After a long wait for action on any juvenile justice-related legislation, the pending reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act – now known as No Child Left Behind – offers advocates a chance to improve the plight of youth who are incarcerated, reports Youth Today. The law sets standards for schooling in juvenile facilities, which can be a key to improving a youth's chances for staying out of such institutions in the future. President Obama's blueprint for ESEA reauthorization mentions incarcerated juveniles in one paragraph on delinquent and neglected youth, and only to say the administration will ask the states to reserve certain funding for them.
The appropriation for incarcerated youth has risen from $42 million in 2002 to $50 million lately. The money goes to states, which are required to disperse some of it to facilities holding juveniles and some to school districts. In turn, agencies and school districts are required to meet the educational needs of delinquent youth, assist in their transition back to school districts and evaluate academic progress by juveniles. Says criminologist Thomas Blomberg of Florida State University, “I do feel like there is a growing recognition of the value of education with this population. And that they can be educated, they can turn it around.” Education provided in juvenile facilities has generally been viewed as being abysmal. Still, the U.S. Department of Education says that 70 percent of juveniles gained at least one grade level in math or reading while incarcerated.