Texas Just Passed a Law About College Work Study. Here’s Why It Matters.

For a full-time, in-state student at The University of Texas at Austin to pay their tuition by working a minimum wage job, they would need to work more than 17 hours per day, 7 days per week. If students cast off all other trappings of modern life, they would divide their remaining hours between going to class (assuming a standard course load, that’s at least three hours per day), completing assignments (three more hours), sleeping (eight hours, or your risk of stroke increases), and commuting (that’s another hour, if you’re lucky).

That bare-bones schedule adds up to a 32-hour day. And that’s without eating, showering, or any of the extracurriculars—like internships—that get students hired.

For students who work to pay their way through school, an unpaid internship isn’t an option. In Texas, as in other states, these students take work in the retail or food industries to pay their bills. They graduate with a degree, but without the work experience that helps them to compete against their more-affluent peers.

That’s why Texas’s new, deeply-wonky law requiring the state to start collecting more data on state work-study participants is actually a big deal. Simply collecting data won’t amount to much for Texas students—but it’s a first step toward addressing gaps that plague the state’s higher education system.

Low Higher Educational Attainment, Low Financial Aid Investment

Between 1990 and 2010, costs at public four-year institutions in Texas increased by 286 percent—more than double the national rate. Meanwhile, Texas’s higher education attainment rate is below the national average. Less than 1 in 5 Texas eighth graders will eventually complete a higher education degree or certificate in 11 years, with that number plummeting to 1 in 10 for those from low-income families.

That’s at least in part because the state has also failed to invest in student aid at adequate levels, ranking second to last among the most-populous states. Students in Texas are much more likely to have to rely on loans, as opposed to grants, to pay for school than their peers in other states.

The Need for a Degree and a Resume

As college becomes more inaccessible to low-income students, it’s also becoming more important. In less than five years, more than half of jobs in all states will require some type of higher education—including 62 percent of jobs in Texas. At the same time, employers have reduced the number of entry-level positions and the amount of training time they offer. An administrator at Baylor University explained that young workers who previously expected two years of training time when entering a company would “be lucky” to get six months of training. And while previous generations could have expected positions similar to what we now call internships to pay, the use of unpaid internships to fill entry-level work has rapidly risen.

That leaves students who need to earn their way through school in a tight spot, since paid, career-related work is hard to come by. “I’ve never had a problem getting a job,” one University of Texas student explained, “[but] the only jobs that are available to get is like waitressing or … retail.” Similarly, a senior at UT from Dallas had worked all four years of school, and with the additional help of grants, had only accumulated $5,000 in student debt. But because she relied on her own earnings, she had to turn down multiple internships that would have given her experience in her intended field—and potential employers noted problems with a lack of experience on her resume as she launched her post-graduation job hunt.

Given these facts, it is understandable—though perhaps slightly tone-deaf—that Texas employers recently reported not being able to find qualified applicants as a top work-related concern.

Work-Study Could Be a Way Forward

Texas is one of fourteen states with its own work-study program Work study is a form of financial aid that places students in paid work to help manage tuition bills. —the Texas College Work-Study Program (TCWSP)—in addition to the federal program. Traditionally, work-study positions have been limited to on-campus placements like monitoring computer labs, reshelving library books, and running the mailroom. But two years ago, the Texas legislature began requiring that a significant percentage of placements be off-campus, which makes career-oriented work at outside companies a possibility.

The state already collects some data on participating employers, but under the new bill the state will report on participating students, too. That will allow administrators and advocates to track whether employers in the TWSP are mismatched with students’ career paths, and identify where the program is failing to foster career-growth opportunities. That will help students build out their resumes, and it will help administrators recruit companies from industries that are underrepresented in the program.

And, as the program becomes more effective, the popularity of expanding it—both among families and employers—will likely grow.

That’s essential, because work study is one of the few forms of state financial aid in Texas that remains a consistently bipartisan topic. Before Texas’s past legislative session, state leaders directed a 4 percent budget reduction among agencies across the board. In such a political climate, a significant investment in state grant programs was essentially off the table.

