Tennessee Announces Review of Teacher Evaluation System
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced an external and internal review of the state's teacher evaluation system. In early 2010, the state legislature approved the Tennessee First to the Top Act, which would base half of all teacher evaluations on students' academic performance. Many teachers have expressed frustration with the legislation during its first year of implementation. Governor Haslam asked the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) to lead an independent, third-party evaluation of the system and requested that the Tennessee Department of Education create a formal review process. There are currently no plans to overhaul the legislation until another year passes and educators and policy makers can analyze the results of the evaluations.
(Contact: Tabitha Grossman)
Connecticut Develops Ports Economic Development Strategy
Connecticut will undertake a comprehensive study of the state's three deepwater ports to boost their economic potential and competitiveness. Governor Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers enacted legislation in 2011 requiring the state to develop a strategy for economic development of the ports. The study will inventory existing facilities and transportation links. It will also provide a market analysis, a comprehensive economic development strategy, and a plan for providing grants-in-aid to pay for infrastructure improvements, such as dredging and navigational direction. The study will help the state target economic development funding towards the best opportunities. The state awarded the study to a private firm through a request for proposal.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
California Creates Unit to Investigate Electronic Crimes
The California Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the creation of a new unit to investigate and prosecute crimes facilitated by or targeting an electronic device or network, and crimes that target intellectual property. In addition to coordinating investigations across states and local jurisdictions, the eCrime Unit will also provide support to the five California regional high-tech task forces funded through the High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Trust Fund Program. Two of California's biggest industries—entertainment and technology—are heavily affected by piracy and intellectual property theft, and the Federal Trade Commission reports that the state has the third highest number of identity thefts per capita.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Colorado Approves Chemical Disclosure Rules for Gas Drilling
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), with support from Governor John Hickenlooper, has approved new rules governing the public disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells. During hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking", a combination of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into a natural gas well to release natural gas embedded in rock. Under the new rules, drillers are required to publicly disclose all hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process along with the concentration of each chemical. Disclosure must occur within 60 days of the completion of the fracturing and will be posted on the internet at FracFocus.org. Because many well operators use proprietary formulas for their fracturing fluids, some exceptions are allowable under the rules for protecting trade secrets. However, protected formulas must be made available to state regulators and medical professionals upon request.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Kansas Proposes School Finance Reform
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proposed reforms to the state's K-12 education funding formula. The new formula is designed to increase flexibility within districts and boost local control. The proposal contains three sources of state funding, including a base amount of per-pupil aid and two special funds. The Property Tax Equalization Fund gives progressively greater amounts to districts with low property taxes to offset property tax inequality. The Supplemental Equalization Fund ensures that each district has a stable funding amount every year. The plan also allows districts to exercise unlimited local control over property taxes for educational purposes. The new funding formula would take effect in FY2014. The state's analysis found the new formula would cost an additional $45.1 million from the state's general fund in the first year, assuming that base state aid and property values are stable.
(Contact: Ryan Reyna)
Wisconsin Requires Waiting Period for UI Benefits
Wisconsin is implementing a one-week waiting period before state Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits are payable in each benefit year. The law was passed in June 2011 as part of Governor Scott Walker's 2011-2013 budget, and became effective January 1, 2012. The measure will allow staff at the Department of Workforce Development time to calculate appropriate benefit amounts for claimants, reducing overpayments while also saving administrative costs. The new law applies to new UI recipients as well as those already receiving benefits. The one-week waiting period will apply any time a UI recipient begins a new benefit year, which lasts for 52 weeks after initially filing an unemployment claim. The provision is designed to save an estimated $45.2 million a year for the UI Trust Fund, which is currently facing a $1.26 billion deficit.
