New Mexico to Help Finance Renewable Energy Transmission Lines
New Mexico has issued its first set of revenue bonds to help finance transmission lines that will support the development of renewable electricity sources in the state. The bonds will be issued through the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority (RETA), established in 2007, to facilitate the development of new transmission projects to promote renewable energy in New Mexico. It is one of eight transmission authorities in the country with authority to issue revenue bonds to fund improvements to, or acquisition of, electric transmission used specifically to connect renewable power to the electric grid.
The first $50 million in bonds will be used to upgrade transmission lines from the High Lonesome Mesa Wind Farm, allowing the wind farm to operate at full capacity and carry power to the state border for export sales. The bonds are secured by a pledge of the net revenues from the project. The debt service will be paid for through the sale of the renewable electricity out of state.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
New Jersey Releases Talking iPhone App for Traffic Updates
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has released a new iPhone application that will enable drivers to receive audio traffic alerts without being distracted from the road. The "Trumpitr" application will give drivers the same information as the traditional 511 text-based traffic alert system; however, the application will play the alerts aloud through the iPhone, allowing them to keep their focus on the road than forcing drivers to call or read a text message. The application is free for download and will be available to other smartphone users in the next year. Other future improvements include estimated travel times for heavily used segments of New Jersey highways and real-time audio alerts that utilize the phone's GPS system.
(Contact: Greg Dierkers)
Alaska Creates Virtual Learning Network
A consortium of Alaska school districts and non-profit agencies will launch the Alaska Learning Network, offering rural communities online access to a wide selection of high school coursework and related professional development. By March 2011, 11 school districts will be able to download and customize an array of high school courses to meet local educational needs. Network technology will allow students and teachers to interact online and share lessons and materials.
In coming years, students will have the opportunity work together across districts in cohort groups, meet at regional hubs for laboratory sessions and receive ongoing support from the Network's teachers. The consortium also plans to expand the Network to include more school districts and grade levels and offer professional development to teachers in the field of distance delivery. The Network is funded through a $1.2 million grant in federal education technology from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
North Carolina Pre-K Appears to Boost Later Learning
An statewide evaluation shows that More at Four, North Carolina's state funded pre-kindergarten program for disadvantaged four-year-olds, is making a significant academic difference that extends through at least third grade. The evaluation, conducted by the Frank Porter Graham Center at the University of North Carolina, shows that the children who attended More at Four achieved higher test scores than similarly disadvantaged students who did not attend the state-funded pre-k program. Children participating in More at Four narrowed the achievement gap with their non-economically disadvantaged peers by up to 40 percent.
More at Four is a state-funded initiative that provides a high-quality classroom-based educational experience during the year prior to kindergarten entry. Each year, the program targets approximately 31,000 at-risk children from low-income families who are not served or underserved in preschool programs.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Pennsylvania Adopts Prison Reform Bill
Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell has signed into law legislation that directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to adopt a risk assessment tool for judges to use when sentencing criminal offenders. Under the new law, judges will use the assessment tool to predict the relative risk that an offender will reoffend and poses a threat to public safety. In addition, the bill addresses technical parole violations, such as breaking curfew or failure to report to the assigned parole agent, by providing a graduated sanctioning system for parole violators.
The bill also authorizes the parole board to grant parole to an inmate whose only requirement for parole is completion of programming. This alternative to re-incarceration will help alleviate prison overcrowding. Although the law provides for inmate release upon completion of their programming requirements, it does not apply to violent or sex offenders.
(Contact: Jeffrey McLeod)
Illinois Launches Preparedness Video Game for Youth
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has unveiled a new video game that will educate middle-school aged children on emergency preparedness. The video game, The Day the Earth Shook, uses an earthquake scenario to demonstrate the need for a disaster supply kit and helps students identify safe locations in a building during such an emergency. The video game provides an entertaining way for children to learn about safety. The project cost of $286,000 was funded through grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
(Contact: David Henry)
Montana Proposes to Offer State's Drug Discounts to All Residents
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has submitted a draft waiver proposal to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would allow Montana to make prescription drugs more affordable. The waiver would allow the state to share the same discounts it receives under the Medicaid program, about 55 percent of retail price, to all Montanans.
