Strong Partnerships Yield Better Education Outcomes

This is the seventh post in NLC’s 90th Anniversary series.

ColemanWithKidsNLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., has made education a centerpiece of his mayoral vision.

As the National League of Cities celebrates its 90th year of service to cities, we are heartened to see that improving educational outcomes for young people has become a top priority for mayors and local elected officials across the country. Although most mayors and other municipal leaders do not have formal authority over school districts, they understand how critical education is to building up their communities. They know that the quality of their schools is directly tied to the quality of life and well-being of their residents.

Mayors and education leaders must work in partnership to help young people succeed. And many are doing just that.

For almost 15 years, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) has been working with mayors and councilmembers in cities across the country to exercise leadership to support K-12 education, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates and promote college access and completion. We have also been working hand in hand with mayors and councilmembers to expand and improve high quality afterschool programs in communities across the nation.

The YEF Institute has worked with cities to establish local teams to develop action plans with specific goals and measures. Typically led by mayors, these teams are comprised of school superintendents, community- and faith-based organizations, local colleges and universities and business leaders. Over the years we have worked with and assisted mayors in leading local education initiatives — all in partnership with school districts and other community stakeholders.

Partnerships between cities and school districts are powerful because together these entities can collectively own the problems and share in the successes. Examples of successful partnerships that we have helped support over the last 15 years include:

  • In the Institute’s early years we worked with local officials and school leaders to address the persistent student achievement gap and improve literacy and attendance rates in cities such as Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Mich.
  • During the middle years, we focused on introducing small school models in Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Newark, N.J. to address the rise in high school dropout rates.
  • In more recent years, we have focused on ensuring that more low-income young people are attending and completing college. We have worked with Mesa, Ariz., Riverside, Calif., and San Francisco among others to establish multi-sector partnerships between mayors, school superintendents and local community colleges. We now have a growing network of 18 cities through our Postsecondary Success City Action Network (P-SCAN), with mayors playing key leadership roles.
  • For 11 years we have maintained a strong network of mayors through the Education Policy Advisors Network, drawn from the 75 largest cities in the U.S. Our Afterschool Policy Advisors Network is also strong. These networks provide city leaders a unique opportunity to share best practices and learn about the latest research in the field.

Most recently, NLC entered into a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to increase the visibility and understanding of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities. As a result of this partnership, 15 cities are holding community conversations on education, with a focus on early childhood, afterschool and postsecondary education.

Educated citizens are likely to contribute more to the economy and build a stronger workforce. Businesses are more likely to want to place their anchors in communities with good schools. Mayors and councilmembers care deeply about these issues, and so do we.

The YEF Institute is committed to supporting cities by providing technical assistance, sharing best practices, creating robust peer learning opportunities and developing effective tools to support communities in their work to build better communities by improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all residents.

Audrey Hutchinson

About the Author: Audrey M. Hutchinson is the Program Director of Education and Afterschool Initiatives in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

What is a Muni Network? Here are the Basics.

munibroadbandA user surfs the Internet at a free Wi-Fi hotspot provided by the City of New York. Getty Images.

If you were to ask 100 people to define a network, you might get 101 responses. That’s because the word “network” has permeated nearly every professional and academic sector, and takes on a different meaning in each one. Some people hear it and they think of their professional colleagues. Others might think of the highly-acclaimed movie about Facebook, The Social Network. While the latter of those two associations is closest to the subject at hand, this blog (the second in our Muni Broadband 101 series) deals with neither.

In the telecom universe, the term network refers to the platform by which we, as users, access the world-wide web. It is simplest to think of a network as a group of computers connected by telephone lines, cable lines, or radio waves. The term broadband is shorthand for broad bandwidth and references the speed and capacity of the platform.

Broadband service is provided to the public in two ways. The most common is by private companies, such as Verizon, Comcast and Cox, which are branded in industry circles as CSPs (communications service providers). This private network access is typically offered to consumers in tri-partite package form along with cable tv and telephone service, a practice that is referred to as bundling. However, it is acknowledged that CSPs don’t always provide broadband service to all parts of the community.  This is where municipal networks come in.

Municipal (muni) networks (also referred to as community networks) are those that are built out and run by and within the bounds of a city or region. This includes the deployment of Wi-Fi or fiber technologies that are managed in a number of different ways, but always with some involvement from municipal government. And the services from municipal networks can range from connecting public institutions to commercial services to households, like in the case of Bristol, Va., which offers residential broadband speed of up to 1Gbps.

