Michigan Extends Foster Care until Age 21
The Michigan Department of Human Services recently launched a program that allows youth in foster care to voluntarily remain in care until age 21. Governor Rick Snyder signed the law creating the program last November. The option is available only if the youth is in school (high school, GED, vocational or college), in job training, employed at least 80 hours per month or is deemed incapable of participating in employment or education activities due to a documented medical condition.
The law allows for a variety of benefits and supports including the extension of foster care payments, continued oversight by a caseworker, counseling, continued health coverage, and more time to finish high school or pursue vocational and higher education. Young adults who qualify under the new program will have a choice in living arrangements including staying with their current foster parent or renting their own home or apartment. More information on older youth in foster care is available in The Transition to Adulthood: How States Can Support Older Youth in Foster Care, an NGA report.
(Contact: Alex Cawthorne)
Obesity Rates Decline in Massachusetts
Researchers in Massachusetts have found that obesity rates among infants and preschoolers in that state have declined. Researchers used electronic medical records from a large pediatric practice group to look at patients from 2004 to2008. The rate of obesity among girls under the age of 6 dropped nearly three percentage points to about 6 percent and fell about two percentage points among boys under the age of 6 to just under 9 percent in those years. While the overall rate of obesity among children decreased, children on Medicaid saw the least reduction, which continues to reflect a trend of weight disparities connected to income.
Authors of the study cited a few factors as possibly contributing to reduced obesity rates. One was a reduction in maternal smoking during pregnancy, which can negatively affect the metabolism of children. Another was increased breastfeeding rates, which can be linked to better weight regulation among children under the age of 3. Another possible contributing factor was an emphasis by state policymakers, physicians, schools, and parents to ensure that children are being educated about food at a young age and will be prepared to make better food choices when they become independent.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand )
Connecticut Prison Population Reaches Lowest Level in Over a Decade
The Connecticut Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division has reported that the state's total prison population has fallen below 17,000 inmates for the first time since 1999. The reduction sets the state on pace to close a third prison in the coming fiscal year. The report also notes a large decline in prisoners under the age of 18, from about 350 in April of 2009 to fewer than 140 currently. The report provides a map which traces the paths inmates can take through the corrections system from admissions (for example, the number of inmates admitted to await trial and the number already sentenced) to exits (for example, the number of inmates released to the community, to home confinement, and to a halfway house).
The division attributes the reduction to several initiatives. One example is a program for those convicted of repeat DUIs that allows offenders to finish their sentence in home confinement after serving at least 30 days. The state also launched a program that allows courts to reconsider and shorten the sentence for certain low-level offenders after they served the first three months of a prison term, provided they demonstrated good behavior and participated in all prescribed reentry programs (for example, adult education, substance abuse treatment, and counseling).
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Task Force Identifies Opportunities for Collaboration on Drilling Regulations
A task force convened by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has released its recommendations for clarifying state and local jurisdiction over oil and natural gas drilling regulations. The task force, which first convened in February, was asked to identify mechanisms for avoiding duplicative or conflicting regulations that sometimes require lengthy and expensive court cases to resolve. The group focused on ways in which local governments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), and well operators can collaborate better without requiring new legislation.