Under the proposal, Montana citizens with prescription drug coverage through private insurance could elect to participate if their private co-pay is higher than the negotiated discount price. This proposal will also benefit seniors with Medicare whose drug coverage has run out and those who are in the "donut hole" (the coverage gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage limit, in which seniors must the full cost of prescription drugs).
(Contact: Caryn Marks)
Minnesota Examines Health Care Quality and Cost Across State
The Minnesota Department of Health has published its first report comparing quality measures for clinics and hospitals across the state. The report, which is part of the state's 2008 health reform law, requires this information be used to strengthen incentives for consumers to choose high-quality, low-cost health care providers through a process called "provider peer grouping."
The report includes 40 quality measures, such as the best care for adult diabetes, best hospital care for a heart attack and best infection prevention after surgery, bringing together data from 520 clinics. The information is risk adjusted, which makes the results comparable across patient populations.
(Contact: Brad Finnegan)
North Carolina Sees Surge in Green Jobs
A recent study by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) finds that approximately 12,500 green energy jobs exist in North Carolina, providing diverse employment opportunities in every region of the state. Despite the recession, renewable energy and energy efficiency industries have expanded rapidly in the state in recent years in response to increasing consumer demand, venture capital infusions and the implementation of North Carolina's energy policies. Findings from the study indicate that from 2009 to 2010, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of green energy jobs. Organizations participating in the survey estimate an additional 20 percent growth in employment over the next year.
The NCSEA identified and surveyed over 1,000 sustainable energy firms for the study. To quality, firms had to meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Allocate at least half of staff time to work related to renewable energy and energy efficiency;
- Generate at least half of revenue from renewable energy or energy efficiency; or
- Generate at least $25,000 in economic gain (revenue, avoided costs, etc.) from work directly related to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
(Contact: Linda Hoffman)
Maryland and California Collaborate on Stem Cell Research
The Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) are collaborating on a stem cell research pilot program. The pilot program will provide an opportunity for Maryland scientists to conduct joint research with California researchers who have received CIRM Early Transitional II (ET II) awards and are moving forward with their second phase of stem cell research. To receive funding as part of the pilot project, Maryland applicants must propose research that will complement an approved CIRM ET II project and in some way enhance or expand its scope. The pilot is intended foster interdisciplinary research across boundaries, allowing each state to benefit from the other's success.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Study Shows Deradicalization is Essential Part of Fighting Terrorism
According to a new RAND study, deradicalizing Islamist extremists may be even more important than disengaging them from terrorist activities. The study, Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists, identifies and analyzes the processes through which militants leave Islamist extreme groups, assesses the effectiveness of deradicalization programs and summarizes the policies that could help to promote the deradicalization process.
The report examined deradicalization programs in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe and found that these programs have two important goals: obtain intelligence on extremist organizations and discredit the extremist ideology. Challenging the extremist ideology with an alternative interpretation of Islam is not only likely to effect a more permanent change in the militant's worldview and reduce the risk of recidivism, but also help weaken the appeal of radical thought. While the U.S currently does not have such a program, the report provides best practices that can be applied to prevent domestic violent radicalization.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
NOAA Releases 2010 Hurricane Report
The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the busiest on record, as predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but many of the storms missed the shores of the United States. This year, many storms formed in the extreme eastern Atlantic; but, because they started so far from shore, the storms re-curved back out to sea without threatening land. Short-term weather patterns dictate where storms actually travel and in many cases this season, that was away from the United States.
The 2010 season continues the string of active hurricane seasons that began in 1995. In the Atlantic Basin, a total of 19 named storms formed. This number is the third highest on record, tied with the 19 storms that also occurred in 1887 and 1995. The eastern North Pacific season had the fewest storms on record since satellite storm tracking has been in place. The level of storms in the Atlantic was influenced by large-scale climate features like record warm Atlantic waters, combined with the favorable winds coming off Africa and weak wind shear aided by La Niña.
(Contact: Greg Dierkers)
Report Points Out Conservation Opportunities of Greywater Reuse
A new report from the Pacific Institute, Overview of Greywater Reuse: the Potential of Greywater Systems to Aid Sustainable Water Management, examines the state of U.S. greywater implementation and policy and identifies challenges that need to be addressed for large scale implementation of improved practices for greywater use. Greywater is a high-quality type of wastewater remaining from typical daily household activities like bathing and washing clothes.
