Building a New Generation of Equity through Policy Change

In 2020, the twin crises of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd laid bare pervasive inequities in Minnesota that disproportionately impact indigenous, low-income, and racially diverse youth.  Yet, these inequities aren’t new; in many cases, they are 400-plus years in the making.  These inequities intersect all aspects of life—education, health, labor, housing, the criminal justice system, and more.  They tarnish our state’s pride and impede our collective prosperity.

The time is now for bold, ambitious policy action to permanently reverse these inequities.  Our youth stand ready to usher in a new generation of equity in Minnesota as both the primary drivers and beneficiaries of this work.  This multiyear, youth-centered, and youth-informed policy agenda spotlights priorities within three key impact areas—learning & leadership, economic opportunity, and health & safety—that will give rise to a new generation of equity and achieve Youthprise’s vision of a Minnesota where outcomes for youth are no longer predictable by race, geography, and social-economic status.

Click to download Policy Agenda PDF Booklet

OUR PROCESS

This policy agenda was created through an inclusive and collaborative process designed to meet the needs of all youth across Minnesota. Our primary goal was to ensure that youth voice was woven throughout the creation process and at the center of the agenda. This goal was largely met through collaboration between the Youthprise Policy Team, Youth Participatory Action Research and Youth Engagement Team, and our partnership with MN Young Champions.

We conducted an environmental scan of through interviews with dozens of allied organizations. In these meetings, we wanted to learn about what needs these organizations are trying to meet through their policy work. We identified shared priorities that Youthprise could support and discussed which issues were best suited for Youthprise to lead. Most importantly, we built collaborative relationships.

We hosted youth-facilitated listening sessions/focus groups centered around the question, “What changes do you want to see?” We utilized the expertise of the MN Young Champions to co-write the questions they wanted to ask their peers, trained them in leading focus groups, and supported them as they facilitated and participated. Key themes from each focus group were identified.

We invited participants of the previous focus groups along with other young people invested in the process to attend a solutions session. They were presented with the themes and quotes from participants around each major topic. Youth were broken into collaborative groups and led through a participatory process to generate solutions and recommendations around the key themes identified in the focus groups.

The learning and leadership impact area promotes the learning, leadership, and socio-emotional development of youth and seeks to shift how programs engage youth in leadership and governance. Key themes that surfaced throughout the process were:

  • Lack of diverse representation in the school curriculum and staff/faculty
  • Difficulties with distance learning
  • Need for alternative learning opportunities, like service-learning and vocational training
  • Demand for more civically engaged youth at decision-making tables

These themes can be seen throughout the policy priorities outlined below.

LEAD: 

Modernize the K-12 Education Tax Credit

Increase access to out-of-school time programs and educational computer hardware for low-income youth by:

  • Updating the income limit which has remained unchanged since 1997;
  • Streamlining the claiming and assignment process for families; and
  • Revising the definition of “qualified instructor” to reduce discrimination and align with research on youth development best practices.

Add youth to public governing bodies

Require at least two youth members on every school board, public board, council, and commission (including Workforce Development Boards) and allocate funding to provide technical assistance to prepare the governing bodies and youth for success.

SUPPORT: 

Establish afterschool community learning grants

Provide state funding for a competitive grant program for out-of-school time programs serving low-income youth.

Increase teachers of color

Enhance pathways like teacher residency programs and support for BIPOC youth to enter and remain in the teaching profession.

Ensure access to advanced courses for BIPOC students

Guarantee that BIPOC students have equitable access to honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, PSEO, and other dual enrollment courses to ensure they reach their full academic and career potential.

Sustain the Education Partnerships Coalition

Support innovative work with low-income youth and their families across Minnesota by continuing to fund the Education Partnerships Coalition.

Expand opportunities for service-learning

Make learning more impactful by increasing access to service-learning opportunities for all Minnesota students.

Create a family-friendly MDE dashboard

Urge the Minnesota Department of Education to create a family-friendly dashboard and school rating system using a multi-measure assessment, not just test scores.

Raise the maximum age for enrollment in public schools

Provide opportunity for youth with more avenues to complete their education by raising the maximum age for enrollment in public schools to 24.

Increase funding for Youth Intervention Program (YIP) grants

Provide resources to aid opportunity youth by increasing funding for YIP grants.

The Economic Opportunity impact area focuses on opportunities for economic prosperity by supporting programs and initiatives that build workforce skills, promote youth entrepreneurship, and expose youth to career pathways. The key themes that surfaced throughout the process were:

  • Lack of jobs and financial resources
  • Insufficient quality and impact of support resources that do exist
  • Difficulty navigating existing support systems

These themes can be seen throughout the policy priorities outlined below.

LEAD:

Fund East African Workforce Development Equity Grants

Promote career readiness among East African youth by renewing the appropriation for Youthprise’s East African Workforce Development Equity Grants.

Make secondary school students eligible for unemployment insurance

Repeal the 1939 state law that prohibits secondary school students from being eligible for unemployment insurance.

SUPPORT:

Boost funding for Youth at Work grants

Support career pathways for BIPOC and low-income youth by increasing funding for Youth at Work grants while also exploring opportunities to ensure these grants are distributed equitably and in a manner that promote program sustainability and scalability.

Increase disaggregation of government workforce data

Reveal opportunities to bring about greater equity in employment by increasing the disaggregation of workforce data from government agencies at all levels.

Ensure competitive pay for internships and career exploration

Prevent unpaid or low-paying internships and career exploration opportunities from limiting access to career pathways for low-income students by ensuring these jobs pay competitive, livable wages.

Create equitable asset building opportunities for families

Foster opportunities for families to build assets, especially those that help families save for post-secondary opportunities for youth.

Provide access to vital documents and prerequisites for driving to all youth

Ensure that all youth, especially foster children, have access to government IDs and the prerequisites for driving like driver’s education, a driver’s license, and car insurance.

The Health and Safety impact area focuses on promoting the holistic health & safety of young people by meeting basic health needs and ensuring young people are safe and not criminalized in their communities. Key themes that surfaced throughout the process were:

  • Struggles with mental health and difficulty accessing support and resources both in and out of school
  • Lack of affordable housing and major health resources
  • A critical examination of youth interactions with the justice system

These themes can be seen throughout the policy priorities outlined below.

LEAD:

Exempt federal meals programs from state sales tax

Provide an exemption to the state sales tax for nonprofits who purchase prepared food from for-profit vendors for use in the CACFP and SFSP federal meals programs.

End youth homelessness in Minnesota

Break the troubling and avoidable trend of youth homelessness once and for all by:

  • Increasing permanent affordable housing for youth, especially for pregnant and parenting youth, foster youth, and youth involved in the juvenile justice system;
  • Increasing funding for YouthBuild; and
  • Making it easier for youth to connect with existing support systems.

SUPPORT:

Prioritize mental health resources for youth

Guarantee every young person in Minnesota access to the mental health resources they need by:

  • Increasing funding for schools to hire professional mental health counselors, especially those that are representative of the student body; and
  • Permitting students to have excused absences from school to address mental health needs.
  • Ensuring that youth have culturally relevant and specific resources to address chemical dependency and the impact of the opioid epidemic.

Advance the Minnesota Coalition for Youth Justice’s policy agenda

Work in collaboration with the Minnesota Coalition for Youth Justice to reduce youth interaction with the justice system while eliminating racial disparities and encouraging the adoption of anti-racist and culturally sound practices within the justice system.

Institute Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for youth

Reduce summer childhood hunger by providing resources to purchase food during the summer months to families whose children receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, modeled after the successful Pandemic EBT program.