(Contact: Lauren Stewart)
Connecticut Ends Managed Care Contracts
Going against the national trend to turn Medicaid management over to private managed care companies, Connecticut ended its contracts with private health insurers on January 1. The state found that private insurers were not producing enough savings or quality improvements. Additionally, a report commissioned by the state in 2009 showed that the companies were being overpaid by $50 million, or 6 percent of total expenses. Previously, the state gave private insurers—both profit and nonprofit—a set monthly fee for each Medicaid enrollee to provide care, putting financial responsibility on the insurers. The state will now assume financial responsibility and pay hospitals and doctors when services are provided. The money saved by not contracting with insurers will go toward improving access to primary care and improving quality. In 2005, Oklahoma stopped using for-profit insurers for Medicaid and has had increased patient satisfaction and cost growth below the national average during the past five years.
(Contact: Jackie Le Grand)
New Law Provides Employment Opportunities for Illinois Veterans
Governor Pat Quinn recently signed legislation making it easier for veterans to join the Illinois State Police (ISP). Senate Bill 1587 waives certain education requirements for individuals who have been honorably discharged with a campaign medal after serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Waived requirements include a rule that ISP officers successfully complete two years of law enforcement studies if they are under 21 years old. Also, a rule preventing ISP officers under the age of 21 from carrying firearms or having power of arrest is waived for veterans. Veterans are still required to undergo a 12 month probationary period from the date of appointment.
(Contact: Carmen Ferro)
Alabama Sets Energy Savings Target for State Government
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has issued an Executive Order that requires state government agencies to reduce their energy consumption through improved energy efficiency. The order mandates that all state departments and agencies reduce their energy use 30 percent by 2015, based on 2005 levels. The Alabama Department of Finance and Department of Economic and Community Affairs will develop guidelines that outline cost-effective strategies and provide technical assistance to other agencies implementing those strategies. Each agency is also required to designate an Energy Officer to oversee energy consumption and make recommendations for increased efficiency. Agencies are also required to use the ENERGY STAR portfolio manager to track energy use in all state buildings and are encouraged to explore the feasibility of Energy Savings Performance Contracting. An estimate found that a 30 percent reduction now would save the state a total of $5.4 million in energy expenses by 2015.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Virginia to Launch Green Jobs Prisoner Reentry Initiative
Virginia's Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Correctional Education (DCE) have unveiled the Green Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Vocational Program at Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, Virginia. The new vocational training program will help prepare inmates for HVAC-related careers, such as service mechanic, controls technician, and maintenance specialist. The focus of the program is on "green" HVAC technology, which aims to reduce the emissions of synthetic materials commonly used as refrigerants, solvents, and insulating foams that harm the ozone layer. To qualify for the program, students must have at least tenth grade math and reading levels. Although DCE is still developing the curriculum, the program is expected to take enrollees 12 months to complete. The job training program supports Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's commitment to strengthening prisoner reentry and improving public safety. A successful vocational training program increases the chances an inmate will become employed after release, mitigating a risk factor for repeat incarcerations. The program is expected to pay for itself through annual cost of incarceration avoided. For every offender who successfully transitions into society upon release and does not return to prison, the state will avoid $25,000 a year in spending on incarceration.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Report Finds Dual Enrollment Positively Effects College Matriculation and Completion
A new report from the National Center for Postsecondary Research suggests some characteristics of dual enrollment programs that may lead to positive effects on students. A study following high- school seniors in Florida from the classes of 2000-01 and 2001-02 found that students who took dual enrollment classes that met on college campuses were more likely to go to college and earn bachelor's degrees than similar students who did not. Students in dual enrollment classes that met at high schools showed no statistically significant gains. A second study also tracking Florida seniors found that students on the margin of participation in algebra who took and passed a placement test, then enrolled in a dual enrollment college algebra class, were more likely to attend college and earn a degree. There were no effects for similar students who took less challenging dual enrollment courses. The author hypothesizes that students who took a challenging college course while in high school were more academically prepared, persistent, and confident when starting college.
(Contact: Travis Reindl)
Report Evaluates State Economic Development Programs
A new report from Good Jobs First evaluates and ranks states' economic development subsidy programs based on job quality measures, and provides state level policy recommendations. Money for Something: Job Creation and Job Quality Standards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs analyzes 238 major economic development programs in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Evaluation criteria included whether or not companies receiving subsidies are required to meet quantifiable performance standards, provide benefits to workers, and pay their workers above a certain wage level. The report provides several policy recommendations to ensure that economic development subsidy programs perform well. It recommends that all programs include job retention or training requirements. Programs should bar employers from shifting existing jobs from other facilities and mandate that the jobs be kept in place for at least the duration of the subsidy to avoid fraud. To ensure that subsidies are used to create quality jobs, the report recommends that every job or training position in a subsidized facility should be subject to a wage requirement and offer a package of employee benefits for all workers (including part-time, temporary, and contract), including health care coverage in which the employer contributes to the cost of the premium.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)
Report Outlines Interdependency Between Natural Gas and Electric Reliability
A new assessment by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) outlines the interdependency between electric reliability and natural gas supply and makes recommendations for how regulators, planners, and electric system operators should manage the risks associated with increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation. While the assessment projects that there is enough natural gas to meet increased demand, differences between the natural gas and electricity industries make the overall system more susceptible to supply disruptions. Those include regulatory structures for natural gas and electric utilities, contracting practices, and the difference between natural gas consumption for electric generation compared with residential, commercial or industrial use. Recommendations include improvements in natural gas storage and pipeline infrastructure, coordination among electric utilities, natural gas utilities, and system operators for both industries, and the early identification of facilities most susceptible to supply disruptions.
(Contact: Andrew Kambour)
Report Challenges Tough on Crime Policy Impacts on Public Safety
A new report from the Partnership for Safety and Justice reviews the history of "tough on crime" policies such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences that drive high incarceration rates, and evidence that suggests these policies do not prevent crime. The report, Moving Beyond Sides: The Power and Potential of a New Public Safety Policy Paradigm, also provides guidance for working with victims' rights groups to ensure that justice policies reflect diverse perspectives. Its authors argue that the communities most affected by crime are also the communities most negatively affected by high incarceration rates, but are often not part of criminal justice policy discussions. They also provide recommendations about messaging for policymakers interested in reducing incarceration rates in favor of evidence-based practices.
(Contact: Jeff McLeod)
Webinar: Opportunities for Coordinating Health Care and Human Services Enrollment under the Affordable Care Act
This webinar, scheduled for January 9th from 1:00 - 2:15 EST, will help state human services and health policymakers/program administrators understand options for coordinating enrollment and eligibility systems for Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, and LIHEAP under the framework of the ACA. The webinar will feature a presentation by Stan Dorn of the Urban Institute followed by brief remarks by key officials from CMS, FNS, and ACF. After presentations, participants will have an opportunity to pose questions of the presenters.
(Contact: Karen Krause)
NGA Center Workshop: Economic Development in the Clean Energy Sector — Southern States
The NGA Center will be holding the last of three regional workshops on January 10-11, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss strategies for fostering economic growth in the emerging area of clean energy. Topics of discussion will include: pivoting existing economic development efforts to clean energy industries, applying strategies from past successes such as biosciences and information technology, and determining where clean energy's unique attributes require new approaches. Targeted participants are governors' energy and economic development advisors from the following states and territories: Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Guam, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia. A previous workshop was held for the Northeast, Midwest, and Western states. States that were unable to attend the workshop in their region are welcome to attend the Tennessee workshop.
(Contact: Aliza Wasserman)
Chair's Initiative: Regional Summits on Growing State Economies
On January 24-25th, NGA will hold the third of four summits organized as part of Governor Dave Heineman's Growing State Economies Chair's Initiative. The event will take place in Seattle, Washington. The summit will provide governors and their senior economic advisors an opportunity to learn from local entrepreneurs, small business owners, researchers and other experts on what works to create high-growth innovative firms.
(Contact: Erin Sparks)