States Partner with Google to Put Small Businesses Online
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal launched a partnership with Google to bring free websites to small businesses. "Georgia Get Your Business Online" is a partnership that will help Georgia businesses by giving them the tools and resources to establish a website, find new customers, and grow.
Even though 97 percent of Americans look online for local products or businesses, 54 percent of Georgia's small businesses do not have a website. Under the new partnership, participating Georgia businesses can go to www.georgiagetonline.com to get their site, free tools, training, and resources to help their business succeed online. The businesses will also gain access to an easy-to-use website builder, a customized domain name, and a year of free site hosting with Intuit, a company specializing in software for small business owners.
North Carolina is also rolling out the program, joining states like Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Vermont. State-by-state information is available here.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Evidence Based Practices Improving Prenatal Care, Birth Outcomes in North Carolina
North Carolina recently received attention for its efforts to improve birth outcomes by getting doctors to use evidence-based practices for prenatal care, and has reported that preliminary results are positive. Stateline recently reported on the state's pregnancy medical homes program, that pays doctors higher fees to first identify pregnant women on Medicaid who have risk factors for preterm births and underweight babies—such as a previous preterm birth—and then use a set of evidence-based practices throughout the pregnancy to prevent those outcomes. The state's Medicaid director reports that early results indicate fewer emergency visits by pregnant women and fewer infants in neonatal intensive care units, and believes the program could eventually fund itself through cost savings associated with those outcomes and improved health throughout the child's life.
Doctors initially receive a higher fee for filling out a risk factor questionnaire, and receive the rest of their bonus after screening for depression and discussing plans for future pregnancies at a woman's first post-partum visit. The doctors in the program also agree to not perform "elective" deliveries before 39 weeks, aim for a caesarian rate below 20 percent and to provide a useful, but inconvenient injected drug to women at risk of preterm delivery. The state of Vermont has also worked on improving prenatal care and created a guide with more information on best practices. The CDC provides easily accessible information on birth outcomes for each county and state—but not the territories.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
NY Teacher Evaluation Guidelines to Use a Variety of Performance Measures
The New York Department of Education and the largest teacher union in the state have agreed on guidelines for evaluating teachers based on student test scores and other performance measures such as parent and student feedback. The agreement also allows the state's education commissioner to reject local evaluation plans that do not meet the guidelines.
The plan bases 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation score on student testing. Half of that portion of the teacher's evaluation must be based on tests provided by the state. For the other half, local districts can choose more state tests, third-party assessments, or tests developed on their own with review by the state department of education. The remaining 60 percent of the teacher's score will be based on nationally recognized performance measures such as classroom observations by peers and independent evaluators, student portfolios, and student and parent feedback. Most of the points on this portion will come from classroom observation by an administrator or principal, in at least one instance unannounced. Educators will then be rated ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
States Move to Expand Exports
Governors from California and Hawaii attended the recent US-China Economic Trade and Trade Cooperation Forum & Signing Ceremony aimed at encouraging more Chinese investment in the United States. California Governor Jerry Brown also announced plans to open a new trade and investment office in China.
The California-China Trade and Investment Office will match Chinese investors with projects in need of financing in California, benefitting Californian companies by providing increased access to Chinese business contacts and benefitting Chinese investors by providing access to more projects. Financing for the office will be provided by partners in the private sector through the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). GO-Biz will also work with the Chinese government to open the new trade office. The state had similar offices in China in the past, but none since 2003.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
West Virginia Launches Mobile App for Reporting Suspicious Activity
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has unveiled a new mobile application (app) that allows residents to report suspicious criminal and terrorist activity. The app enables citizens to submit information, such as vehicle descriptions and photos, to the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, the state's information sharing center. The information provided will help officials react to and prevent incidents. By reporting suspicious activity as it occurs, the app will enhance eyewitness reporting accuracy and incident response times. Previously, residents only submitted information by phone or the Internet. The state's self-funded electronic government program developed the app.
(Contact: Alisha Powell)
Wisconsin Streamlines Utility Regulation
The Wisconsin legislature has passed a bill, supported by Governor Scott Walker, which would streamline processes at the agency that regulates utilities. The bill would allow the Public Service Commission (PSC) to communicate with interested parties by email and shorten the length of time before PSC orders or determinations go into effect after their filling from 20 days to one. The bill also raises the cost threshold for utility projects that require PSC approval and sets new deadlines for PSC action on applications for smaller construction projects. Utilities would also be allowed to shut off service without PSC notification if the service drop is requested by the customer.