Work-study cannot be the only vehicle to increase opportunity for low-income students. But for the many other states facing budget reductions or led by lawmakers disinclined to invest in higher education, the progress in Texas could serve as an example as one important way to do so.


First Person

I Grew Up in Tom Price’s District. The Sex Ed He Promotes Is Dangerous.

Last month, the Trump administration silently slashed $213.6 million from at least 81 institutions working on teen pregnancy prevention. The cuts hit a wide variety of programs: the Choctaw Nation’s initiatives to reduce teen pregnancy in Oklahoma, the University of Texas’ guidance for youth in foster care, and Baltimore’s Healthy Teen Network’s work on an app that could answer health questions from teen girls.

This move came at the recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Tom Price. In many ways, it’s on brand with Price’s career as an enthusiastic advocate for restricting women’s choices: He has signed personhood acts that ban emergency contraception and abortion, opposed the Obamacare birth control mandate, tried to defund Planned Parenthood, and defended cuts to Medicaid that would deny millions of low-income women health care.

On an intellectual level, Price’s cuts are frustrating because they represent another piece of a regressive puzzle the Trump administration is assembling in order to control women’s choices. And personally, I’m devastated because I know what these cuts mean to the communities that they will affect.

I attended public school for my entire K-12 education in Tom Price’s former district, where abstinence-only education is the norm. The single day of sex education I received promoted the idea that all sexual acts outside of a heterosexual marriage are dangerous and shameful, and did not make any distinction about whether these acts were consensual or not. It espoused gendered roles that posited women as defenders of their precious virginity, and put the responsibility on women to prevent sex from happening to them. That’s perfectly in line with the content requirements for sex education in Georgia: They consciously exclude information about contraception, coercion, orientation, and HIV/AIDS, and they stress abstinence and marriage.

Because I was lucky, and because I am privileged, I was able to go to a college with real resources—extracurricular trainings, a health clinic, and actual academic courses—that helped me unlearn the detrimental sexual education I received in high school. I got the practical information that I needed, and I started unraveling my skewed concept of consent.

I attended public school in Tom Price’s former district, where abstinence-only education is the norm.

When I attended a “Take Back the Night” rally my freshman year of college, I realized that my abstinence-only education had led me to view myself as responsible for sexual acts committed without my consent. Consequently, I felt shame instead of empowerment to take the steps I needed to recover. This is a common phenomenon for young people that experience abstinence-only education; when all expressions of sexuality are described as negative and shameful, the lines between consensual and nonconsensual acts become blurred.

College gave me a second chance at sex ed, but a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. For rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color, high school sex education and community-based programs are often the only options available to acquire stigma-free, accurate education about consent, contraception, and sexual health. These populations already face myriad barriers to sex education, including culture, finances, and distance. In my home state of Georgia, there are only four Planned Parenthood clinics—one of the only affordable health centers with enough name recognition that people know to seek it out when they need help—and three of the four are located in the Atlanta metro area in the northwest corner of the state.

Still, teen pregnancy and birth rates are at an all-time low across the country. Georgia has experienced one of the most drastic declines in these rates, from the highest teen birth rate in the United States in 1995 to the 17th in 2015. The grants that Price slashed last week were a part of that story. The target audience of all of these programs are marginalized youth who have a demonstrated need for increased education. And these are the groups that are at the greatest risk for high teen birth rates: Rural counties reported an average birth rate of 30.9 (30.9 teens per 1,000 females aged 15–19), compared with the much lower rate of 18.9 for urban counties. Similarly, black and Latino teenagers experience teen pregnancy at rates twice as high as white teenagers. For these communities, removing teen pregnancy prevention programs that these grants funded will restore the negative effects of abstinence-only education that the grants were originally provided to combat. For example, one of the programs cut was run by the Augusta Partnership for Children Inc., which focuses on reducing teen pregnancy and STI rates in four rural East Georgia counties. In one of these counties, Augusta-Richmond county, the teen birthrate is 22.9 percent higher than the state average.

