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Op-Ed

How to Fix the Washington Summer Jobs Program

Martha Ross

It’s Groundhog Day in August: another hot summer and another contentious D.C. Council hearing on the summer jobs program. It played out again a few weeks ago when the council rejected Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s last-minute request to extend the program beyond the six weeks authorized in the FY 2010 Budget Support Act. Never mind that the seven-day extension would add $4 million to a program already over budget by about $7 million.

It’s time to break the cycle. Summer jobs are not the only way to connect young people to jobs and training, and they shouldn’t be the sole policy focus. We also need to make our summer jobs program manageable and predictable. That means targeting enrollment for a specific number of young people, making quality — not size — the most important benchmark and putting improved management and financial systems in place. Then we can broaden the debate about youth employment to include year-round programs, internships, and career and technical education at the K-12 and post-secondary levels.

Rather than building a program around unlimited enrollment, the city should deliver on its promise to provide meaningful work opportunities and help young people build skills — and stay within its budget.

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