The task force recommended that local governments make better use of an existing program by choosing a "Local Government Designee" (LGD). The group also encouraged both the COGCC and the industry to engage local government officials as early in the permitting process as possible, whether or not they participate in the LGD program. The improved communication would better inform the LGDs of existing opportunities for additional review, such as the option to request an additional 10 days of review time for permits. The task force also recommended formalizing technical training for LGDs, encouraged local governments and drillers to consider memoranda of understanding or intergovernmental agreements to address specific local concerns. They suggested that a library of sample MOUs be made available online. Finally, the task force suggested promoting opportunities for the COGCC to learn more about the processes and requirements already established by local governments regarding oil and gas regulation. The task force did not make any specific recommendations regarding changes to law or COGCC rules, but did recommend that those issues be addressed on an individual basis using a thorough stakeholder process. The full list of recommendations is available here.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Partnership Provides Training for Georgia's School Nurses
Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia recently signed a bill requiring schools to help provide care for students with diabetes. The Georgia Chapter of the American Diabetes Association will pay for and provide training to school personnel. Any school with a diabetic student will be required to have two employees trained to recognize a diabetes emergency and in the basic care recommended by the Georgia Association of School Nurses. Parents and physicians will also be given an option to set up a management plan that allows a student to perform self-management activities, such as blood sugar checks, independently.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Montana Offers Free ACT Testing for 51 Schools
The Montana Office of Public Instruction and Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education have teamed up to offer 3,100 high school juniors the opportunity to take the ACT Plus Writing Test at no cost. Of the 51 schools participating, 18 are part of the Gain Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) and 33 are volunteer schools. In 2011, GEAR UP, located in the commissioner's office, received a seven-year $28 million grant, a portion of which is covering the cost of the initiative. Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota have also instituted statewide ACT testing for juniors, and have found that it helps to increase the enrollment of minority and low-income students in college.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Connecticut Considering Pilot Program for New Teacher Evaluations
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy has proposed a pilot program for new teacher evaluations. The evaluations will be used to make tenure and salary decisions. Under the governor's proposal, the ten volunteer districts participating in the pilot would launch the evaluations during the coming school year, and link them to tenure and salary decisions for the 2013-14 school year. Teachers in those districts would be required to pass their evaluations to keep tenure, and salary decisions would be connected to high performance on evaluations. The evaluations were developed in January through a process involving stakeholders, and included factors such as standardized tests and surveys from parents, principals, and other teachers.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Virginia Energy Legislation Targets Infrastructure, Efficiency and Planning
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has signed a series of energy-related bills that aim to expedite the permitting for energy infrastructure, expand market penetration of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, and promote the development of in-state resources. First, natural gas utilities are now allowed to recover the costs of construction projects in areas where adequate infrastructure does not exist if there is a quantified economic development benefit from the expansion of natural gas service. Second, to avoid duplication, electric transmission lines of 138 kilovolts or lower are exempt from approval by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) if, and only if, the line is approved by the affected localities under their planning and zoning laws. Third, to reflect new technology, the definition of renewable energy under the state's renewable energy portfolio standard is expanded to include landfill gas and the thermal energy output from qualified combined heat and power facilities. Fourth, the SCC is now required to use four different cost-benefit tests when assessing energy efficiency programs to provide a broader sense of a program's impacts. The SCC may not reject a portfolio of energy efficiency programs based on the result of a single test. Finally, two new objectives have been added to the Virginia Energy Plan: ensuring adequate supply and minimizing exposure to price volatility through the greater deployment of Virginia-based resources.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Judicial Disclosure Law Protects Juveniles in Pennsylvania
Governor Tom Corbett signed legislation intended to protect juveniles in the criminal justice system by requiring judges to provide information on the rationale for their sentencing decisions. The new law requires judges to give their reasons, on the record, for each juvenile disposition and is a response to a corruption case in which two judges were found guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for sentencing juveniles to a for-profit detention facility. The new law specifically requires judges to include goals, terms, and conditions of sentences in their judicial opinions. Additionally, if a judge decides to commit a juvenile to an out-of-home placement, he or she must give the name and type of facility and provide explanations for facility selections.
The law was recommended by a state commission which was established after the corruption came to light. The commission found that the judges' activities were extraordinary and confined to their own county, but used the opportunity to look for ways in which the state's juvenile justice system could be improved both to prevent similar incidents and to better carry out its mission.
(Contact: Anne-Elizabeth Johnson)
Analysis of 2011 Data Shows Declines in Health Care Utilization
The IMS Health Institute for Healthcare Informatics released an analysis of healthcare trends during 2011 which revealed an increase in emergency room admissions, a decrease in doctor's visits, and a decrease in prescription drug usage. Emergency room admissions increased by 7.4 percent. Doctor visits decreased by 4.7 percent.