These cuts can’t be written off as a difference in ideology.
It almost goes without saying that cuts to teen pregnancy prevention programs could reverse the downward trends in teen pregnancy and birth rates. And the Trump administration is attacking other lifelines marginalized groups depend on, too. Funding decreases imposed on safety net programs and Medicaid, both threatened under the Trump and congressional budgets, will significantly impact teen parents who often rely on public assistance for food, housing, and healthcare. Similarly, without sex education and community-based programs funded by HHS, teen parents and youth in general will likely need to turn to Title X providers Title X family planning clinics provide reproductive health care and preventive health services for low-income and uninsured individuals. for contraception, abortion services, and sex education. But President Trump and congressional Republicans have been chipping away at Title X providers too, by rolling back an Obama-era regulation that prevents state and local governments from denying funding to health care providers for “political” reasons—namely, the provision of abortion services.

These cuts can’t be written off as a difference in ideology. I experienced firsthand the powerlessness that results from a shaming, abstinence-focused education, and it can be a matter of life and death for communities already on the margins. I had a second chance at a more holistic education, but it was due to luck and privilege that most folks in Georgia do not have access to. And when we’re talking about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS infection rates, and domestic and sexual violence, luck and privilege shouldn’t be the factors we have to rely on.



The Movement for Black Lives Is Changing Policing in D.C.

Just a few blocks away from the White House—where President Donald Trump recently called for rougher treatment of people in police custody—the District of Columbia city council is quietly implementing one of the most progressive crime bills in recent history.

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act of 2016, sponsored by Democratic Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, represents a dramatic and desperately needed shift in how the nation’s capital will approach violent crime. In 2015, D.C. led the country in two categories: murders and police presence. With 119 homicides, it had a higher murder rate than every state in the country; and with six officers for every 1,000 citizens, it was the most heavily policed district in America.

In his office on Pennsylvania Ave, Councilmember McDuffie sports a pink polo beneath a gray tweed jacket. He speaks in perfect prose, with none of the ums and ahs and broken sentences that plague most of us. He believes in the NEAR Act because it addresses the “root causes” of violence.

“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” he says.

McDuffie was raised in D.C. in the 1980’s and 90’s, when it was known as the murder capital of the United States. He grew up around the open drug markets; he had friends who were killed in their neighborhoods.

“I’ve seen a person shot, bleeding out in my arms. I’ve seen these things firsthand,” he says. “That is the context I brought to this work.”

McDuffie has also seen the perils of overpolicing. He’s watched police officers “converge on communities of color, stopping people in neighborhoods like mine without probable cause.”

The NEAR Act draws from model programs in Chicago and Richmond by establishing an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) in D.C. The ONSE will hire people from within the community—“people who have credibility in these neighborhoods,” McDuffie says. They will identify community members who are at risk of committing violence or becoming a victim of violence, and then offer them trauma-informed therapy, life planning, and mentorship. The bill also provides funds to train police officers on “cultural competency” and how to recognize bias, and it calls for increased data collection on police stops and the use of force.

While he was drafting the bill, McDuffie consulted with local activists who had long called for criminal justice and police reform in the district—including Eugene Puryear, an author and organizer who helped found the Stop Police Terror Project.

Puryear’s energy is contagious; he peppers his caffeinated speech with phrases like “punctuated equilibrium” and “tectonic shifts.” He lauded McDuffie for doing a “deep dive on the issue,” but he also wants to credit the organizers who he thinks helped create the political space for the NEAR Act. He believes that the national Movement for Black Lives—and its local manifestations, such as the Stop Police Terror Project—convinced the council members to care about overpolicing and mass incarceration because their constituents were fired up about these issues.

During the early phases of the Stop Police Terror Project, the group interrupted a speech by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was pushing a crime bill that would have boosted police presence in the city. The group faced harsh criticism for the action—Puryear says that “everyone said we were band of radicals interrupting stuff with no positive program and no support in the community.”

But when the city council held a public hearing two months later to compare Bowser’s bill to the NEAR Act, nearly everyone who testified did so in favor of the latter. With overwhelming support from the community, the council passed the NEAR Act unanimously in March 2016. But neither the council nor the mayor fully funded the act in the 2017 budget, essentially putting it in limbo.

Once you would say you had any connection to Black Lives Matter, doors were swinging wide open.