We gauge a broadband network’s quality in terms of the successful, speedy delivery of information “packets” (email, streaming video, etc.), and the amount of traffic it can handle. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the official definition of high speed internet service is 4 Mbps or more. While this has reigned as the government’s definition for high speed broadband for some time, it might not cut it these days with new demands on networks like streaming video and other applications that use a lot of bandwidth. The FCC has considered updating that definition to acknowledge changes in the way we use the internet.

Muni broadband projects are undertaken by cities for a number of reasons, most of which are related to one of internet’s three As: availability, affordability, and adoption. These three words encompass most of the social equity discussions related to internet. In some cases, cities attempt to bolster their economies with the provision of high-speed service that will attract new businesses. The City of Santa Monica, Calif. built a fiber network which has lowered costs for telecommunications. In addition to the economic benefits of retaining existing and attracting new businesses, their network allows for greater engagement with the community through online services and information.

In other cases, cities build out muni networks because they want reliable, affordable internet access for their residents (some Americans still don’t have it). The Town of Mansfield, Conn. provides free wireless Internet access in public school buildings as well as in most of the indoor and outdoor areas of the Mansfield Public Library, Community Center, Senior Center and Town Hall. This allows those who cannot afford access at home an opportunity to get online.

While some muni networks are managed solely by municipal government, similarly to public utilities, others are funded and managed via public-private partnerships. For instance, Lit San Leandro is a public-private partnership between the City of San Leandro and San Leandro Dark Fiber LLC. Lit San Leandro owns and operates the switch and routing facilities that provides high-speed Internet service and as a result is bringing tech start-ups and entrepreneurs to the community. This allows entrepreneurs to advertise and sell their products and services online and compete with much larger businesses on a level playing field.

Muni broadband networks have the potential to empower citizens by increasing civic participation, facilitating learning, and strengthening neighborhood businesses. They help to foster stronger economies while underscoring the notions of democracy that we all hold dear. And most importantly, muni networks, with all of their different governance models (public, public-private), can work in all cities, as their flexibility allows communities to determine what it is that they want and need for their futures.

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.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Certify: An Interview with Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle, Wash.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities

Seattle-Skyline

Recently, STAR Communities announced that Seattle was awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability. The city recorded the highest score to date, and is only the second in the nation to achieve the 5-STAR rating for its participation in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), which evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

This blog post features Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reflecting on the Emerald City’s experiences with STAR — achievements that he is especially proud of and areas that the city has targeted for future investment as a result of the assessment’s findings.

How has the STAR Community Rating System enriched Seattle’s already impressive sustainability work?

The STAR Community Rating System daylighted programs delivering sustainability benefits across several different goal areas. Understanding where our investments are leveraging sustainability impact helps inform budgeting and prioritization and that is incredibly important when a city is planning investments for the future. It allows us to reliably direct resources in a manner that will continue to benefit Seattle residents and businesses well into the future.

How will STAR help you promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents, now and for future generations?

The roadmap that STAR provides to a healthy, prosperous and safe community helps us create a shared vision — with the community — of what we want Seattle to be and the best ways to get there. STAR is a great tool for fostering community engagement around Seattle’s sustainability work.

What are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected in the STAR certification?

Seattle has a goal of becoming carbon neutral — it was reassuring to receive maximum credit for our climate adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation work. It showed us that we are on the right path. We also received a high number of points for our leading edge energy efficiency programs and the Green Seattle Partnership – a unique public-private partnership working to restore and maintain Seattle’s forested parkland.

How has the STAR Community Rating System improved transparency in Seattle and helped you better message your sustainability work to constituents?

The very thorough processes of collecting, analyzing and reporting all of the data required for the assessment was big leap forward in terms of Seattle’s commitment to transparency. It’s hard to be transparent if you don’t have a clear means of communicating your work. STAR provides that clarity. I’m not interested in talking about generalities when it comes to Seattle’s sustainability work, and neither are our residents. We’re interested in specifics and that’s what we got with the STAR Community Rating System.

STAR Certification helped you identify some areas requiring additional work. How do you plan on addressing those gaps going forward?

The STAR equity measures showed we have some work to do in the area of Environmental Justice. To address that gap, we recently launched an Equity & Environment Initiative to explore who is and isn’t benefiting from Seattle’s environmental progress and how we can advance equity and provide opportunities for everyone to participate in Seattle’s environmental movement. STAR will be a great tool to help us track the outcomes and accomplishments of this initiative.

For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR is so much more than a recognition program. It is worth it to invest the time needed for a robust assessment. It’s a valuable tool that can help your city make great strides in sustainability outcomes.

