On Feb. 7, the City Council will take up a discussion about how we can best support the successful futures of our young people in Sacramento.
We have some critical questions to answer during this discussion. What is our vision of success for our city’s children? How do we best ensure that all students graduate from high school with maximum options for success in college and career? How do we provide them the tools to be civically engaged? How do we work with and support nonprofit partner organizations that for years have been providing the bulk of support services for our young people? How do we effectively work with our schools? How do we ensure that every program funded by the city includes metrics for success and is properly evaluated? What type of infrastructure and resources will be needed to reach our goals?
Why is this discussion so important? If we look at the status of Sacramento’s children, data over the past few years paints a dismal picture. For example, 29 percent of children under 18 live in poverty. Only 27 percent of Sacramento City Unified School District and 21 percent of Twin Rivers Unified School District third-graders are meeting or exceeding grade-level standards in English language arts. Approximately 40 percent of SCUSD students are overweight or obese. Finally, 15 percent of the city’s homeless population is between the ages of 18 and 24.
What is the city currently doing? According to a recent study looking at 2013-14 data, the city spent 1 to 2 percent, less than $4 million, of its general fund and Measure U dollars specifically on programs for children and youths, compared with 80 percent of its discretionary general fund to support our police and fire departments.
The council has increased youth funding over the past few years, but it is still woefully below what is needed and what others do. For example, in the current fiscal year, San Francisco has $69 million in a dedicated fund for children and youth services, and in Oakland, nearly $15 million of dedicated revenue was granted to community-based organizations that provide high-quality programming for youths.
We need to increase our investments in prevention and intervention programs that will not only keep kids out of trouble, but put them on a pathway to success and to being contributing members of our community.
So what do we do? First, we need to set goals for our young people. What are the skills and competencies they should have by the time they graduate from high school and how should we measure and evaluate that success? Second, we should:
▪ Adopt a whole-child strategic plan identifying a set of cradle-to-career outcomes for youths that is based on a youth-development framework and includes a mechanism to monitor progress over time.
▪ Build a city infrastructure necessary to oversee current and new programs that is efficient and effective, and includes metrics for success and ongoing evaluation.
▪ Cultivate partnerships with schools and community-based organizations to meet the needs of our youths and work in concert to achieve shared goals around youth success.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg is proposing to vastly expand the number of internships for high school students in Sacramento, not only teaching them the soft skills necessary for success in the workplace and in college, but also allowing them to earn funds toward their own futures. I applaud this plan.
Our budget decisions over the next few months will demonstrate how we value our young people. Politicians always say children are our future. It’s time we back the rhetoric with real action and resources. Sacramento’s future depends on it.
Jay Schenirer is the Sacramento City Council member for District 5. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.