Saturday, September 20, 2014

G. Lee Aikin answers DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, Candidate Questionnaire

I am currently running for Chairman of the DC City Council in the Nov. 4, 2014 General Election. 

[My answers submitted to DCAYA will appear directly below the question.  Additional paragraphs will provide other ideas that exceed the 150 word limit.]

Candidate Youth Issue Questionnaire
By DC Alliance of Youth Advocates
Please limit your answer to 150 words. Any words over the limit will be deleted. If you would like, you may hyperlink some of the text in your answer to provide more context or information via an internet link. Please be specific in your answer. If you do not agree with the premise of the question, you may note that, give a reason why, and address the topic as you see as appropriate.

1) What youth-specific legislation would you introduce in your first 100 days of office?

*Moratorium on new Public Charter Schools (PCS) until inequities between the DC Public Schools (DCPS) and PCS's corrected. Legislation requiring student funding returns to DCPS when PCS's dismiss students midyear. When PCS send back students prior to spring testing, the scores should credit to the longest attended school. Fairer for DCPS and PCS parents.
*Eliminate Basic Business License requirement for many businesses grossing under $200,000 annually. Require half day tax preparation class with $25 fee. Don't hamper good youth jobs like dog walking, Avon, yard work, etc. with BBL.
*DC has 3,000 alternative education seats available for 14,000 youths without HS diploma; 6,935 after-school expanded learning slots available for 31,633 "at-risk" DC students; over 4,000 homeless students enrolled; and 58% of 20-24 year olds unable to find full-time employment. We must allocate more money for each need.
*Explicit communication channels between schools and hiring businesses need to be funded. [end answer #1]  

2) Homelessness is a clear and present issue in the District of Columbia. Homelessness among minors (under 18), youth (18-24), and young parents (under 24) is a particularly acute and complex issue. How will you address this issue?

*Homelessness among young DC residents could be helped by removing small units of rental rooms (like row houses) and single apartments from the Basic Business License process. Homeowners may rent out two rooms as a matter of right. That should be no part of the BBL.
*In some cultures families exchange their teenage children. This gets kids away from ongoing antagonisms and teaches them something about other people. Perhaps a matching/supervising service could be set up.
*Middle class youth often experience life in college dormitories. Perhaps dormitories with cafeteria and laundry facilities could be built for youths 18-24. Monitors from social work, education, psychology graduate programs could be given free housing to supervise and guide. Job counseling, living skills, study programs, cooking, laundry work, etc. should be part of the in-house environment, solving both homelessness and life skills needs.
See position paper on housing for poor and homeless. [end answer #2]

Additional thoughts on Question #2:
Homeless people are often not without skills and in many cases they would relish the opportunity to acquire skills. My position paper on housing needs describes training the homeless in construction work at the same time that they acquire credits toward a down payment on the units that they are building. The cash costs of construction should be somewhat low since the only full salaried people would be the teaching staff. Some fraction of the units could be sold at market rates to fund a large fraction of the programs costs. The remaining units could be allocated to those with the most hours worked on building prior units. A mortgage could be issued with payment to be covered with some specific number of additional hours of work each month. However, after the units are allocated the goal would be to find full time work in the private sector to free up slots for the next group of trainees.
For many people a housing first program is needed. The trauma of existing on the streets can be so acute that the only answer is to get housing for them. The nutritional, medical, educational and counseling needs must be evaluated and provided on an individual basis. 

3) Only 13.2% of 16-19 years olds and 42% of 20-24 years olds were able to find paid, unsubsidized employment that they were qualified for in DC in 2011. What is your plan to improve successful entry to the workforce for DC youth?

*The current drug war and its "gift" of criminal records to minority youth is a needless job search barrier. Annually twice as many DC youth have marijuana arrests as graduate from high school.
*We must reestablish youth vocational education as a major study option. Radical improvements in vocational education would greatly narrow the job gap.
*Many DC jobs do require some college education. Denmark has free university education and they pay their students to go to school. Can we find the money to do something similar?
*Another option is a government funded micro-lending operation financing small business for unemployed youth. If youth have a coherent business plan and can convince an evaluation team of successful peers, they deserve the chance to start their own business. People need not be hired by others if they have a personal vision of how to serve an existing need in the community.  [end answer #3]

Additional thoughts on Question #3:
Academicians have tended to stress college and professional education to the serious neglect of the kinds of jobs we cannot send overseas. It typically costs more in materials and work spaces but there is high demand for well trained construction workers, car repair technicians, electricians, plumbers, health care and food service workers, and other vocational trades. In a recent conversation with Andy Shallal (who employs 500+ food service workers), he said graduates of our DC funded culinary training were typically unqualified for the jobs he has available. Much more than just increasing funds for vocational education, we need to legislate better methods of linking the training we deliver with the actual jobs out there.  Employers need to communicate to the government and students the nature of the current job market and give clear feedback on requirements to get those jobs.  

4) Recent studies have shown that quality expanded learning improves DC youths’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Yet, each year there are thousands of DC youth who remain unable to participate in programs that improve academic, social/emotional, health and workforce readiness outcomes. What do you think are the barriers? How would you remove the barriers you’ve identified?

*Teach young learners to take advantage of computer based resources.
*There is an explosion in Massive Open On-Line Courses (MOOCs). Schools should invest much more in technology to utilize such available resources. Making the relatively small effort to match individual youth with resources would expand their cognitive and non-cognitive skill sets.
*Coursera currently offers 728 courses from 110 partners. EdX offers 229 courses. Many US universities offer other courses independently. Many foreign universities offer English language MOOCs.
*This is not a panacea. Many who attempt these courses will drop out if starting on their own. It is quite helpful to have them learning along with other people going through the same process, plus supervision.
*There should be mechanisms to match a given course with the goals and current level of the student. Mechanisms tracking which MOOCs works for DC youth for any specific purpose are also needed. [end answer #4]

5) In DC, around 14,000 youth are disconnected from school and work. The majority of them are trying to re-engage, but there are many obstacles including a time-consuming childcare voucher system, costly public transport, and having to go to several bureaus to get proper documentation. How would you most effectively address these barriers?

*Businesses in general and especially any connected with DC job training programs should have in-house day care available.
*Low cost or free Metro and bus Smart Trip Cards could solve many transport issues.
*More needs to be done to place sites providing needed documentation in the same building.
*An elderly handicapped friend had to get a Basic Business License to have an Agency supervise renting her apartment when she traveled for 6 months. She sat for hours in 2 different offices at DCRA, 1 office at OTR, and then made the difficult drive to Anacostia to complete the process. This was outrageous for her and the same for young people trying to get a start. As I said before, eliminating the BBL for businesses grossing under $200,000 removes a major barrier.
*I worked many hours trying to save neighborhood street vending, including an apprentice license for youth. [end answer#5]

In order to have a better understanding of the issues in the Questionnaire, I and one of my advisers met for an hour with DC Alliance of Youth Advocates staff.  We were told this organization has around 150 member organizations in their Alliance.  They also share an office with youth legal advocates.  We left with an invitation to return with others wishing to know more about their critical work and how to assist it. at 2:21 AM

We  would welcome ideas from others on improving conditions for our youth in the Comments section,

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