Massachusetts Pursues New Social Service Finance Initiative
Massachusetts is the first state to take formal steps towards implementing a social innovation finance initiative. With this type of financing, providers (under pay for success contracts) or third parties (under social bonds) provide pay upfront costs for services, and are paid back by the state if the services they provide meet performance goals. The state released Requests for Response seeking service providers interested in participating and seeking intermediary "social entrepreneurs" to raise capital and work with the programs on meeting goals. New or innovative programs have trouble raising funds because they lack a long track record or an existing relationship with the state, increasing the risk that the state will pay without achieving any policy goals. Social bonds and pay for success contracts allow the state to fund risky, but promising, programs because the risk is shared with the programs or their third party investors. Success will depend on sophisticated performance measurement and evaluation. The state chose to focus the initial RFRs (available through this database) on two issues, chronic homelessness and transitioning youth out of the juvenile justice system.
(Contact: Alexandra Cawthorne)
Pennsylvania Requires Emergency Plans at Natural Gas Wells
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will sign a bill that would help improve the state's ability to respond to emergencies at natural gas wells. Once signed, the law would require natural gas drillers to submit detailed emergency response plans to the state, including exact GPS coordinates for all well sites and the well access roads. This would help the state better inventory the exact number and location of wells and respond more quickly to any potential emergency situations. The law also would require well operators to place a sign at the entrance to each well site with the exact address, GPS coordinates, and emergency contact information.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Former Highway Junction Transforms into Innovation Hub
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced a $250,000 loan to the 195 Redevelopment Commission to redevelop land in downtown Providence into a "knowledge district", a hub for medical, research, and academic institutions. The area opened for development after a highway junction was removed. Governor Chafee sent state teams to Houston, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh to study similar projects before appointing the commission last summer. The commission has already designed the district's organizational structure and studied how city zoning and state and federal land use requirements will affect the project. It will use the money to complete the engineering and environmental studies required to complete rezoning. The loan was included in the state budget in the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation's FY12 appropriation, but will be paid back this spring when the commission buys the land from the state.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Louisiana Details Extensive Educational Reforms
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal unveiled plans to improve education statewide during an address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. The proposals emphasize expanding school choice and changing teacher hiring and compensation systems. Governor Jindal plans to fast track the application process for proven charter operators and those who want to open schools in failing districts, give scholarships to students who graduate early from high school, let community organizations, non-profits and universities become charter authorizers, and alter the funding structure so money follows students regardless of their school choice. He also proposed allowing districts more flexibility in compensating effective teachers, eliminating the use of seniority in personnel decisions, and reserving tenure for teachers who have been highly effective for five years.
(Contact: Ryan Reyna)
Illinois Closing Institutions for those with Developmental Disabilities
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced a plan to transfer people who have been institutionalized because they have developmental disabilities or mental illness to community-based settings, allowing the state to close two state facilities. Illinois currently relies on state-run facilities to care for this population at a higher rate than most other states. Community-based treatment can improve quality of life by keeping people closer to their families and hometowns, and can save the state money if they replace facilities that are expensive to manage. The challenges the plan addresses are common to states making that kind of transition. To determine which facilities should be closed the state developed objective criteria, such as physical condition and ability to recruit staff, to minimize resistance to facilities closures. A project manager was appointed in October to ensure accountability. Each person under state care will receive an evaluation and an individualized budget to ensure that placement decisions are appropriate and properly funded. They and their families will have opportunities to participate in cooperatives and microboards to ensure they can participate in treatment decisions.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Virginia Governor Proposes Initiatives to Support Service Members
Governor Bob McDonnell has unveiled several initiatives aimed at reducing homelessness among Virginia veterans and ensuring that service members can afford college and secure employment. The Virginia Homeless Veterans Initiative provides $197,000 for programs to reduce homelessness, and will coordinate efforts through the Department of Veterans Services so that communities maximize resources. Under the proposed legislation, all members of the Virginia National Guard residing in Virginia would receive in-state tuition regardless of how long they have lived in the state. Currently, in-state tuition is only available after a year of residence. To help service members secure employment, the legislation would extend an existing veteran's hiring preference for state employment to active members of the Virginia National Guard. Further, under the Virginia Veterans Re-Employment Initiative, the Virginia Department of Veterans Services will work with state and private organizations to help veterans find employment after they are discharged from service.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Maryland Governor Seeks to Incentivize Offshore Wind
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley released a new proposal to encourage the development of offshore wind energy. The governor's proposal would require utilities to purchase a set amount of their future electricity from generators powered by offshore wind and, thus, create a market for renewable energy "credits" tied to offshore wind energy. The new proposal would permit utilities to recover the costs of building a wind farm only when the new generators were in operation and places a firm cap on the amount by which electricity rates can rise due to the added cost of offshore wind. The approach laid out by the governor builds upon a 2011 New Jersey law, signed by Governor Chris Christie, that also seeks to promote the development of offshore wind resources in the Atlantic Ocean.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
New Jersey Governor Signs New Evacuation Planning Law
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently signed legislation that will improve state disaster emergency evacuation plans. The law requires the state to create an inventory of potential shelters (both for short-term and long-term events), to identify critical infrastructure in need of alternative power generators, to run public awareness campaigns about emergency notification systems, and also requires that all government evacuation plans include pets. New public school buildings will be evaluated before construction as a potential mass shelter for the inventory The state Department of Health and Senior Services will be required to create a plan for evacuating hospitals and healthcare facilities, and counties will be allowed to develop a registry of people with special needs who require additional assistance during an emergency. The law also requires the director of the state's Office of Emergency Management to review and integrate plans among counties. The components of the law were first recommended by a legislative task force studying the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
