Utah To Assign Letter Grades to Schools
Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into a law a bill requiring that schools receive letter grades based on student's proficiency, academic progress, graduation rates and measures of career and college readiness. The law is intended to make school performance more transparent and drive school improvement. Utah's State Office of Education will model how the grading will work and suggest a process for grading schools before the next legislative session. Schools would receive official grades beginning in 2012.
Gov. Herbert also signed two other education bills:
- Legislation requiring schools to make decisions about layoffs based on teacher performance evaluations and school staffing needs, rather than seniority; and
- A law mandating that career-status teachers receive annual performance evaluations.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
Tennessee Changes Teacher Tenure
The Tennessee Legislature approved Governor Bill Haslam's plan to rewrite teacher tenure laws to promote teacher effectiveness in Tennessee. The bill would extend the probationary period before a new teacher earns tenure from three years to five years. New teachers would be required to place in the top two of five evaluation categories for two consecutive years before earning tenure. Teachers would be evaluated, in part, based on their students' test scores. The bill would also put in place a procedure for taking away tenure from teachers who do not continue to demonstrate high levels of effectiveness over time.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
New Mexico Requiring Palm Prints During Arrests
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed a bill requiring anyone arrested for a crime in New Mexico to provide a palm print in addition to fingerprints. Palm prints are collected in the same way as fingerprints and can be equally effective in helping law enforcement identify and convict offenders. When finger prints are smudged or non-existent, palm prints can be used as a reliable substitute. At least three other states—California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut—already use palm prints to identify suspects.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Delaware's "Operation: Pressure Point" Targets High Crime Areas
Delaware Governor Jack Markell recently introduced Operation: Pressure Point, a statewide effort aimed at reducing violent crime through greater coordination between state, federal and local resources. The operation will consist of two concurrent phases—enforcement and investigation. The enforcement phase will focus on increasing the presence of law enforcement in high-crime "hot spots," providing a visible deterrent to crime in those areas. Specific law enforcement and justice agency activities will include:
- Performing additional compliance checks at bars, liquor stores and after hours clubs;
- Increasing the number of DUI checkpoints; and
- Enhancing monitoring of high-risk offenders, gangs and drug-trafficking organizations.
The investigation phase will emphasize long-term intelligence and analysis of criminal trends throughout the state, as modeled by Compstat in New York and "intelligence-led policing" in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
(Contact: Anne-Elizabeth Johnson)
California Diverts Low-Level Offenders Out of State Prisons
Under legislation signed by California Governor Jerry Brown, certain low-level offenders will now go to county jails instead of state prisons. The change is part of an effort to manage offenders in more efficient and cost effective ways. Currently, California's prison system is overcrowded and experiences high rates of recidivism among low-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months. The law will not allow for early release of inmates currently serving in state prisons, and all felons convicted of a serious or violent offense, including sex offenders, will still go to state prison.
Specifically, AB 109 changes current law to realign certain responsibilities for lower level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from state to local jurisdictions. However, the law will not go into effect unless there is adequate funding, expected to be met through a community corrections grant program. Gov. Brown signed a related bill, AB 111, which gives counties additional flexibility to access funding to increase local jail capacity for the purpose of implementing AB 109.
(Contact: Thomas MacLellan)
Ohio Law Allows Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation
Ohio Governor John Kasich has signed a bill that allows private funding to be used to pay for public transportation infrastructure projects in the state. Under the new law, the state may enter into a partnership with private entities to fund part or all of the construction, operation and/or maintenance costs of new transportation projects. Private partners will be able to recoup their investment through toll revenues, interest payments from the state or other types of user fees.
Public-private partnerships are a way for states to attract additional funding for transportation projects while decreasing financial risk to the state. Now that the law is in effect, the Ohio Department of Transportation will begin studying the state's transportation system needs to determine which projects would be ideal for a public-private partnership. The law also allows the state to solicit partnerships through a competitive process or for private firms to propose partnerships without state solicitation.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Arkansas to Hold Referendum on Higher Diesel Tax
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has signed a bill that places an increase in the state tax on diesel fuel to cover highway maintenance on the ballot as a voter referendum. Voters in Arkansas will decide in a special election whether or not to let the state's diesel fuel tax rise by 5 cents to 27.5 cents per gallon. Revenues from the fuel tax increase would finance a $1.1 billion bond program to fund interstate highway maintenance in the state.