The bill also makes several changes to other state utility laws and regulations including: allowing non-utility power generators—such as homeowners with rooftop solar panels—to receive renewable energy credits, creating new ethics requirements for commissioners, removing the PSC's ability to direct utilities to lobby for specific legislation, and increasing criminal penalties for the theft of electric power or the destruction of power infrastructure.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Kentucky Proposes Expanded Funding for Preschool
Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear unveiled a plan to expand access to preschool by raising income eligibility cutoffs for state funding. Preschool spots are currently funded by the state for four-year-olds whose family income is at or below 150 percent of the poverty level and all three- or four= year olds with certain disabilities. The governor wants to expand funding to cover families at or below 160 percent of the poverty level, which would allow 4,430 more children to participate. By the end of his term, Governor Beshear hopes to further expand eligibility to cover families with income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, an additional 3,920 kids. Governor Beshear proposed the expansion through his budget that is now being reviewed by the state's General Assembly.
Research suggests that high-quality preschool programs have positive effects on academic achievement. Such outcomes can immediately reduce the spending money on remediation, and in the long-term other budgetary and social costs stemming from academic failure. Some research indicates that the return on every dollar invested in pre-kindergarten programs is between $60 and $300 over a child's lifetime.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
New York Launches Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched an initiative to reduce gun violence across the state that includes an advertising campaign, creation of a toll-free gun tip line and community-based anti-violence interventions. The statewide advertising campaign is intended to reduce gun violence by highlighting and discouraging behavior that leads to violent crime. The toll-free gun tip line will provide individuals in communities with high rates of gun violence a way to report illegal guns. Based on the value of any leads provided to authorities, a tipster may receive a reward for helping law enforcement recover illegal guns. The governor will also award $1 million to six communities for implementation of anti-violence strategies that rely on partnerships between the community and law enforcement, as well as funding for community-based programs that have proved successful in reducing violence.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Maryland DHS Ending Contract with Foster Care Provider
Maryland's Department of Human Services has decided not to renew a contract with one of its largest foster care providers, an unusual decision that sheds light on the process of outsourcing human services. Although foster parents and advocates have expressed some concern that the decision will burden families by requiring them to become recertified at other agencies, some have also expressed satisfaction with how the state has balanced safety with concerns about continuity for the families. Maryland contracts with around 80 providers to license foster parents —for around 7,400 children—and will attempt to have parents previously licensed by the sanctioned company re-licensed by one of their other providers without having to move any of the children.
Outsourcing can improve service quality and reduce costs as long as a state can easily end contracts and find another provider if one fails. That can be difficult with human services because there are often too few alternative providers and disruptions can make the services less effective, for example, when foster children have developed a relationship with a foster parent. The state has to balance the need for continuity with the need to intervene quickly when safety issues arise. Maryland distributes foster children through a large number of agencies who will likely be able to absorb all the new cases. The state monitored the company frequently but waited to formerly sanction it or halt new placements over administrative and financial problems—such as faulty attendance records for board meetings and late payments to parents—until they affected licensing, a safety issue. The state also has coordinated its monitoring and licensing procedures so that its juvenile justice department is aware of the problem and will also end its contracts with the company.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Report: Why Manufacturing Matters, and Which Manufacturing Matters in the U.S.
A new report released by the Brookings Institution demonstrates not only the important public purposes that manufacturing serves ("why manufacturing matters"), but also "which manufacturing matters": the types with the greatest potential for staying in the U.S. and growing and the types most likely to grow in a way that promotes four national goals—high wage jobs, innovation, more balanced international trade, and a better environment. The report shows that certain industries like computers and electronics, chemicals (including pharmaceuticals), transportation equipment (including aerospace and motor vehicles and parts), and machinery are especially important for their contributions to those four national goals and their job-retention or job-creation potential. Since there is dramatic variation in productivity and wages among firms in the same industry as well as between industries, even low-performing firms within a certain industry have room to improve their performance.
The report suggests a role for public policy to help strengthen manufacturing and promote a high-wage, innovative, export-intensive, and environmentally sustainable manufacturing base. The report emphasizes that American manufacturing needs strengthening in key areas: research and development, financing, and workforce development, including training and mechanisms that increase the role of workers in creating gains from innovative manufacturing.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
State Teacher Induction Policies Examined in New Report
A New Teacher Center report analyzes state induction policies for the orientation, training and mentoring of new teachers. Research suggests that high-quality induction programs—specifically comprehensive, multi-year programs—help new teachers become more effective more quickly. However, only about half of states require teacher induction, and even fewer mandate that the programs last for two or more years. The report examines 10 criteria that are critical to excellent induction and teacher support. It also recommends steps that states can take to support policy implementation, including communicating a vision, creating effective program design models and infrastructure to support them, providing training and technical assistance, incorporating induction program data into accountability systems, and evaluating the efficacy of programs.