(Contact: David Henry)
Wisconsin Recommends Changes to Improve Reading Outcomes
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is working to implement education reforms designed to increase early literacy skills. The changes are based on suggestions from a bipartisan taskforce released in the Read to Lead report. The report recommends universal screening and interventions for all kindergartners, and changes in teacher preparation programs, such as more rigorous exams, to emphasize early literacy. The report also recommends strengthening professional development opportunities through an online portal, annual conferences and focused programs for educators whose students continually struggle. The literacy skills acquired by students early on affect all future learning. Research suggests that a child who reads at grade level in third grade is more likely to graduate high school than a peer who does not.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Report Outlines Trends in State Economic Development Activities
A new report from the State Science and Technology Institute summarizes the economic development strategies states used in 2011 to develop technology based industry. The authors note that several states took a regional approach in their economic plans and that an increasing number of states were interested in privatizing their economic development activities. State leaders were particularly concerned with increasing access to credit, which they addressed by creating special investment funds and more tax credits for individual investors ("angel investors") investing in technology companies. Finally, many states attempted to build a stronger technology oriented economy by spending on university-based research initiatives and increasing the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The report includes examples from 34 states.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Annual Energy Outlook Finds Slow Growth in U.S. Energy Use
A report released by the Government Accountability Office provides an initial overview of how states are using funding distributed through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The SSBCI funding was provided to states and territories to strengthen programs that support lending to small businesses and small manufacturers. According to GAO's survey of SSBCI applicants, states plan to support 153 lending programs with SSBIC funds, 69 of which are new programs being created because of the program. The lending programs include a variety of capital access and credit support programs, with venture capital programs receiving the largest amount of funds among the program types. In addition to providing an overview of how states plan to use the funds, the report offers recommendations to Treasury on the development of the performance measures for the SSBCI funding. According to the report, key attributes of successful performance measures include linkage to organizational goals, a measurable target, limited overlap with other measure, and a reflection of government-wide priorities such as quality, timeliness, and cost of service.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Study Examines Terrorist's Use of the Internet
The National Institute of Justice has released a study examining how al-Qaeda and affiliated groups use the Internet to network, radicalize, and recruit. The study examined the frequency, kind, and number of topics discussed by al-Qaeda sympathizers on internet forums. The study finds that most conversations were short lived, involved a small number of participants, and focused on information dissemination, religious preaching, instruction or training, and social interactions. Based on the information collected from the web forum discussions, the study made several policy recommendations. These recommendations included: identifying and responding to potential terrorist threats by disrupting or removing extremist forums; removing videos with graphic violence from the Internet to prevent exposure to such imagery; and developing an understanding of Islam, Arab/Muslim culture, and Islamic history to avoid generalizing extremists with the mainstream Muslim community.
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Report Finds States are Not Adequately Using Academic Data
A report from the Data Quality Campaign finds that even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia have data systems that track students over time, states are not sharing sufficient data with teachers and parents. Most states track student-level enrollment, demographic and curriculum data, as well as academic growth from year to year. However, states rarely use the information to inform teachers and improve classroom learning. The report suggests 10 state actions, including:
- Linking K-12 data systems to other educational entities, such as early learning, post-secondary education, workforce and social services;
- Building repositories that integrate the data of students, staff and finances;
- Creating progress reports for individual students that use data to improve student performance; and
- Establishing professional development and credentialing practices that train teachers to use data effectively.
If used well, longitudinal data could help educators become more effective and parents better informed.
(Contact: Katherine Nielson)
New Report Examines Medicaid Trends
The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured a 50-state survey of trends and changes in Medicaid and CHIP programs during 2011. The strongest trends were seen in changes to the application process and for targeted expansions. Twenty five states took steps intended to increase the efficiency of the enrollment and/or renewal process. Some of those changes included reducing paperwork by using electronic Social-Security information to verify citizenship and improving technology to allow more online applications. Some programs sent renewal forms that were already filled out to families who could return a signed copy if circumstances had not changed. Targeted expansions focused mostly on children. Eight of 11 states that expanded eligibility focused on children. Those changes included eliminating the five year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrant children, raising the income eligibility maximum, and allowing qualified state employees to access coverage for their children under CHIP. Other changes that states enacted during 2011 included bolstering Medicaid coverage for low-income adults, eliminating or changing insurance programs for low-income adults not eligible for Medicaid, and increases or decreases to co-pays or enrollment fees.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Commission Outlines Strategies for Managing Nuclear Waste
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has released its final report on improving nuclear waste management in the U.S. The report outlines eight recommendations for addressing the storage, disposal and transportation of spent nuclear fuel and highly-radioactive nuclear waste. Included in the recommendations is a proposal to create a new, independent organization to oversee the waste management program currently run by the U.S. Department of Energy. The commission also recommended prompt efforts to establish interim storage and permanent disposal sites using a consent-based approach that involves states, local communities, and other stakeholders. Other recommendations focus on ensuring access to funds that are supposed to be dedicated to waste management; continued innovation in nuclear technology; and leadership in international efforts around nuclear security and non-proliferation. Congress has asked the Department of Energy to use the commission's recommendations to develop a new waste management strategy in the next six months.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)