03/02/2012 10:40 am ET Updated May 02, 2012

Common-Sense Policies Will Transform the Lives of Our Youth

Last week, the City of Los Angeles took a major step toward common-sense school discipline reform. The City Council moved to amend a truancy law that ticketed students for trying to get to class. Fortunately, the Council acknowledged that sky-high fines aren't the solution to attendance problems in L.A. schools, particularly when such fines result in kids being afraid to go to school for fear of being ticketed.

Instead of harsh punitive approaches, we need common-sense school discipline policies that emphasize accountability and work to prevent classroom disruption in the first place -- approaches that focus on positive reinforcement and steer kids who've made mistakes back on the right track.

Boys and young men of color are often the group most impacted by well-intentioned, but nonetheless ineffective policies not only in education, but in health and employment. Yet the prosperity of the U.S. is tied to the future of these same boys and young men. For the future of our country and these boys and young men, we must do better.

Research conducted by the RAND Corporation, PolicyLink and Drexel University found that African-American and Latino boys and young men are much more likely to experience poor health outcomes than white boys and young men. Most of these differences in health are directly related to where they live.

We know that health happens in our neighborhoods and in our schools, and we must work together to ensure every one of these boys and young men has the resources to live a long, healthy and productive life.

Investing in young men of color can reap huge dividends for the nation. As only one example, a 2007 Columbia University study found that for each high school student added to the graduation rolls, there is a lifetime benefit to taxpayers of $209,000, through higher government revenues and lower government spending on public health, social services and law enforcement.

The good news is policymakers and philanthropists may finally be willing to tackle the problem. Last summer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and George Soros launched a $30 million effort in New York to support young men of color in the areas of education, employment, health and justice.

And California Assembly Speaker John Pérez established a Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, at the request of the committee chair, Assemblymember Sandré Swanson. The committee is holding hearings across California, including a field hearing today in Los Angeles, where I will be one of many speakers articulating a vision for what successful and innovative policies and programs look like.

But the action cannot end there. We must continue to scale up our investments in young men of color, expanding programs that work and identifying new approaches nationwide. If we don't, we risk losing a generation of young people who can contribute greatly to our society. We know which choice makes common sense -- let's work together to enable everyone to live long, healthy lives. Let's make health happen for all.