Increasing revenue for transportation infrastructure, including raising fuel or sales taxes and dedicating the revenue to transportation, was one of the recommendations made last year by a state Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance. The law establishing the Blue Ribbon Committee was signed by Gov. Beebe in 2009.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Virginia Governor Proposes Cost Controls for Autism Benefit
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell proposed changes to legislation mandating insurance coverage for autism-related treatments for children ages two to six. The amendment includes the following provisions to be reviewed by the General Assembly:
- Create a licensure requirement for Applied Behavior Analysts to ensure standardized quality of care;
- Require prior authorization of services, including Applied Behavior Analysis, to promote access and quality control of services;
- Allow for an independent assessment of the treatment plan for the child to ensure that the treatment is justified and effective;
- Exempt small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, but cover state workers; and
- Create a legal path to nullify the law if a court or a federal law invalidates the $35,000 cap on benefits.
(Contact: Caryn Marks)
Delaware Governor Proposes Changes to State Employee Benefits
Delaware Governor Jack Markell proposed policy changes in a recent letter to the state legislature that would alter both the state employee pension and health care plans in an effort to reduce costs. Specifically, the proposed health plan changes recommend creating a cost share for all employees, as well as a 5 percent decrease in the state share of the Medicare Supplement for future retirees. Currently, the state Pension Office provides a Medicare supplement to help cover an additional 20 percent of costs that are not covered in Parts A and B. Other provisions in the proposal include:
- Changing the number of years of service it takes new hires and current employees who have not retired to vest for the state share of retiree health care from 10 years to 15 years;
- Eliminating the "double state share" policy for new hires, which currently allows these employees to pay no premium for their health care; and
- A plan to more effectively capture prescription drug discounts for all employees.
(Contact: Brad Finnegan)
California Governor Proposes Ending Pension Loopholes
California Governor Jerry Brown released new legislative language of proposed pension reform measures for all state and local pensions. The reforms change the way state employers treat employee pensions by ending pension holidays and retroactive pension increases, and by prohibiting pension spiking by defining final compensation for new employees as the highest average annual compensation during a consecutive 36-month period and final compensation as "normal rate of pay or base pay." Previously, final compensation could include unpaid sick and vacation hours. A related bill would prohibit payment of pension benefits to those who commit a felony related to their employment.
Other reforms under development propose:
- Imposing a pension benefit cap and limits on post-retirement public employment;
- Moving to a hybrid defined contribution/benefit options; and
- Prohibiting pension spiking by defining final compensation as the highest average annual compensation during a consecutive 36-month period and using normal rate of pay as the basis.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Kentucky Fast-Tracks Business Filings
Kentucky is implementing Fast Track Business Filings in the secretary of state's office. The new service streamlines the process for businesses to register with the Commonwealth, making it possible for most businesses to file their paperwork in one place online and tying multiple state agency business services together into a single, easy-to-use portal.
The completion of Fast Track Business Filing is expected to save both taxpayers and businesses time and money by making the process more accessible and efficient.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Tennessee Proposes $10 Million for Research Consortium
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is asking lawmakers to set aside $10 million to create the Memphis Research Consortium, a recruitment effort aimed at luring senior scientists in the fields of genomics, population health and regenerative medicine to help develop scientific discoveries and advance commercial applications and high-growth companies. Part of a larger effort to lead the University of Memphis into the top 25 metropolitan research universities in the country, the budget proposal is supported through a one-time appropriation from the state's education budget to the State University and Community College System.
The governor's budget also includes a $10.5 million jobs package to help recruit new businesses and support workforce training initiatives. Present funding levels are also maintained in the proposed budget for current investments in biofuels and aerospace engineering, as well as the Tennessee Job Skills program, which is a workforce development incentive program providing grants to retain high-wage jobs in technology and manufacturing.
(Contact: Garrett Groves)
U.S. Lags in Private Clean Energy Investment
A new report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that while private investment in the clean energy sector in the United States grew between 2009 and 2010, the country was surpassed by China and, for the first time, Germany in terms of total dollars of private investment. Equity investments in the US increased 51 percent between 2009 and 2010, up to $34 billion. The US continues to receive the highest level of venture capital in the clean energy sector with over 75 percent of global investments, but trails in investments towards bringing new clean energy technologies to the market.