Mayor-Ed-MurrayAbout the Mayor: Ed Murray has been Mayor of Seattle since January 2014. He served in the Washington State Senate from 2007-2013, and before that for 11 years in the Washington State House of Representatives.

 

H-Varnadore-BAbout the Author: As Executive Director of STAR Communities, Hilari is focused on advancing a national framework and rating system for sustainable communities. Previously, she served as Frederick County, Maryland’s first Sustainability Director in the Office of the County Manager and was a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Climate Impacts on Water: Going to Extremes

Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks, and exasperating existing ones.

Flooding-Fl-USAGetty Images

Extreme weather events, extreme drought and extreme flooding are among the impacts that climate chance is and will have on water quality and availability in cities.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Report, 30 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing “moderate” to “exceptional” drought, with 82 percent of California experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. At the same time, cities up and down the east coast recently experienced higher tides than normal, known as “king tides,” due the alignment of the Earth, moon and sun.

While king tides are predictable events that are unrelated to climate change, the Washington Post described last week’s high water levels as a “preview [of the] the increasing threat of sea level rise” and called sea level rise an “X-Factor” that could exasperate the impacts of tidal flooding.

Earlier this year, the National Climate Assessment found that very heavy precipitation events have increased nationally, droughts have intensified, and flooding has increased in many parts of the U.S. The upcoming NLC Congress of Cities will dive into these topics through a two-part workshop for communities facing “too much water” and those facing “too little water.”

Too Much Water

Sea Level Rise

Approximately one third of the U.S. population—more than 100 million people—live in coastal communities that are threatened by rising sea levels and higher storm surges.

Perhaps no group has been more vocal about drawing attention to the impacts of sea level rise on their community than local leaders in southeast Florida. In 2009, the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to jointly reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change, particularly sea level rise.

Cindy Lerner, Mayor of Pinecrest, Florida will speak about the impacts of sea level rise on southeastern Florida and how local officials in the area are taking action to protect infrastructure, property and lives and raise awareness among citizens and the state government.

Heavy Downpours and Increased Flooding

With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff. The Dubuque Bee Branch Watershed, where over 50 percent of residents live and work, is one of the areas hardest hit by flash flooding.

Roy Buol, Mayor of Dubuque will highlight the city’s efforts reduce stormwater and flooding, including the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project, which will reduce and slow the volume of stormwater through the watershed, provide a safe place for overflows, protect the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and expand upon and connect national and regional trail systems. Green infrastructure techniques, such as Dubuque’s green alley program, are becoming increasingly popular for communities as a means of managing and capturing stormwater and can also have added community and economic benefits.

Too Little Water

Hotter and drier are the themes for regions such as the Southwest and Great Plains, fostering increased wildfires and water scarcity. Extreme droughts are likely, as warmer temperatures result in melting and decreased snowpacks and depletion of groundwater and aquifers. Add in western water laws, and there is a recipe for real conflict over water resources. You’ll hear from Willits, California City Manager Adrienne Moore and Wichita Falls City Manager Darren Leiker on their cities’ efforts to conserve and reuse water and to adapt for the long-term reality in which water is a scarce commodity.

Colorado is a state of extremes. Karen Weitkunat, Mayor of Fort Collins will share the impact that the devastating 2012 High Park Fire had on water quality and how it served as a precursor for the extreme flooding that occurred the following year. She’ll share lessons learned from the two events and how communities are building back stronger, safer and more resilient.

Preparing Our Communities

Whether they are facing too little or too much water, communities cannot rely on past data to predict future needs. Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks for water quality and availability, and exasperating existing ones. Join NLC in Austin to dive deeper into these topics. Learn from experts about the impacts of climate change and how you can prepare and adapt to build a resilient community.

Carolyn BerndtAbout the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

How: (Cities) + (Science) = Resilient Communities

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners.

Testing-Water-BlogTesting water level levels with a measuring pole.

If pushed to their intellectual limits, most people will be able to name one great living scientist. At the top of any list is either Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist) or Jane Goodall (anthropologist). Beyond these two, the next most famous scientist is either director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) or Sheldon Cooper, the fictional physicist on the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory. For those of a certain age, Bill Nye the Science Guy rounds out the top five.

Stephen Hawking of course is the great mind behind A Brief History of Time and other cosmic works that broke all sorts of New York Times best seller records. Alas, it is also true that hundreds of thousands of folks may have purchased his books but only small fractions have actually read them. On the other hand, in any given week, the antics of Dr. Sheldon Cooper are watched by anywhere between 15 and 20 million viewers.

