Moms Say Thanks to Mayors for Leadership on Connecting Children and Families to Health Insurance

Cities across the U.S. are making children’s health a local priority and taking an active role in enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and CHIP.

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Moms have gotten wind of NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative (CEHACF) and are telling mayors “thank you” for taking the lead on enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Our friends at Moms Rising, a grass-roots network of moms and individuals united by the goal of developing a more family-friendly America, have called upon their membership in Dallas and Pittsburgh to sign thank you letters to show Mayor Mike Rawlings (Dallas) and Mayor Bill Peduto (Pittsburgh) support for making children’s health a local priority.

Cities across the U.S. are taking an active role in enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and CHIP. As part of the CEHACF initiative, NLC selected eight cities in July 2014 to receive grants up to $260,000 per city to support outreach and enrollment campaigns aimed at reducing the uninsured rate of children and families in their communities. Campaigns developed through the CEHACF initiative implement strategic outreach strategies, including:

  • Dedicated city campaign websites with information on how to access enrollment assistance;
  • Referral systems for enrollment assistance through United Way’s 2-1-1 and municipal 3-1-1 phone systems;
  • School partnerships to systematically identify children eligible for but not enrolled in insurance;
  • Onsite enrollment assistance provided at Women, Infants, and Children centers; public housing complexes; heating assistance provider offices and libraries; and
  • Targeted messaging and marketing campaigns utilizing city busses and vehicles, robocalls, paid and earned media, radio, information phone-a-thons and social media.

Most importantly, each campaign is championed by strong local leadership from mayors and other local elected officials. What is your mayor doing to take the lead on Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Tweet @KidHealth_DC and use the hashtag #Cities4Health to let us know!

Have City Finances Recovered?

At the release event for NLC’s annual City Fiscal Conditions, it was revealed that although the worst is behind, city finances have not yet reached full recovery.

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Most accounts of the current state of economic and fiscal health go something like this: stabilizing but not yet returned to pre-recession levels. The media guys (and gals) hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much of a story when all we are seeing is incremental change. But when you think about persistently stagnant growth, the real question becomes, how far are we from full recovery?

At a release event today for NLC’s annual City Fiscal Conditions, it was revealed that although the worst is behind, city finances have not yet reached full recovery.

The cost and demands of services, pension, healthcare and infrastructure are on the rise. Federal aid and accompanying mandates are in flux and create uncertainty for local governments. Revenue options are constrained by economic conditions, state limitations and political culture.

Compounding these fiscal stresses are new demographic trends, housing and labor market changes, and the rise of new and disruptive industries, all of which underscore the misalignment between traditional revenue sources — property, income and sales taxes –and the economic activity that drives them.

So, how do we know how far city budgets are from full recovery? What are the key vital signs of city fiscal health?

The outlook of city finance officers, general fund revenues, workforce and personnel, and ending balances offer a unique window into recovery at the local level.

Outlook of City Finance Officers

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In 2014, 80% of city finance officers report that they are better able to meet the financial needs of their community this year than last. In fact, more city finance officers report a positive outlook this year than in the 29-year history of the survey.

On the flip side, this finding also means that 80% of cities across the country were worse off last year, indicative of magnitude of the recession and the depths to which cities sank throughout the recessionary period.

General Fund Revenues

General fund revenues grew modestly in 2013, and were the first post-recession year over year growth in revenues. However, revenues are projected to stagnate as cities close the books on 2014.

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To gain more perspective on how the general fund revenues are faring pre and post-recession, we created an index using 2006 as the base year. 2006 was the pre-recession peak in revenues, the low came in 2012 when revenues were 88% of 2006 levels.

The first post-recession increase in revenues didn’t come until 2013 but in 2014 are still only projected to be around 90% of the 2006 revenue base.

Revenues are not yet at full recovery and the growth in revenues appears to be stagnating.

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Another window in general fund revenues is to take a closer look at the drivers of the general fund: property, sales and income taxes.

During the recent recession, all three sources of tax revenue declined together due to the severity and length of the recession. Property tax revenue is anticipated to increase slightly in 2014 as collections catch up with improvements in the real estate market. This will be the first increase coming out of the recession.

