the Roosevelt Institute's Women and Girls Rising initiative as a Summer Academy Fellow this year. She is Campus Network's External Relations Coordinator for the Northeast.

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Education Left Behind

Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

“Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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Summer Vacation is Feeding the Achievement Gap

Jun 27, 2014Sarah Pfeifer VandekerckhoveCandace Richardson

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

Learning loss during summer vacation is far worse for students of lower socioeconomic status, making low-cost and free educational summer programming essential.

New York City public schools begin summer break today. For many students, summer is a time to rest, travel and play, and a recent study even demonstrates the critical role of play in a student’s future academic and financial success. But extensive research shows that these few months away from the structured activities of school are particularly detrimental to the academic achievement of students of low SES (socioeconomic status) families. Without access and exposure to educational enrichment opportunities during the summer months, these students face substantial setbacks in their academic development.

Of course, all students experience some learning loss during the summer months. Research on the “summer slide” phenomenon shows that nearly all students perform worse on standardized tests taken at the end of summer vacation than the same test taken at the end of the previous school year and lose two months of math skills over the summer months.

For low SES students, however, summer slide does even greater damage to their academic achievement year over year, increasing the achievement gap as well as the likelihood that such students will drop out of high school or not attend college. Summer slide occurring during elementary school alone contributes to at least half of the SES achievement gap by the time students reach 9th grade.  In fact, low SES high school students are eight times less likely to attend a four-year college, compared with their high SES peers.

While only about 20% of students from low-income families participate in summer learning programs, high-income families can afford to expose their children to a variety of enrichment activities, including summer camp. In February, TimeOut published a list of upcoming academic summer camps in New York City that offer exciting sessions on robots, chemistry, reading, and math along with many educational field trips to museums and zoos, with the average cost of these camps totaling $2,176 per month.  For the seventy-eight percent of New York City’s 1.1 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch ($43,568 annually for a family of four) that’s nearly 60 percent of their family’s monthly income, meaning these academic summer camps are out of the question for the families whose kids need them the most.

Cost is only one of many barriers to summer program participation for low SES families. Accessibility plays a big role. For instance, the New York City Department of Education’s Summer Quest, a free, five-week enrichment program to combat summer slide, is only available at 22 of the city’s 1700 public schools. And while NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have strongly encouraged participation in summer enrichment programs, only about 55,000 low SES students will receive free programming this summer.

Despite the efforts to engage students in summer enrichment programs, New York City still has a long way to go.

About one-third of the achievement gap can be attributed to a child’s SES before they even enter kindergarten. Combatting the 31.4% child poverty rate in New York City through expansion of Home Visiting programs can go along way in getting students off on the right foot. This is just one of many policy solutions that arose at the Roosevelt Institute’s recent conference, Inequality Begins at Birth.

Of the 55,000 New York City students receiving free summer programming, De Blasio anticipates that 34,000 of those will be middle-schoolers. Increasing the engagement of elementary school children will mitigate substantial growth in the achievement gap, as early academic setbacks compound over time. The DOE can start by expanding NYC Summer Quest and other programs to target younger students, and over time the focus should be on engaging even more of the 850,000+ low SES students in New York City public schools.

Sarah Pfeifer Vandekerckhove is the Roosevelt Institute's Director of Operations.

Candace Richardson is a Policy Intern for the Four Freedoms Center.

Chart from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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