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Ed Fund Congressional Briefings

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:36 PM
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ADA’s Education Fund admirably fulfilled its mission this spring and summer, traveling to Capitol Hill each month from May to July to cast new light on pressing national issues.  In a series of Congressional briefings, the Ed Fund presented diverse panels of experts explaining and exploring two topics receiving a lot of attention—the federal budget and marriage equality—and one that deserves much more: youth unemployment.  

Held in the Rayburn House office building before an audience of Congressional staffers, political activists and Fund supporters, the panels offered a mix of data and opinion, burrowing deeper into background, context and strategy than superficial news accounts or partisan talking points ever allow.  Active use of social media and video recordings allowed those far from Washington to join in the events.

Conventional wisdom was a frequent victim of the panels’ presentations. “We don’t have a spending problem in America, we have a revenue problem,” declared budget activist Ryan Clayton at the May presentation on federal finances. In June, youth advocate Reese Neader made the hidden problem of student poverty a vivid reality by sharing his own life story.  And state legislator Anne Kaiser explained in July the tactics behind the controversial decision to pull a marriage equality bill from the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates.

“Education on public policy is a broad mandate, and the Ed Fund pursues it in a variety of ways,” said the fund’s executive director, Cheryl Kagan. “But I’m particularly proud of this year’s Congressional briefings because they bring directly to policymakers fresh voices and differing perspectives.”

Citizens for Tax Justice founder Robert McIntyre; New York Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, the lead sponsor of the state’s marriage equality law; and Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood were among the briefings’ participants. Attendance and attention grew with each event.

Deficit politics were just beginning to heat up when the Fund inaugurated the series with a panel in May on the federal budget.  McIntyre and Paul Van de Water, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, presented graphical proof that much of the current debate was focused on the wrong end of the equation: spending wasn’t driving up the nation’s debt, insufficient revenues caused by an unfair tax system and the Great Recession were.

The Ed Fund brought attention to a crisis within a crisis when it dedicated its June program to the youth component of the nation’s chronic high unemployment. Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute painted the depressing statistical picture of an economy unable to rebound fast enough to absorb all the nation’s jobless anytime soon, with potentially catastrophic effects on those just starting out in the workplace.

Kisha Bird, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), and
Veronica Nolan, executive director of the Urban Alliance, brought a programmatic perspective to the discussion.  Bird called for a national program of youth engagement within low-income and minority communities, while Nolan gave an inspiring report about just such a program her organization already offers on a local level.

Same-sex marriage had only been a reality in New York—the biggest state yet to allow it—for 48 hours when the Ed Fund offered up its very timely briefing on marriage equality at the end of July.  Jo Deutsch, federal director of Freedom to Marry, offered a national political strategy for advancing marriage equality, while Georgetown Law professor Nan Hunter noted some of the legal absurdities developing as more states recognize same-sex marriage while the federal government, bound by the Defense of Marriage Act, does not.
 

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