Sales tax and income tax revenues continue to grow in 2013, but are projected to slow as cities close the books on fiscal year 2014. This is indicative not only of a harsh winter, but also the type of employment recovery we are seeing, with low wage jobs dominating growth.

Municipal Workforce

Speaking of jobs, throughout the recession, many cities implemented some combination of personnel and workforce-related cuts, including hiring freezes and layoffs, in an effort to reduce costs.

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The good news: for the first time post-recession, more cities are increasing rather than decreasing the size their municipal workforces. The bad news: in the context of returning to full recovery, there are still ½ million fewer local government jobs today than there were in 2008.

This is particularly troublesome given the state of the mid-wage and mid-skill jobs crisis we are experiencing today.

Ending Balances

Ending Balances, or reserves, provide a financial cushion for cities to help balance budgets or to use toward a major planned project. Bond underwriters also look at a city’s reserves as an indicator of how likely the city is to make good on its debt.

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Ending balances are on a positive trajectory, at almost 22% of expenditures in 2013. Prior to the recession, ending balances hovered around a high of 25% of expenditures, indicating that reserves have not yet hit pre-recession levels.

So, as we take stock key city fiscal vitals, we are starting to see city finances turn the corner coming out of the recession, but as revenues, workforce, and ending balances indicate, they have not yet returned to full recovery.

For first time since the recession, general fund revenues are increasing, but are projected to stagnate in 2014. More cities are hiring, helping to close the mid-wage, mid-skill gap, but we are still ½ million jobs away from pre-recession levels. Ending balances are showing a positive trajectory, but again, still have not caught up.

Cities were at the forefront of the Great Recession and are making their way back through tough choices, innovation and partnerships with the private sector, nonprofits, and others. Given persistent constraints on city budgets, however, the future is anything but certain.

christy-mcfarlandAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

With So Much at Stake, Mayors Look to Lead on Education

Mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

mayor readingNLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has made education a priority. Photo credit: chriscoleman.org.

Over the last decade, educators and stakeholders in cities across the country have been engaged in vigorous debate about how to best provide the highest quality education to our children. Controversy over issues such as how to evaluate the performance of both teachers and students, teacher tenure protections and funding formulas have made headlines from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

Despite the controversy surrounding education reform, cities across the country do share many pedagogical goals. Namely, to provide high quality educational opportunities (in the classroom and beyond) to all children, and to ensure their education equips them with the necessary tools to make good choices about their future.

In our analysis of Mayoral State of the City addresses this year, we discovered that 70% of speeches covered education, and 32% devoted “significant coverage”—at least three paragraphs or more—to the topic. It is clear that cities are working hard to advance early childhood education, eliminate the achievement gap, cut the dropout rate and prepare every student for success in college and career.

In many cities, mayors and other local elected officials have no formal authority over their city’s school system. Mayors are involved in education in a variety of important ways though. As Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio noted in his state of the city address, it is the role of local officials to “bring together extraordinary people from every sector of our community—education, business, labor, nonprofit, the faith community, the school board and City Council to make Columbus the best big city in the nation for educating kids.” Indeed, mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

Children are the Future

It may be stating the obvious to say that as we contemplate the future of cities, we’d do well to remember that children are our future. “They represent a source of workforce skills, civic participation, and taxpayer revenue that Durham can ill afford to waste,” Mayor Bill Bell recognized.

Blog 10- 14-14 IYEF-10Many mayors noted their accomplishments in increasing postsecondary access and completion, an area that NLC has a long history of working with cities on. We’re currently working with a diverse group of cities on postsecondary success, including Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Philadelphia. In his address, Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia noted that “in 2007, the number of Philadelphians with a college degree was only 18%. Today, it is almost 25%.” His enthusiasm was tempered with caution however, as he acknowledged, “its progress, but it’s not enough.”

What is enough?

