Mayors’ Education Advisors Focus on Equity and Student Success

Amid the first hot days of summer, and in the recent aftermath of social and economic unrest that roiled Baltimore and the nation, NLC’s annual Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network’s (EPAN) meeting took place in Baltimore earlier this month.

Baltimore_blogThe city of Baltimore played host to NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN) meeting. Photo: Getty Images/sborisov

Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, delivered opening remarks and reiterated her commitment to improving schools throughout the city and expanding afterschool programming by investing funding in schools that serve predominantly low-income students as well as renovating aging facilities. Her remarks reinforced what many in the room see every day: mayors are a force for positive change in public schools across America.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s commitment to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all young people in her city gave purpose to the theme of this year’s EPAN meeting: equity and educational excellence – creating an agenda for student success. Indeed, in light of national discussions on education reform and the Obama administration’s renewed focus on equity and education, not to mention recent events that have highlighted racial and class tensions in urban America, this was a relevant theme not just for the host city but for everyone in the room.

EPAN is a national network to support mayoral leadership in education and to develop and share best practices for the ways that cities, school districts, and other partners can work together to raise student achievement and improve the quality of public education. It is the only national network specifically for education advisors to large city mayors.

In several sessions, education advisors discussed the role of mayors and the role of partners in providing and improving educational opportunities for all youth. A dynamic community schools panel focused on what’s happening in Baltimore.

EPAN comm schools panel

A panel on community schools featured a local high school student, left. The panel was moderated by Marty Blank, right.

Led by Marty Blank, president of the Institute of Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, the panel featured Jonathon Rondeau, president & CEO of the Baltimore Family League, a local community school principal and a local high school student. A lively discussion took place on how community schools can address inequities and the impact they can have on children and families.

The convening ended with a compelling discussion led by Khalilah Harris, deputy director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans. Harris, alongside Leon Andrews, director of the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative at NLC and Jeanette Contreras, special advisor to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, encouraged members to be courageous when addressing issues of equity that may not be popular. Harris also encouraged cities to continually uplift youth voices and provide platforms for youth to participate in local decision-making.

NLC, with the generous support of The Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Ford Foundation and The Wallace Foundation, will continue to grow and nurture EPAN in the work they have been engaged in for the last 12 years to help children and youth in cities across the country succeed.

Miles Sandler
About the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at Sandler@nlc.org.

Children’s Savings Accounts: How Cities are Helping Families Save for College

Every family should have the opportunity to save for their children’s future, but this is simply not the reality for many low- and moderate-income families.

CGI America2From left to right: Laura Owens, ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation; Heidi Goldberg, National League of Cities, Michael Sherraden, Center for Social Development at Washington University; San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros; St. Louis Treasurer Tishuara Jones; Governor John Hickenlooper; and Andrea Levere, CFED President onstage with President Bill Clinton for the announcement of the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future at CGI America. (photo: CGI)

The National League of Cities is proud to join CFED and over a dozen other partners in launching the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future. Announced this week on stage with President Bill Clinton at the CGI America Conference in Denver, the Campaign will work to ensure that 1.4 million children have a savings account for college by 2020.

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are a proven two-generation strategy for helping children and their families move up the economic ladder. Higher education — the surest route to economic success — is within reach when conversations about college happen at an early age. In fact, evidence shows that children with a savings account in their name are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate, even if they have as little as $500 or less in that account. CSAs, particularly locally-led CSA programs, often include the following components:

  • A savings account,
  • Parent/guardian engagement in helping with deposits,
  • Incentives to save, such as cash matches, and
  • Financial education for children and their parents/guardians.

In addition to our partnership with CFED on the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, we’re launching a new project to work with cities to help them plan, develop and implement locally-led CSAs. These cities will have the opportunity to connect with each other and with experts in the field to develop their own blueprints for local action in developing or enhancing CSA programs.

As President Bill Clinton eloquently noted in his opening remarks, there are no silver bullets, but there are thousands of actions we can take that, in the aggregate, can improve the lives of children and families. Implementing a CSA program is one such action. President Clinton recognized the need to highlight successful local actions and initiatives at high-profile events such as CGI America, with the hope that other cities will take what they learn and replicate programs in a way that works for them.