(Contact: Kate Nielson)
Virtual Health Clinics Available in Michigan
Rite Aid became the first retailer to provide a virtual clinic in a pharmacy setting, working with health care provider OptumHealth to introduce online medical consultation services in the Detroit area. NowClinic allows customers to have a free, virtual consultation with a nurse and, if recommended, a 10 minute consultation with a doctor for $45. Trained pharmacists are available to give vaccines or assist with blood pressure checks if they are recommended. This model aims to increase convenience for patients. Private insurers, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of New York have been offering a similar service for the past few years, but this model allows anyone, regardless of insurance status, to consult with a nurse and physician.
A British study found that U.S. patients like the hours of operation at clinics within pharmacies, the walk-in availability, and the lower direct costs when seeing a doctor—on average $40 - $50. A five year study confirmed that virtual visits are as effective as inpatient visits.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
Nearly 25 Percent of Working Households Spend Over 50 Percent of Income on Housing
The Center for Housing Policy released a report showing that almost 25 percent of working households spend more than half of their income on housing, and that the number of such households increased between 2008 and 2010. Twenty-four states experienced statistically significant increases in the share of households with that cost burden, and 13 states had steadily high shares (over 20 percent) of households with that cost burden.
The study, based on American Community Survey data, defined working households as households in which people worked at least 20 hours a week and had an income less than 120 percent of the median income in their area. That definition fits 45.1 million, or 39 percent, of the 116.7 million occupied housing units in the United States. Working households were evenly split between renters and home owners. Nationally, rents increased by 4 percent between 2008 and 2010 while renters' incomes have declined by 4 percent. Homeowners saw a 2 percent decline in housing costs, but experienced a 5 percent decline in income.
(Contact: Amanda Dunker)
Report: On Average, Real-Time Feedback Reduces Energy Use
A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy concludes that real-time feedback on energy has the potential to spur consumers to reduce their energy consumption. Real-time feedback gives consumers up-to-date information about their energy use and the price of energy, either through an in-home display, internet application, or prepayment program. The report analyzes the results of nine large-scale pilot programs undertaken in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland since 2009, and finds savings between zero and 9.3 percent, with an overall average of 3.8 percent. The report also studies a program in Northern Ireland that combined real-time feedback with a prepayment program. That program achieved average savings of 19.5 percent, but was considered an outlier because it combined multiple strategies for encouraging energy savings.
The report cites several factors that may explain the range of results, including the program design (including whether or not the program was opt-in or opt-out and the price variability available to customers), the technology used and its ease of use for customers, variation among customer demographics, and whether or not new behaviors became long-term habits. The report also identified a class of customer within several of the studies who reduced energy consumption by as much as 25 percent. The report recommends additional research about how to identity such consumers so that funds intended to promote energy efficiency are spent in the most cost effective way.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Lessons Learned Report Examines How States Help Each Other During Disasters
The National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) has analyzed how states used the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) to respond to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee and identified ways EMAC can be used more effectively. EMAC, which is administered through NEMA, allows states to implement mutual aid agreements and quickly share equipment, supplies, and personnel across state lines during disasters. The storms killed 45 people and caused $7 billion in damage to 10 states, whose request for EMAC assistance was met by 25 states with personnel and resources from the National Guard (roughly half) and civilian agencies.
The working group that prepared the report used EMAC principals—preparation, activation, request and offer, response, and reimbursement—as performance measures in a post-hurricane focus group and survey. The group identified more than 100 lessons. Critical lessons included the importance of early disaster declarations from the governor for expediting EMAC requests, and the importance of executive level EMAC training to ensure leadership is aware of all EMAC resources available. Other critical lessons were the necessity of maintaining effective communication among all levels of emergency personnel for successful mutual aid operations and including representatives from the National Guard with EMAC coordination teams for efficient responses.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
Apply Now — Reallocating Resources for Academic Success
The National Governors Association invites states to apply for a policy academy on reallocating resources for increasing academic performance.The academy is designed to accomplish two objectives:
- Enable states to engage in discussions and analyses about how best to reallocate state resources in support of increasing educational performance and efficiency; and
- Create a plan for implementing recommendations on resource allocation.
Up to four selected states will receive subgrants of up to $10,000 for facilitating in-state meetings, conducting analysis and compiling a plan to implement recommendations. States will also receive ongoing, in-kind technical assistance from NGA Center staff and consultant support to help accomplish their proposed scope of work. Additionally, the NGA Center will pay travel and related expenses for state teams of up to five people to attend two academy workshops scheduled for June and October 2012. All applications are due to NGA by 5:00 pm ET on March 16, 2012.
(Contact: Ryan Reyna)