Many cities across the country have adopted a “cradle-to-career” approach to education. To that end, there has been a renewed focus in recent years on the start of a child’s educational journey – early childhood care and education. And for good reason. A growing body of research shows that children with a quality pre-K education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school and beyond. Thirty-four of the mayors in our sample (11%) included pointed remarks in their addresses on the importance of early childhood education.

“We must start when our children are very young. Most brain development occurs in the first three years of life,” stated George Hartwell, Mayor of Grand Rapids, Mich. “Those must be rich, healthy, stimulating years if we are to produce children ready for school,”

Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle summed up the sentiment shared by many of his counterparts with this comment: “I am committed to making affordable preschool available to all children in Seattle before they reach elementary school.”

Cities such as Seattle, Grand Rapids, Mich., Indianapolis and Hartford, Conn., (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100% of preschoolers in school by 2019.

The returns on these investments – a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, fewer residents living in poverty – are the building blocks for creating better communities. To build better communities is the mission of the National League of Cities and, I suspect, the driving force behind the decision of countless mayors and local officials to run for elected office in the first place.

Providing a Local Voice in the National Education Conversation

NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has been a leading voice on education at both the local and national levels. With NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, he co-chairs NLC’s Mayors’ Education Reform Task Force. The task force was formed in March 2013 to explore how cities can and should be involved in local education reform efforts, and includes mayors from approximately 60 cities. “The perspectives from mayors of cities large to small are valuable to local and national policymakers,” said Mayor Coleman.

This is the fifth blog post in NLC’s State of the Cities 2014 series.

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About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Pay for Success: A New Opportunity for Local Governments to be Catalysts for Change

Calling all participants in the social innovation economy! If you’re a local government interested in social innovation finance or social impact bonds, check out this new opportunity to make impactful social interventions that produce results for communities in need.

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Through its Social Innovation Fund, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has awarded $1.9 million in grant funding to Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc., a nonprofit advisory firm specializing in Pay for Success (PFS). Third Sector will use the funding to hold an open competition for state and local governments to receive PFS technical advisory services.

SIF Partners LogoNLC is an outreach partner with Third Sector and is working to educate our members and other local government entities on the benefits of PFS and the opportunities presented by this unique project.

To that end, we encourage interested groups to participate in an informational webinar on Friday, October 24th. Third Sector will present more specific information about the competition, discuss eligibility criteria and take questions from participants. Register here.

Pay for Success has received strong bi-partisan support and is also a presidential priority. Federal legislators and leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize and appreciate the benefits of investing in a performance-driven social sector.

The Social Innovation Fund, which is providing funding and support for this project, is a key White House initiative and major program of CNCS that combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the U.S.

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

In Call with Mayors, Obama Urges Measured Response to Ebola

The tragic death of Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital reminds us of the severity of the disease, said President Obama, and that it must be taken seriously.

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In a wide ranging conference call with city leaders from across the nation, President Barack Obama on Wednesday spoke about the need for an appropriate and measured response to the Ebola virus and the crisis that is now concerning many in the U.S.

The tragic death of Liberian Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital reminds us of the severity of the disease and how we must take it seriously, Obama noted. But we need to respond based on facts and the facts are that doctors in the U.S. know how to deal with infectious diseases, in general, and the Ebola virus, in particular, he added.

Obama reiterated over and over an outbreak in the United States will be prevented, and then announced additional security and screening measures will be taken at five U.S. airports where about 90 percent of all West Africans enter the United States.

President Obama was joined on the call by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden M.D. Burwell opened her remarks by noting that the U.S. is prepared to deal with the Ebola virus and any outbreak that might occur; that the CDC has been in constant contact through publications and webinars with state and local health officials since the outbreak began nearly a year ago, and is also consulting with airlines, airports, hospitals, private physicians and other health care providers and their representatives.

Dr. Frieden echoed Burwel, saying–as he has said repeatedly–that the U.S. government is confident the virus can be contained in this country, even if other cases are identified; that the CDC is providing information to health care workers on methods for treating Ebola virus patients – something that is very complex — and how health care workers should protect themselves from possible exposure; and has set up a hotline number (800 CDC INFO) for health care workers and others to obtain information on the Ebola virus, its containment, and treatment.