Over the next several months, the Movement for Black Lives kept growing. Thousands of protestors demonstrated in 88 cities across the country in the weeks after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police officers. When Puryear and the Stop Police Terror Project started knocking on doors to gather signatures to fully fund the NEAR Act, they saw how badly residents wanted action.

“Once you would say you had any connection to Black Lives Matter, doors were swinging wide open,” Puryear said. He knocked on at least 500 doors, and he says that “every person who came to the door signed our petition, bar none.”

The council and the mayor agreed to fully fund the NEAR Act in the 2018 budget, which will go into effect on October 1. And the NEAR Act isn’t alone: Puryear says it’s part of a “cascading series” of local initiatives that came around in this “Black Lives Matter moment.” This includes a body-worn camera program for D.C. police officers and a juvenile justice bill, also sponsored by Councilmember McDuffie, that bans solitary confinement and court shackling for underage defendants.

Puryear believes that social change in the United States comes in spurts—long periods of very little change followed by rapid periods of huge changes. He hopes that we’re in one of those periods now, but he recognizes that progress isn’t inevitable. “What we do really matters,” he says. “The opportunities that are presented can just as easily be lost.” He thinks the next major battle surrounding the NEAR Act is its implementation: “There’s a lot of different ways this can be rolled out within the letter of the law.”

McDuffie agrees, and he says he’s working to make sure the bill gets implemented with the spirit and intent of how it was drafted.

The two models that the NEAR Act is based on have shown promise: Richmond has seen a 76 percent drop in homicides, and the Cure Violence model has curbed violence in pilot programs around the world. It remains to be seen whether the nation’s capital will have similar success—whether the old way of approaching violent crime, with militarized policing and mass incarceration, is finally on its way out.


First Person

Washington State Just Passed a Bipartisan Paid Leave Law. Here’s How We Did It.

About a quarter of new moms return to work two weeks after giving birth. Not because they want to leave their newborn, but because they need their paycheck.

I will never forget the testimony of a young mom from a Seattle suburb. During her pregnancy, she saved up every hour of her limited paid time off so that when her child was born, she would be able to spend every possible precious moment bonding with and caring for her newborn.

But one Thursday, she went into labor prematurely. Her baby boy was placed in intensive care at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and she went back to work on Monday. Her paid time off was so limited that she needed to save it for when her baby could come home. So, every day after work, she drove the 25 miles to Seattle to be with her baby until the hospital visiting hours ended.

Families have to make devastating choices every day because most working people do not get paid family and medical leave at their jobs. In particular, most lower-wage jobs do not offer any paid vacation or sick leave, though it is typically available to highly paid workers.

That’s why I am thrilled that on July 5, Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed the country’s most progressive and comprehensive paid family and medical leave insurance program into law. We built it from scratch, with bipartisan support and significant input from leaders in business, advocacy, and labor.

The new law covers everyone working in our state and is fully portable between jobs. It also includes a progressive benefit structure so that instead of providing a flat percentage of a person’s wage—which would pay lower-wage workers less and higher-wage workers more—the paid time off is graduated based on income. For a minimum wage worker, our benefit provides a 90 percent wage replacement. For higher-wage workers, the benefit caps at $1,000 a week. This ensures that every working Washingtonian, regardless of income, can afford to take the time they need with a new baby, a dying parent, or to recover from a serious illness or accident.


Crafting this policy took us a decade. We passed an initial paid family leave program that was never funded because of the Great Recession, but our coalition of lawmakers, advocates, and unions never gave up the goal. When the state’s 2016 ballot initiative campaign to raise the minimum wage and mandate paid sick leave passed easily with broad support, that let us begin serious negotiations again. Early polling indicated that a paid family and medical leave initiative that included a 100 percent employer-funded program would have received even broader support. The business community got similar results when they decided to test public opinion, so they came to the table early in the year to open discussions.

Crafting this policy took us a decade.

Though Seattle has a national reputation for being a progressive bastion, Washington state as a whole is actually quite purple. A Republican-led majority controls the state Senate by only one seat, and Democrats control the state House by only two seats. A young, socially moderate Republican floor leader, Sen. Joe Fain, led the effort to bring his caucus to the table. Fain had a baby boy last year, and he learned firsthand the need to have the time to bond and grow as a family. In state legislatures, relationships across the aisle are still important to make progress on policy.