Investment in the clean energy sector grew 30 percent globally in 2010 to a record $243 billion among the G-20 countries. China attracted $54.4 billion in investments, and the gap between investments in China and the US increased. China has led all countries in attracting private clean energy investments since 2008, when it first surpassed the US. Clean energy investment in Germany, which attracted $41.2 billion in 2010, passed the level of investment in the US for the first time this year. Italy ranked fourth in the study, becoming the first country to achieve cost competitiveness for solar energy generation.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Report Finds Most State and Local Pensions Fiscally Stable
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has released a study examining the fiscal stability of state and local pension plans. Researchers conclude that most public plans appear to be stable and do not face immediate liquidity crises. The study is based on two scenarios depicting whether state and local governments will be able to cover benefit payments for the next 15 years and 30 years. The study notes that in recent decades many public sector pension plans have been strengthened through management and funding discipline procedures, which have helped states and localities avoid immediate liquidity issues. Many states and localities have also made changes to contribution levels and have extended the retirement ages for new employees; however these changes do not have an immediate effect on public pension systems.
(Contact: Linda Hoffman)
Report Examines Terrorists' Use of the Internet
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a new report describing the ways international terrorists and insurgents use the Internet in pursuit of their political agendas. The report states that extremists use chat rooms, social networking tools and dedicated servers and websites to:
- Disseminate propaganda;
- Recruit members and organize;
- Train insurgents; and
- Raise funds.
These websites and Internet services may be run by international terrorist groups, transnational cybercrime organizations or individual extremists. The report states that the Taliban and Al Qaeda may use YouTube and Facebook to communicate with "lone wolf" actors and larger organized networks of terrorists, as well as to radicalize Western-based sympathizers. Further, it reports that cybercrime now surpasses international drug trafficking as a terrorist financing enterprise.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Report Ranks Counties According to Health Outcomes
A new report ranks the health of nearly every county in the nation, showing that much of what affects health occurs outside of the physician's office. The report, released by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, uses five measures to assess the level of overall health in each country and then ranks the counties within their respective state. These measures include the:
- Rate of people dying before the age of 75;
- Percentage of people who reported being in fair or poor health;
- Number of days people reported being in poor physical and mental health; and
- Rate of low birth weight infants.
In addition to these data, the report provides a wide range of key factors that affect health outcomes such as smoking rates, obesity, access to primary care and percentage of children living in poverty. This county-specific information reveals individual strengths and weaknesses and offers state policymakers specific localities that need improvement and increased public health interventions.
(Contact: Jason Hsieh)
Survey: Citizens Ready, Willing to Improve Public Education
The United Way Worldwide has released findings from a national poll and series of focus groups designed to capture public views on education. Results indicate the public is concerned about the state of the education system, but is willing to engage in making schools better. Half of those polled believe that public schools are getting worse, and 29 percent are concerned that their own child will drop out of school. Over 92 percent of respondents agreed that lower income school districts need more funding from the state. The majority of people polled indicated a willingness to engage in making schools better through volunteering, parent engagement or other means of support, but indicate that they are not always sure what to do.
The report found that:
- There is an opportunity for community leaders and policymakers to better connect schools to their communities; and
- People are looking for clear pathways to participate in large-scale change and education reform.
(Contact: Amanda Szekely)
NGA Center Webinar: Public Safety during a Budget Crisis—Efforts in Cross-Governmental Sentencing and Corrections Reform
The NGA Center will host a webcast on April 27, 2011, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST addressing ways that states can maintain—or improve—public safety with fewer resources through cross-governmental sentencing and corrections reform. The webcast will provide an overview and discussion of ways the executive, legislative and judicial branches can work together to maximize offender outcomes and public safety with limited state resources. A panel of nationally recognized experts will address issues such as:
- What challenges each branch of state government face and what impact the state budget crisis has on the criminal justice system;
- What evidence-based sentencing and corrections practices are proven to control crime and reduce costs;
- How cost-benefit analysis can help state policymakers evaluate the impact of a policy or program; and
- How state policymakers can educate the public and build their support for evidence-based corrections reform.
If you have any questions, please contact Jeff McLeod at 202-624-5311.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
NGA Center Offers Technical Assistance on Charter Schools
The NGA Center and Center for School Change (CSC) are offering states tailored technical assistance on topics related to state charter public school policies. There are also limited financial resources available from CSC to support meeting expenses related to technical assistance requests. The T.A. must be requested by a governor's office via the attached form and completed by August 31, 2011. Applications for assistance will be accepted on a rolling basis.
Interested states should contact Stephanie Shipton at 202.624.7857 prior to submitting an application. We look forward to working with you on this important topic.
(Contact: Stephanie Shipton)