Homeland Security Secretary Johnson addressed the increasing concern about travelers from West Africa. Echoing President Obama’s statement that this is a national security issue, Johnson spoke about how DHS will be increasing inspections of travelers arriving from West Africa. In addition to screenings at departure points in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, customs and immigration agents in the United States will be doing visual inspections for signs of illness, medically trained Coast Guard personnel will be taking temperatures of persons arriving from these countries (with thermometers that operate without direct contact), and when necessary referrals to CDC personnel based at the airports will be made.

The stepped up screenings will take place at five airports – JFK, Newark, Dulles, O’Hare, and Atlanta Hartsfield – and when appropriate, at other entry points, including ports.

Among the mayors who joined the conversation were Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Each praised the federal government for the work it was doing to help their local health departments prepare for, and in the case of Dallas, deal with the disease, and talked about what they have been learning either as they responded to the disease or prepared to respond.

Mayor Rawlings noted that the real difficulties occur on the ground where so many different organizations and operations have to be merged into a single effort to respond to the disease and wondered if there is a way to standardize this. Mayor Nutter requested assistance from the federal government in developing strategies to best communicate with their federal partners. Mayor Landrieu urged every mayor to perform a table top review so that the response methodology and system to the Ebola virus can be tested and strengths and weaknesses can be identified.

In response to their questions and statement, Dr. Frieden and Secretary Burwell underscored the following facts:

  • Ebola cannot be caught from someone who is asymptomatic;
  • Ebola can only be caught from someone who is actually showing symptoms of the disease and then only through direct contact with the sick person or their bodily fluids; and
  • Ebola is not transmitted through the air like Influenza and other more common viruses.

As to communication and response, they said it is imperative that:

  • Mayors and other local officials should stay in touch with their local health departments to discuss any emerging or present threats;
  • Communicate clearly with the public;
  • Underscore that while Ebola is a terrible and frightening disease, keep to the facts; and
  • Every city, county and state should have an identified incident manager who is responsible for bringing all of the actors together to ensure a seamless response.

Ultimately, Sec. Burwell reminded everyone on the call to contact their local and state public health officials as well as the CDC if they have any concerns or questions.

Note: If you have any specific questions that can’t be answered by the CDC website or by your local or state health department, please feel free to email me at bomberg@nlc.org and I will pass your question on to officials at the White House or Health and Human Services Department for an answer.

Neil BombergAbout the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Cities Make Sustainability the New Business-as-Usual

Mayors from cities large and small increasingly recognize that the business of local government cannot be separated from environmental issues.

SLC-SustainabilityRalph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City (pictured), dedicated over 80% of his State of the City address to environmental issues.

In June 2013, President Obama released the first federal Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions and better protect the country from the anticipated effects of climate change. This came nearly ten years after the city of Keene, N.H. — population 23,000 — completed a lengthy community engagement process and launched its own climate action plan.

It has recently become something of a mantra, even within Washington, D.C., to acknowledge that most of the innovative policies, programs and ideas related to environmental protection are being generated at the local level. Federal agencies have done commendable work through the multi-agency Partnership for Livable Communities, increased CAFÉ standards for fuel economy, among other initiatives – however, many of the innovative policies and financial tools that incentivize green building, improve recycling and waste diversion, promote renewable energy or expand alternative transportation have been championed by local governments.

Blog 10- 6-14 COOPER-06But is this narrative actually true? And if so, how wide reaching is this local leadership? Based on NLC’s ongoing analysis of Mayoral State of the City addresses, we’ve identified tangible actions taken by local leadership on environmental issues in cities of nearly every size, in every region of the country.

Within our sample, we discovered that 63% of speeches covered environmental topics such as renewable energy, water, climate, or sustainability, while 20% devoted “significant coverage”—at least three paragraphs or more—to environmental topics.

Digging into these speeches more closely, a handful of mayors, approximately 12%, are at the forefront of these issues and have made environmental protection a central part of their agenda. Their speeches include specific references to sustainability plans, climate action plans or other comprehensive and holistic plans that guide municipal activities.

Most importantly, these mayors seem to understand that the business of local government cannot be separated from environmental issues. Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, Ariz. is representative of many other speeches in this regard, explaining to his citizens that:

“No matter how well we have planned in Phoenix to avoid a water shortage, our economy will suffer when reliable water supplies for the region are threatened… We are engaging with leaders in California and southern Nevada to find common ground on shortage scenarios. We should examine our own laws so that as we continue to grow and develop, we do so in a truly sustainable way. We cannot afford to wait.”

The city is not only acting on its own behalf, it is bringing others in the region along.

Water is not the only environmental issue that can have a dramatic impact on a local economy. Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, Utah – who dedicated over 80% of his State of the City address to environmental issues – bluntly related the news that according to the director of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “the number one reason businesses choose not to come to Utah is because of our bad air quality.”

Leading By Example

Twenty percent of cities demonstrating clear leadership on environmental issues may not appear that significant, but it is important to keep in mind how quickly best practices can spread once a concept is proven. Although local government is a risk-averse business, it is clear from this analysis that many cities are benefiting from the experience of a few innovators.

One example of this is Columbia, S.C., where Mayor Stephen Benjamin announced that the city would be working with private sector partners to build a facility to divert tons of sewer sludge from their waste stream to be recycled and produce high quality fertilizer, compressed natural gas for city vehicles and enough electricity to power 500 homes.

The initiative is described as the “single most impactful green initiative the city has ever taken” and it would likely not be possible without other cities who demonstrated that such technology could be environmentally and economically viable.

Looking to the future, one of the most promising new developments is that two cities in our analysis, Evanston, Ill. and Seattle, Wash., discussed their commitment to pursue the STAR Community Rating. Developed with significant input and cooperation from local government officials, the STAR system rates participating cities on a variety of environmental and social metrics, providing a comprehensive and data-driven benchmark for cities to identify their strengths or areas in which they may need improvement.

This type of consistent, objective, and independently verified rating has the potential to dramatically improve environmental performance.

It will take much more local leadership if we are going to create truly sustainable communities, but this research is indicative of the thousands of communities throughout the country who are at the forefront. It is up to us to measure, replicate, and improve on the examples they have set.

This is the fourth blog post in NLC’s State of the Cities 2014 series.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for Sustainability at the National League of Cities.

Muni Broadband 101: What You Need to Know

Municipal broadband networks meet the specific internet needs of a community — as the citizens and individuals there know and define them.

wifiA free Wi-Fi hotspot beams broadband Internet from atop a public phone booth. The City of New York launched a pilot program to provide free public Wi-Fi at public phone booths around the five boroughs. Photo credit: Getty Images.

What is the difference between broadband service provided to residents of Danville, Vir., Chattanooga, Tenn., San Leandro, Calif. and service in other similar communities across the country?

Speed. Price. Coverage.

Why is this the case? It’s simple: the role of municipal government.

Starting today and through the end of 2014, CitiesSpeak will feature a series of blogs on the ins and outs of municipal broadband, the national policy debate and developments related to this issue, and the innovative ways in which cities, big and small, are handling this rapidly unfolding new universe.

While this is not the first time NLC has addressed broadband issues or adoption, this series is committed to clearing some of the ambiguity surrounding these topics.

Telecom policy is complicated, and certainly difficult to keep up with these days. The discussion seems to be populated by a number of buzz-words as well. We hear more and more about who has easy access and first service (“deployment” and “adoption”), who owns the service (“municipal broadband” vs. “ISPs”) who reaps the most benefits (“literacy” and “monopoly”) who is being left behind (“digital divide”).

This is all comparable to peeling an onion the more you pull the layers back, the more nuanced and complex the solutions seem to become. The fact is the telecom policy universe is vast, and sometimes it’s challenging to reconcile the ways in which everything fits together, and frankly, why city leaders should care.

Municipal broadband and the role of the city in providing this service has changed significantly over the last few years. At this point in the broadband deployment game, most households in America have the option to purchase broadband service from one or two large cable providers. The limited competition in the market and recent mergers among providers are raising monopoly concerns for net neutrality and consumer rights advocates alike.

So what does this mean for cities? And what’s their role in solving this complicated policy problem?

Municipalities are meeting this challenge by building out their own networks in states that allow it. For many cities this is a game-changer that represents not only equity in access but also economic competitiveness.

Municipal networks offer high-speed internet service to citizens at affordable prices (sometimes for free), force competition into local ISP markets, encourage economic development and new business, and help local governments and municipal services to function more efficiently. Most importantly, they meet the specific internet needs of a community, as the citizens and individuals there know and define them.

The City of Danville (population 42,996) once had the highest unemployment rate in the state of Virginia. The city’s low-skilled population made it difficult to attract the types of industry that would sustain development in the region. While general communications access (telephone, cable TV, and Internet) was adequate for the home consumer, it was not optimized for businesses. Building a network that would help expand business opportunities as well as wire public anchor institutions was one of the key features of Danville’s approach to local economic development.

The resulting open access, multiservice fiber network – nDanville – allows the city to provide direct service to schools and other city buildings as well as residential and business service. The network has been able to attract new businesses to the city and Danville has now gone from having the highest unemployment in Virginia to boasting a world-class technology infrastructure, revitalized downtown, new jobs, and a skilled workforce.

Blog entries over the next couple of weeks will further explore the ways municipal networks are taking shape across the country, all of the different players and perspectives involved in the internet democracy discussion, intersections with net neutrality, the onslaught of anti-muni laws, the interplay between cities and Google Fiber, and the innovative public private partnerships developing around muni networks. Revisit CitiesSpeak in the coming weeks to follow this series.

ND headshotAbout the Author: Nicole DuPuis is the Senior Associate for Infrastructure in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.

Supreme Court Long Conference Results Are In!

During the Supreme Court “long conference,” the Court granted a total of 11 petitions; at least four of those cases are relevant to local government.

Supreme-Court-Building

Last Monday’s Supreme Court “long conference” did not disappoint. The Supreme Court granted a total of 11 petitions. At least four of those cases are relevant to local government.

Housing discrimination

For the third time the Court has accepted a case involving this issue of whether disparate-impact (as opposed to disparate treatment) claims can be brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It remains to be seen if Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project will settle like its predecessors, Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Citizens in Action and Magner v. Gallagher. The 11 federal circuits that have decided this issue have all held that disparate-impact claims are actionable. The Supreme Court is expected to rule to the contrary. Local government have been sued for disparate impact under the FHA and have sued other entities.

Fourth Amendment search

In its second Fourth Amendment case of the term, Rodriguez v. United States, the Court will decide whether a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment by extending (for just a few minutes) an already-completed traffic stop for a dog sniff. The Eighth Circuit held the search in this case was reasonable. The police officer waited seven or eight minutes after the traffic stop was completed before deploying his sniffer dog because he wanted backup given that there were two people in the stopped car.

Employment discrimination

The issue in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores is whether an employer can violate Title VII for failing to hire someone because of a “religious observance and practice” that the employer knows about—but wasn’t told about directly by the applicant. The applicant in this case wore a hajib to her interview with Abercrombie & Fitch. When Abercrombie didn’t hire her because her hajib violated their “no caps” policy she sued. The Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of Abercrombie because the applicant did not inform Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation (though it was obvious).

Confrontation Clause

In Ohio v. Clark the Supreme Court will decide whether testimony of head start teachers about what a three year old boy told them when they asked him who hurt him was admissible in his father’s assault trial. The Ohio Supreme Court held that admitting their testimony, when the boy did not testify due to his young age, violated the Confrontation Clause because the boy’s statements were “testimonial.” The court reasoned that the teachers were acting as law enforcement agents when they questioned him because they have mandatory child abuse reporting obligations and the boy was not in the midst of an ongoing emergency when he was questioned.

For more information about these cases and other Supreme Court case relevant to states and local government previously accepted please attend the SLLC’s FREE Supreme Court Preview webinar on October 16.

