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There is a plethora of federal and state age limits—to drive, to vote, to run for public office. But, how old do you really need to be to have an impact on the policies that change and affect the communities around you? In our opinion, even if you haven’t reached voting age, all ages should be welcome have a seat at the policymaking table. Youth councils are found at the very core of this answer; formal bodies of youth who advise high level decision makers and elected officials.

Currently, 93 countries have a national network of youth councils. However, in the U.S. only 12 states have invested in some type of youth council, and no federal level youth council exists in the United States. This means that the President doesn’t have access to a group of young people to provide him the unique perspectives and vital insights necessary to make well-informed decisions. Nor does his cabinet. Nor does Congress.

Two pieces of legislation were introduced in previous Congresses which would take steps to further engage our youth. The first piece of legislation, the RAISE Up Act, supports active youth community partnerships to combat dropout rates and reengage disconnected youth. The second piece of legislation, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), makes substantial investment in career pathways for youth and has been up for reauthorization since 2003. WIA includes a number of grants to fund community engagement as well. It’s still unclear as to whether RAISE Up will be re-introduced this Congress, nor is there indication from leadership that WIA reauthorization will be considered.

Although there is uncertainty to the legislative action on youth engagement in Congress, there is a shift being signaled by the White House. On Saturday, February 26th, the U.S. Department of Education is hosting its very first National Youth Summit, a massive step forward for the country to engage young people in the policy that affects them. What’s even more encouraging is the youth response to the event– registration filled up only 48 hours after it went online! With that in mind, the Department of Education wants to make sure that all young people are able to participate in the National Youth Summit. Not only can you participate in a watch party or watch the event online, but Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has agreed to answer the top questions chosen by youth on SparkAction.org. Vote and question submissions are still being taken until this Friday, February 18th so don’t miss out on your chance to be heard.

While we applaud the Obama Administration for their incredible efforts with the upcoming National Youth Summit, we hope that the conversation with our country’s youth continues after the 26th.

For more information on the National Youth Summit or youth engagement: