Snapshot: Minnesota Youth Succeed in Writing State Law

MN victory
SparkAction
Alison Beth Waldman
June 27, 2013

Sometimes, ensuring space for youth input is in itself a victory.

For the first time in state history, Minnesota youth have an official voice in shaping legislation that affects them. The Minnesota Youth Council Committee Bill passed in the state legislature on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, as part of the education finance omnibus bill.

The bill officially establishes the statewide Minnesota Youth Council (MYC), recognizing a relationship between youth and policymakers that has been underway since 2005. It makes Minnesota one of fewer than a dozen states nationally that have formalized a relationship between policymakers and young future voters.

In a given year, there are roughly 72 young members of the MYC, each paired with an adult partner who acts as a mentor. These youth provide information and recommendations to members of the Minnesota legislature, the governor and the Department of Education, on a range of issues. The Council members also direct philanthropy to support local efforts that are making a difference in the issues that youth in Minnesota say matter most to them.

Since 2005, the Minnesota Youth Council has been operating successfully with support from the nonprofit Minnesota Alliance with Youth. The Council has  worked with Twin Cities public TV to air public service announcements (PSAs) about the high school dropout rate and what it means for youth and the state as a whole. The members have also held successful community summits to raise awareness of and identify solutions to issues affecting youth.

The Council recently formed an advisory committee to the state's Assistant Commissioner of Education, Elia Bruggeman.

Protecting Youth Voice

These positive collaborations and victories led the MYC and their allies in state Congress to take the next step: legislation to formally establish the MYC as an advisory committee to state policymakers.

While they had many achievements under their belt and an open door to speak with state lawmakers, the MYC felt they needed something else to sustain their work. The Minnesota Youth Council Committee Bill was drafted to legally protect—and legitimize—youth input on policies affecting young people in Minnesota. It also mandates that staffers and lawmakers set aside some time at the Capitol to work with the Council.

 “The bill recognizes a relationship between the Council and the legislature that lives and breathes beyond us,” said Kori Redepenning, Director of Engagement & Policy at Minnesota Alliance with Youth. “The MYC has good relationships with many officials now, but we need to ensure that as people retire and new officials take office that we still have a place there.”

By stating the state’s commitment to the youth voice, the legislation adjusts a subtle but important nuance of the young people’s perception of their welcome at the Capitol building and in policy decision-making. The Council members say it shifts from officials saying, “we are available to talk with you” to “we want you here.”

This nuance is crucial to young peoples’ confidence on policy, says Redepenning—one that is often overlooked in facilitating these kinds of relationships.


Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signs the Omnibus bill recognizing the Minnesota Youth Council

Getting the Bill Passed

In order to get buy-in for the bill, the MYC made more than 65 individual visits to legislators over the past year. They shared information about the bill and what it would do, and testified before both houses on the importance of youth voice and why it should be legally protected. Council members also made a strategic choice as to where to focus their efforts: they reached out to younger lawmakers who could connect more personally to the youth voice debate, and to newly-elected officials with whom they wanted to form a positive, sustainable relationship in the legislature.

They quickly found strong allies in the Minnesota House and Senate. As a result, the bill was eventually picked up by the House Education and Finance committee and worked it into the committee’s Omnibus bill.

Now that the bill is signed, the MYC is ready to take their next step as formal partners with Minnesota lawmakers.

And it’s a win-win. Minnesota lawmakers and young people interact and engage in legislation together, and the young people have a unique opportunity to grow and learn in a real environment. 

“When given the right opportunities, space and support,” Redepenning says, “so much can happen.”

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About the Minnesota Youth Council

Since its formation in 2005 through a partnership between the Minnesota Alliance with Youth and Youth Community Connections, the Minnesota Youth Council (MYC) has recruited, trained and coordinated this network, connecting members to local elected officials such as mayors, school superintendents, and city council members as well as legislators and state policymakers.

The Council draws 72 youth and adult representatives from each of the congressional districts statewide—which include eight representatives who serve "at-large"—in a partnership to address issues of interest to young people. 

The MYC uses a youth-adult model in which young people in grades 8 through 12 apply with an adult and both serve on the council. These pairs are made up of students and teachers, young people and parents or grandparents or other caring adults.

The Council has three main focus areas:

  • Education outreach
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Philanthropy

The council emphasizes using data as a key way to identify solutions as well as to maintain accountability and legitimacy. The young members collect, analyze and present real data from their communities and state as a central part of their service on the MYC.

The MYC is currently staffed by one full-time staff member, who serves as director of Engagement & Policy at the Minnesota Alliance with Youth, a nonprofit organization.

The MYC is funded by the Minnesota Alliance with Youth and also through a partnership with Youthrive, a statewide nonprofit.  In addition, the MYC was granted $50,000 from Youthprise, a Twin Cities-based youth development intermediary, for 2013—a grant specified for the Council’s philanthropy efforts.  

For more on the Minnesota Youth Council, watch the video below and click here.


This snapshot is part of SparkAction's Youth Impact series, short profiles of youth councils and commissions that are influencing local and state policies and practices. SparkAction is producing this series in partnership with the youth-led Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To suggest an impact story, please contact Caitlin Johnson, managing editor, at caitlin@sparkaction.org.

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