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About the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Reno Tackles Reengagement

Reno, Nev., joins the growing number of cities across the country that are using reengagement centers to address the needs of young people who have left high school.

Washoe County Reengagement Center Photo credit: Washoe County School District

“Two staff members of the Reengagement Center provided my only support. Otherwise I was alone. Because of them, I’m graduating in June 2015 with my class.” These sad yet inspiring words came from Tara Ebbs, a beneficiary of one of the Washoe County, Nevada Reengagement Centers in Reno who is now enrolled at Washoe Innovations High School.

Blog EMILY 10-3-14-03Tara and her classmate Jose Funes – who says he wants to graduate to set an example for his younger brothers – offered soul-stirring talks at a recent meeting among some 20 Reno-area community partners. With the students’ words ringing in their ears, the partners helped Reengagement Center staff develop a sustainability strategy for the initiative launched four years ago under a federal High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) grant.

Washoe County is among the growing number of sites in the NLC Reengagement Network working to address the particular needs of young people who leave school. Last year’s graduating cohort saw 608 students leave anytime during high school, and the district recorded more than 700 students leaving during the 2013-14 academic year. With these numbers in mind, Washoe County is embarking on efforts to offer re-tooled and better alternative high school settings, including a Big Picture Learning-model school and schools-within-schools at each of the local campuses.

In their first three full years of operation, with four to six operating sites and a staff of as many as seven, the Washoe Reengagement Centers have reconnected about one-third of the pool of students in the sprawling county who left school recently.

An impressive 74 percent of the students re-enrolled through the Centers have “stuck it out” in school for at least the balance of the school year, placing Washoe County on par with the national “stick rate” for reengagement centers. Largely returning to alternative settings, about 20 percent of the re-enrolled students immediately began earning credits at a rate similar to that of traditional high schools students.

In a possibly unique staffing configuration and operating focus for reengagement, three Reengagement Specialists hold primary responsibility for outreach to former students identified as having left school. Three Family Advocates in turn provide case management services to re-enrolling students and their families, in an effort to remove a wide range of barriers students may face and ensure stronger parental/guardian involvement.

Strategic options that Reno reengagement partners will explore – as in other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago – include a higher-profile role for city government and other county government agencies, stepped-up or more formalized partnerships with nonprofit service providers with expertise serving the older teen population, and a substantially changed and rebalanced mix of funding sources. The community will also focus on how to keep one or more reengagement hubs going.

Look forward to hearing more from Washoe County as it plots its sustainability strategy – and from more success stories such as Tara and Jose.

Andrew MooreAbout the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Impact-Volunteering Improves Literacy, Youth Success and Safety

This is a guest blog post by Marcia Hope Goodwin, and the second post in a multi-part series from NLC, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Cities of Service on the national and community service movement and its impact on cities and towns nationwide.

Orlando-ChildrenOrlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reads to children.

“I believe our plan is a progressive, resourceful and collaborative approach to impact-volunteering, helping address our pressing city needs through citizen service, while expanding volunteer opportunities in Orlando and increasing the spirit of volunteerism across our Central Florida region.” -Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

In 2010, the City of Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which enabled Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city’s first Chief Service Officer, Marcia Hope Goodwin, to coordinate a collaborative community engagement process to develop the city’s first high-impact service plan: Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Cities of Service: ORLANDO CARES.

Through stakeholder meetings and nonprofit partner feedback, Mayor Dyer and Ms. Hope Goodwin identified youth literacy, improved education, youth crime reduction, and community safety as the major challenges facing the city that could be addressed by engaging community members in impact-volunteering initiatives. More than 800 stakeholders and partners from all sectors of the community helped to create ORLANDO CARES and its initiatives. Since the plan’s launch in March 2011, Orlando has added programming based on Cities of Service Third Grade Reads  and Volunteer CPR blueprints to their initiative.

Orlando-GardenThe City of Orlando’s partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been an integral part of ORLANDO CARES’ success. CNCS has provided AmeriCorps VISTA members that have increased outcomes, built capacity and increased sustainability in all of our programs. To date, 25 National Service members, including AmeriCorps VISTAs and Public Allies, have served in ORLANDO CARES, giving their year of national service to our country through city government and our community partner organizations. Our current Cities of Service Coordinator, Hiba George, is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus who, completed a year of national service with ORLANDO CARES, and was subsequently hired by the city to coordinate the program.

