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State budgets threaten youth programs that serve N.C. well

By Mousa Alshanteer
Special to the Observer

It seems that neither Gov. Pat McCrory nor state legislators appreciate the value of programs that foster leadership qualities and civic engagement in today’s youth.

In their budgets, both the governor and the Senate proposed the elimination of the Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office, a public agency which sponsors several youth leadership programs. These programs collectively received $610,115 last fiscal year, but may well receive no funding next year due to these misguided decisions.

The House passed its budget Thursday. House and Senate leaders have two weeks to settle on a final budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

Depending on how that plays out, it may very well be that several initiatives, including the State Government Internship Program, the State Youth Council and the Youth Legislative Assembly, will cease to exist by the end of this summer.

Fostering a loyalty to North Carolina

Unbeknownst to our legislators, apparently, the State Government Internship Program – the largest and oldest of any other similar internship program in the country – allows youth to gain vital work experience while working within various government branches. In fact, many former interns, including state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, Rep. Tom Murry and Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar, have gone on to pursue careers in public service. Not only does this program influence the next generation’s contribution to the state’s workforce, it fosters in them a loyalty and passion for North Carolina that is not likely to arise from other opportunities.

The State Youth Council is an organization in which individual youth councils work with local government agencies to address the concerns of their peers and to organize programs to enhance their communities. Councils organize events that benefit hundreds of youth on a regular basis.

Other ways to trim

Another threatened program is the Youth Legislative Assembly – a mock legislative session in which youth debate and vote on legislation concerning assisted suicide, fracking and immigration, among other topics. The conference allows youth to better understand the issues being discussed in state government and instills in them the confidence and ability to debate contemporary political issues.

Sen. Jim Davis, co-chairman of the Appropriations on General Government Committee, said the budget cuts are due to the widening of the state’s Medicaid shortfall. However, there are many methods in which our legislators can fund these programs while reducing the budget. One method may be to make the State Internship Program unpaid. Since 80 interns are accepted on an annual basis, and since each intern works 40 hours for 10 weeks at a pay of $8.25 an hour, making the program unpaid may save the state at least $264,000.

Accordingly, I urge House and Senate budget conferees to fund these programs and ensure their preservation for generations to come.

Mousa Alshanteer is a Duke University sophomore and a former member fo the State Youth Council. Email: mousa.alshanteer@duke.edu
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