In an era that feels increasingly divided along partisan lines on so many issues, Americans are overwhelmingly united in support of paid family and medical leave. This is why I believe that Washington’s historic victory must become the model for state-by-state enactment of such laws. The legislation we crafted, with a diverse range of stakeholders and perspectives, provides a roadmap for all states considering paid family and medical leave, whether they are under single-party control or a divided government.

Ultimately, the paid family and medical leave bill received 37 of the possible 49 votes in the Senate and 65 of the possible 98 votes in the House. The conditions for passage in Washington state may have been unique, but the law we produced provides a framework for state-level leadership in a time in which federal Congressional gridlock seems incapable of progress.


First Person

Trump’s Military Ban Will Leave More Trans Americans in Poverty

Yesterday morning, President Trump announced that he plans to reinstate the ban that prevents transgender Americans from serving in the military. It was a surprise for most of us—the Pentagon included—but the President managed to squeeze the announcement into his tweeting schedule between brags about the previous night’s rally and attacks on his own attorney general.

The reasons Trump cited to support his decision are pretty thin. He claimed that the military couldn’t possibly shoulder the medical costs, even though the military spends 50 times as much money on bands as it would on health care for trans servicemembers. He also noted that allowing transgender servicemembers would be a “disruption,” which is a pretty weighty claim to make on behalf of a force of people who are trained to deal with actual explosions.

This announcement is, of course, a direct attack on the rights of trans Americans who are already serving in the military. It will force them back into the closet, make it impossible for them to get adequate health care, leave them vulnerable to assault, or rob them of their livelihoods. It’s also an attack on trans Americans who aren’t serving. It’s a clear statement about the value the government places on their skills, and on their lives.

American rhetoric tends to talk about servicemembers as if they’re all Captain America: Hyperpatriotic superheroes fighting evil for no reason besides their love of country. To be clear, servicemembers are often heroic, and they do a brutally difficult job. But at the end of the day, they’re doing just that: a job. And it’s a good job, with a livable wage that often provides housing and access to higher education. The catch—and it’s a big one—is that in exchange for that job, servicemembers have to be willing to trade the government their lives.

LGBT Americans have been making this trade with the government for generations. There isn’t much data on LGBT Americans in the military, at least in part because there isn’t much data on LGBT Americans at all. But many of us know there’s a home for us there, the same way we just know that Tegan and Sara’s new records will never be quite as good as “The Con.”

One-third of black trans women earn less than $10,000 per year.

My high school best friend knew it. It wasn’t easy to be queer where we grew up—families tend to stick around our Rust Belt town for generations, and their old Catholic hearts are slow to change. Most folks meet social shifts with denial or quiet disapprovals, but his parents were the type of Christian who thought they could save us from ourselves. They tried to save him from his gayness every chance they got. First they tried sneaking up on him any time he left the house—including at least one incident that involved hiding in bushes—to manufacture public confrontations that were halfway between impromptu sermon and public exorcism. When they realized they couldn’t literally scare him straight, they cut him off financially. It was better to have no son than to have raised a queer.

He dropped out of college when his parents cut him off. He didn’t have the money he needed to get a degree, so he did what young Americans in need of a career have done for hundreds of years: He joined the military.

Trans Americans desperately need to have that option available to them. According to a report by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, half of transgender Americans earn less than $24,000 per year. One-third of black trans women earn less than $10,000 per year. Trans Americans are more likely to be rejected by their families, to be homeless, and to be forced into underground economies than the rest of the population. In some ways, that makes the military—a career that comes with a built-in family—a particularly good option for a lot of trans Americans. That option is something that trans Americans, as citizens of this country, are entitled to pursue. And it’s something that President Trump promised both LGBT Americans and veterans that he would support.

Whether Trump keeps his promises or not, trans Americans are going to fight for this country. They’ll do it in the military, even though the president just issued a declaration that orders them back in the closet. And they’ll do it right in front of the White House, with their signs raised and their heads held high, when the president tries to stop them.