In order for the United States to make President Obama’s goal of having the world’s largest share of college graduates by 2020 a reality, a number of things must take place. First, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) needs to be reauthorized with a spotlight on school accountability that includes high school graduation rates, a reform plan that focuses on the lowest performing high schools, and funding mechanisms need to be revamped to ensure that secondary schools receive a greater share of federal education funding. All these policy changes need to be implemented in order to ensure that our students currently in the education pipeline graduate college and career ready.

But what are we doing for the youth who already dropped out of school? What can be done for the young people who are disconnected from both the education system and the workforce and currently have few prospects for economic mobility? For all the conversations that are taking place on ESEA, college access, and affordability, First Focus remains committed to ensuring that disconnected youth are not forgotten in policy conversations. Because we believe it should be a national priority to reconnect youth to education and workforce development, First Focus applauds the work of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the report they released last week on disconnected Latino youth.

Plugged In: Positive Development Strategies for Disconnected Latino Youth is a report completed by the NCLR Escalera Program which embarked on an analysis to establish a set of best practices for community based organizations, educators, policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders working to improve income and career mobility for disconnected youth.

Key findings and recommendations from the report include the following:

1. We must encourage collaboration and partnership among local communities and youth-serving programs and institutions through funding that rewards the development of a dropout recovery system that provides seamless wraparound services.

2. While case management is an essential part of disconnected youth programs (helping them re-engage and navigate services and systems), it continues to be underfunded therefore it goes missing from schools and other youth-serving organizations.

3. Because disconnected youth generally have a wide range of needs, they would benefit from a longer range of services that begin with outreach and extend through graduation and beyond.

4. Youth fare better when family support is present so we must develop models that help families become partners and include them in each step of the participant’s progress.

For the sake of the national economy, as well as for the sake of providing every young person with the opportunity to achieve academic and professional success, disconnected youth must be included in all policy conversations. For a population that is often an after-thought for high schools (and a far away after-thought at that), we must continue to emphasize the need to build youth service delivery capacities in communities of high youth distress.

There are several models throughout the country currently serving disconnected youth by guiding them to high-skill, high-wage career opportunities – the key is to scale up these best practices in order to meet the need for high quality programming. Finally, as we work to create innovative solutions to re-engage disconnected youth, let us not forget to also involve young people in the conversation and utilize their insight when finding solutions for their own generation.