Greywater reuse opportunities in households varies between 50 percent and 80 percent of total water usage, indicating a strong potential to reduce residential water demand and replace potable water with non-potable water for certain applications. Reusing greywater can help reduce the demand for new water supply storage infrastructure, save energy costs of water delivery and reduce demand for costly high-quality potable water. The report lays out opportunities to support implementation of effective and safe greywater use. These include:
- A policy environment that allows for greywater use, while protecting public health without restrictive regulations;
- Clear and consistent categorization of different technologies, matched to appropriate end-users;
- Development of industry standards to compare greywater treatment technologies and provide useful information to consumers;
- Financing efforts that consider co-benefits that could be provided to, and paid for by, water suppliers, energy suppliers, wastewater utilities and additional water users; and
Expanded greywater education and outreach through the creation of learning exchanges.
(Contact: Greg Dierkers)
Report Measures States' Capacity for Economic Transformation
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation recently released the 2010 State New Economy Index, a report that uses 26 indicators to assess states' fundamental capacity to successfully navigate economic change. The indicators present information for each state and cover topics ranging from venture capital and industry funding for research and development (R&D) to knowledge jobs and export focus of manufacturing and services. The report also presents policy recommendations for states seeking to spur greater economic transformation, including:
- Refocus on the fundamentals of economic development;
- Reprogram funding going to zero-sum incentives (e.g., those targeted at moving firms from one state to another), cut areas that can afford to be cut and invest in the areas that promise long-term growth and innovation; and
- Identify ways to drive innovation by using existing resources more effectively.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
K-12 Online Learning Opportunities Expand, According to New Report
According to an annual report from the Evergreen Education Group, K-12 online learning opportunities continue to expand, though unevenly, across the states. The report finds that tight budgets, new policy developments and changing technologies have accelerated the growth of online programs in some states, while slowing growth in others. As of late 2010, 48 states and Washington, D.C., offer some type of online learning options. The authors describe three major delivery options for online learning: state virtual schools, full-time online schools and offerings provided by individual school districts:
- State virtual schools are in place in 39 states and offer supplemental online courses, help states and districts build online learning expertise and provide thought leadership around online learning issues. Together, state virtual schools had about 450,000 course enrollments in 2009-2010.
- Full-time online schools draw students across multiple districts and allow students to obtain most or all of their education online. Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have at least one full-time online school. About 200,000 students attend online schools nationwide.
- Many individual school districts operate blended learning programs that combine online and face-to-face instruction. It is estimated that over 1 million students take one or more virtual courses offered by individual school districts.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Report Examines State Tobacco Prevention Budgets
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released a new report calling attention to state funding levels for tobacco prevention programs. The report indicates that spending of the tobacco settlement funds on CDC recommended programs is at the lowest levels since 1999. Key findings include:
- States have cut funding by nine percent ($51.4 million) in the past year; and
- States have budgeted $517.9 million, or 14 percent of the $3.7 billion the CDC recommends.
State-specific data is cited, including tobacco revenue and settlement payment information. The report claims that the reduction in prevention and cessation programs is contributing to findings that the nation's progress in reducing smoking has markedly slowed.
(Contact: Jason Hsieh)
Fall 2010 NGA/NASBO State Fiscal Survey Released
NGA and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) have released the biannual report, The Fiscal Survey of States. Although the report projects that state revenues will grow slightly in 2011, governors-elect in most states will still face significant budget gaps as they begin to create their first budgets. Moreover, the survey indicates that states will continue to face difficulties as they begin climbing toward pre-recession spending levels. Slow revenue growth, increased spending demands and end of stimulus funds made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will create a cliff in fiscal 2012 and contribute to state fiscal strains.
The report can be found at www.nga.org or www.nasbo.org.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Forty-One States Have Adopted Common Academic Standards
As of December 2, 2010, 41 states and territories and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Those states and territories include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The NGA Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the Common Core State Standards in June. The standards define the knowledge and skills students should gain in K-12 education to graduate high school fully prepared for college and work.
(Contact: Stephanie Shipton)