Use of prescription drugs (as measured by the number of prescriptions filled in retail) declined by about 1 percent overall, but varied geographically and according to age. The range for individual states ranged from a decrease of 7.1 percent to an increase of 5.6 percent, but overall 41 states experienced a decline. Seniors over 65 reduced their use of prescription drugs by about 3 percent, largely as a consequence of a decrease in the use of drugs for treating hypertension. Patients between 19 and 25 were the increased their use of prescription drugs, by 2 percent and were the only age grouping that registered an increase in use. The authors speculate the increase was attributable in part to the new law allowing people under 26 years old to remain on their parent's insurance. The largest increases for the group were for drugs that treat ADHD and depression.
(Contact: Jessica Veffer)
Electric Vehicles Will Provide Emissions Benefits Throughout Country
A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that switching from conventional gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every region of the U.S., regardless of the fuel sources used for generating electricity. The report provides estimates of emissions reduction for 26 regional electric grids with different generation profiles. The report concludes that 45 percent of Americans live in regions where emissions from charging electric vehicles would be lower than the most fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. Thirty-seven percent of Americans live in regions where emissions would be comparable to standard hybrid cars, while the remaining 18 percent live in regions where the effect on emissions of switching to electric vehicles would still be comparable to fuel efficient nonhybrid vehicles that get between 31 and 40 mpg.
The report also estimates that the lifetime "refueling" costs of electric vehicles are lower than that of comparable gasoline and hybrid electric vehicles; however, it does not include the cost premium associated with electric vehicles and therefore does not determine if there is an overall cost savings.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Witnessing Sexual Violence While Incarcerated Increases Reoffense Rates
A new study funded by the National Institute of Justice explores the impact of emotional, physical, and/or sexual victimization on inmates returning to the community. The study found that witnessing sexual victimization in prison was a significant predictor of arrest in the community. In addition, the study found that rearrest rates were higher for those inmates who were younger, nonwhite, diagnosed with mental illness, unemployed, had a greater number of felony convictions or a history of violence, and for people who participated in treatment programs. The authors suggest that prisoners participating in treatment were more likely to fail on parole and be reincarcerated because they had been identified for treatment based on their higher level of need.
To improve reentry outcomes, the authors recommend that prison administrators identify and target the underlying causes of violence in prison, including using risk assessment tools to identify those inmates at greater risk of being victimized and taking steps to protect them. Additionally, the study recommends that before inmates are released from prison they be targeted for comprehensive assessment protocols and subsequently matched to quality treatment services in the community.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
New Report Released on Domestic Manufacturing and Economic Growth
A new report from the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation, entitled Value Added: America's Manufacturing Future, explains why retaining domestic manufacturing is centrally important to the health of the economy and how technology continues to transform manufacturing. It also describes policy issues at the federal, state, and local levels.
The authors argue that the next generation of manufacturing will continue to be crucial to the economy, but it increasingly will not resemble the typical mass-production assembly lines that many Americans associate with manufacturing. Instead, advanced manufacturing, aided by information technology, and the integration of services and manufacturing, will define the future of American manufacturing. Recommendations for the state level include public funding for research and development and coordinated tax systems.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
States Make Progress on Reducing Teen Pregnancy
The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report on birth rates among American teenagers, finding that between 2009 and 2010 the teen birth rate declined 9 percent. The 2010 rate fell to 34.4 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19—an all-time low since record-keeping began in 1940. There were measurable declines in 47 states and the District of Columbia between 2007 and 2010. The report's authors attribute the reductions to strong pregnancy prevention messages targeting teenagers, as well as increased use of contraception at first initiation of sex as shown by the data in the National Survey of Family Growth.
(Contact: Alex Cawthorne)
Test-Score Gap Evident Between Schools Attended by Low- and High-Income Students
A Brookings Report finds a test-score gap between the average school attended by low-income and middle/high-income students, and attributes the achievement gap to exclusionary zoning laws which reduce the availability of affordable housing near the best schools. The average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while their middle/high-income counterparts attend schools that score in the 61st percentile. In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs 2.4 times as much on average near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring one. However, in metropolitan areas that have the least restrictive zoning, housing cost gaps are significantly lower than areas with exclusionary zoning. For information on how states can respond to these findings, see the Center for Housing Policy's guide for states.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)