The six ORLANDO CARES initiatives serve many age groups, ranging from preschool students to high-school students. These programs allow for a wide range of volunteer opportunities for citizens, businesses, corporations and organizations. Volunteers who have a green thumb may enjoy mentoring upper elementary students in The Garden, a program that provides a safe and constructive opportunity for youth to connect with nature. Professionals may choose to volunteer for PathFinders as career coaches for middle school students. If a volunteer prefers a one-on-one mentorship instead of a group dynamic, 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed offers an opportunity to tutor 1st or 2nd graders in vocabulary and/or reading fluency during an academic/school year.

Providing a variety of opportunities for volunteers enables us to engage more members of the Orlando community in meaningful ways. The volunteers who have given their time and dedication to ORLANDO CARES have a fantastic time doing so, as they build their social networks and increase their skill set, while making a tremendous impact! Each year the city hosts volunteer appreciation receptions, giving the Mayor, Chief Service Officer and staff a chance to thank the valued volunteers.

Orlando-School

Since 2011, more than 6,310 youth have been served in all of the programs and over 2,200 volunteers have been engaged. Through the Mayor’s leadership, the ORLANDO CARES initiative has engaged over 35 community partners and has been offered in 29 schools and 13 community centers. Specific program details include:

  • Through the Preschool Ambassadors program, volunteers read aloud weekly to preschool students and engage families in early literacy activities. To date, more than 1,500 students and families have participated in reading more than 4,500 stories. 85% of participating families have enrolled their children in pre-kindergarten programs.
  • More than 1,800 youth have joined Mayor Buddy’s Book Club for middle school youth, committing to read one book every six weeks and complete book activities with encouragement from volunteers. 98% of participating students report that they have increased their leisure reading as a result of the program.
  • Youth participants in The Garden program have planted more than 550 container gardens. Participants also maintain outdoor garden plots, learn about healthy foods and explore careers in agriculture. 95% of the student participants report understanding the importance of fresh produce in their diets.
  • Volunteers that work in a variety of professional fields help middle school students in the PathFinders program to identify their interests, explore career options and create academic plans to support their goals. 100% of participating students have avoided school suspensions and have GPAs higher than 2.5.
  • 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed volunteers tutor first and second graders to improve their vocabulary and reading fluency. The weekly activities make reading fun and improve students’ academic performance through practice, encouragement and praise. Last school year, 100% of participating students increased their reading fluency and significantly improved their vocabulary.
  • Take Heart Orlando (Volunteer CPR), our community-wide Hands-Only CPR/AED initiative led by our partner, the Orlando Fire Department, provides a 30-minute training to city residents, businesses and organizations. Volunteers take action and save lives by registering and getting this lifesaving training. Volunteers assist as CPR trainers and pledge to train at least five others in Hands-Only CPR. More than 3,900 volunteers have already been trained since 2013.

As the City of Orlando continues to grow, service-involved citizens have become a significant part of the landscape of the city. Our ORLANDO CARES volunteers are positively impacting the education and safety of Orlando’s youth, their families and our entire community.

Through ORLANDO CARES, we are engaging volunteers in programs that help youth improve their academic success, increase their literacy skills, plan viable career choices and avoid the juvenile justice system, while improving the overall safety of our city. In our plan, we have created volunteer opportunities that impact educational outcomes and contribute to the safety of our community.  – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

For more information about ORLANDO CARES, please read our Orlando Cares service plan or visit our website.

Marcia-Goodwin-BlogAbout the author: Marcia Hope Goodwin is the City of Orlando’s Chief Service Officer and Director of the Office of Community Affairs and Human Relations. In 2010, when Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appointed Marcia to lead Orlando’s Cities of Service, Impact-Volunteering Plan, development and implementation. ORLANDO CARES, has successfully increased youth literacy and improved community safety.