The point is not to disparage our general lack of knowledge about scientists and scientific breakthroughs. Rather it is to highlight how little credibility is paid to good science produced by working scientists who are solving problems of disease, starvation, environmental degradation and species collapse in universities, labs and garages all over America.

Scientists deal in facts, data, observations, experiments, testing and retesting, and vigorous analysis. In big ways and small, scientists are pushing the limits of human understanding and working to solve problems that face the Earth’s population each day. They are the friend and ally of anyone seeking to make life better in communities around the world, and in the present era they are armed with the most sophisticated tools ever invented for measurement and evaluation.

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners. They bring a methodical approach to local priorities and work to define research questions, collect and analyze data, and apply results to make local-level predictions.

Working through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international coalition of more than 61,000 scientists, a project called the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) is advancing human and environmental resilience. The project brings scientists together with community leaders to provide participatory scientific methods and research to local challenges. In short, TEX helps a community imagine and launch innovative projects that leverage Earth and space science for the public good.

Examples of such collaboratives already exist. Five diverse Denver neighborhoods are in the midst of a TEX project to investigate environmental factors that influence health and wellbeing in their communities. Operating under the umbrella of Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart (TNH2H), the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Northwest Aurora and Stapleton are the target research zones. These areas are bounded by two major interstate highways, transected by three of the metro areas’ busiest thoroughfares, and are near shuttered military installations with defense industry-related dump and waste sites. The research is exploring issues of geohazards, water and soil quality and climate change.

On the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Native American and non-Native scientists are working to identify aquifer water quality within the local watershed in order to understand the cause of an extremely high rate of cancer (600% higher than the U.S. average) in Pine Ridge residents. A team working for almost 4 years in close harmony with the Tribal Council and a local cancer survivor group collected samples and ran tests on different water filter models to determine which tool might serve the community best.

Cities with a capacity and willingness to make use of geoscience information in planning or operations are ideal candidates for a TEX project. Community leaders can reach out to AGU staff directly to engage with the Thriving Earth Exchange Program. The program director is Raj Pandya, rpandya@agu.org, 1-303-999-7112.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Federal Agency Notice-And-Comment: Supreme Court to Decide When It’s Required

State and local governments often regulate in the same space as federal agencies and are often regulated by federal agencies.

SC-BlogGetty images

Regulations and rules.  What is the difference?  Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) regulations interpret statutes and federal agencies adopt them only after notice-and-comment.  Rules interpret regulations and are promulgated without-notice and-comment.  But what if an agency changes a rule;   should it first seek notice and comment?  The Supreme Court will decide this issue in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues yes in its amicus brief, which agrees with the lower court that significant changes to an interpretation of a regulation amounts to effectively changing the regulation, which requires notice-and-comment.  Local governments frequently have been surprised by interpretive rules that have changed regulations.  NLC joined the SLLC’s brief.

In 2006 the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter stating that mortgage loan officers who work more than 40 hours a week were exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In 2010 DOL withdrew the opinion letter in an “Administrator’s Interpretation” that reached the opposite conclusion.  Since 1997 the D.C. Circuit’s rule has been that if an interpretive rule is definitive and an agency makes a significant change to it, the agency must first conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking.

State and local governments often regulate in the same space as federal agencies and are often regulated by federal agencies.  The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that requiring notice-and-comment for significant changes to interpretations of regulations will maintain the balance between agency discretion and reliance interests the APA was designed to protect.  It also argues that allowing state and local governments to weigh in on problematic interpretations is far more efficient than state and local governments challenging them through litigation.  And allowing greater state and local participation in the process will avoid or at least limit the risk to federalism posed by ever-expanding agency authority.

The SLLC’s brief discusses a number of examples where federal agencies have changed positions in interpretive rules.  In 1993, DOL issued a series of opinion letters concluding that career firefighters who volunteered their services to private organizations had to be paid extra by whatever public entity employed them.  DOL then changed its mind in 2001.  And in a 2011 guidance letter the Environmental Protection Agency disallowed wastewater discharge “mixing zones,” while regulations previously allowed them.  This guidance letter was successfully challenged in the Eighth Circuit in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA.

SLLC’s brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers AssociationGovernment Finance Officers Association, National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

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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.

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 MomsRising, 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 buses 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.

CFC-Panel-Blog

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

Better Able Less Able-02

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.

Chart 2 2006 base year-02

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.

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.

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.

Ed-Table-Blog

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.