And there are many communities interested in replicating CSA programs, according to a recent NLC scan of local financial inclusion efforts. Our latest report, City Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview, highlights the results of our scan and reveals that emerging financial inclusion strategies, such as CSAs are currently under discussion or in development in cities across the country.

There are several cities already actively engaged in this work, some of whom, such as San Francisco and St. Louis, have signed on as partners to the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

In 2010, San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros started Kindergarten to College (K2C), the first publicly funded, universal children’s college savings account program in the U.S. K2C provides a college savings account with a $50 deposit for every child entering public kindergarten in the city. In St. Louis, Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ office is launching the St. Louis College Kids program this fall. Based on San Francisco’s model, every public and charter school kindergartner in St. Louis will receive a savings account with an initial $50 deposit from the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office to help families save for their children’s education.

Heidi-Headshot
About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

An Interview with NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony on Race, Equity & Leadership

Clarence AnthonyNational League of Cities CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony, seen here speaking at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March. (Jason Dixson)

The tragedies that have occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and other communities throughout America have rightly sparked conversation about the social, cultural, racial and economic factors that affect the everyday lives of city residents – particularly minorities, at-risk youth, and the poor. What can cities do to promote equality and economic opportunity for people of all races, ethnicities, ages and economic backgrounds?

When tragedies like this occur, it not only erodes the relationship between the police and the community, it highlights the fact that there is a growing economic disparity that city leaders in America must recognize and address. High unemployment rates and low graduation rates among citizens in cities, towns and villages shows that certain neighborhoods have prospered while others have not. It’s important that city leaders understand that you have to engage with, and design initiatives for, all constituents in every neighborhood.

For example, city leaders must focus on creating vibrant downtowns while developing inclusive and affordable housing in neighborhoods. This type of approach to public policy will create more engaging cities where citizens can live, work and raise their families within the community that they call home. One way we can accomplish this is to create incentives so that the private sector will hire from within the community. When city leaders promote this type of growth, cities benefit and residents become vested in their community.

Cities should also examine the appointment process for city advisory boards and councils. For example, a planning and zoning commission that doesn’t reflect the ethnic, racial or gender diversity of the city is not truly representative of that city. From parks and recreation departments and advisory councils to tourist development councils and workforce boards, every policy board that advises the elected leadership should represent the diversity of that city. It can be done, but you’ve got to be very strategic and intentional, and have a real commitment to making sure that every segment of the population is represented.

These are just a few of the concrete steps that cities can take to ensure that their communities are equally represented in government. If a community is under-represented, and its needs are not served, then its residents will not be vested in the city as a whole. They won’t feel like the city is their home. And then you’ll see the tragic events that have happened in countless cities across the nation continue to occur. All of these cities have people who feel that they are not part of a community; that they are not “real” citizens with a voice in government. And they will find other ways to make their voices heard.

So there can’t be a disconnect between municipal authority and the people it represents.

You have to have that connection. You have to include them in the governance process, in the community process. I was just at a conference in Philly – Cities United – and it had a panel of young African American men, and their message was “Don’t talk at us; talk to us, and with us.” Many of them were in their mid-twenties, and public policy and programs are being designed for them – but without their input. That has to change. You have to include them in the development of the community in which they live.

The root causes of the recent tragedies are complex and nuanced. Two distinct events consistently stand out, however: the death of a young black male as a result of an interaction with police, and the violent public response that subsequently occurred. What steps can city leaders and local elected officials take to address the potential for these tragedies to occur in their cities?

There has to be an acknowledgement that there are still challenges in communities throughout America when it comes to race relations – specifically, race relations with police departments. Something must occur to strengthen trust between the minority community and police in cities throughout America. At this point, unfortunately, we are starting to see police being targeted in reprisal; community trust continues to erode. We must start a conversation of understanding and partnership – and that conversation must be led by city leaders. The elected officials who are members of the National League of Cities are exactly that type of group; they’re city leaders who strive to create a bridge between police and communities, so that real conversations can occur.

In addition, I think city leaders should start to re-examine – and implement, wherever possible – community policing policies that provide for a real understanding of the communities they serve; there must be understanding to have a relationship with the community. Once you have that relationship, you’ll be able to engage. So city leaders must be able to look at how they’re investing their resources and what kind of progress is being made throughout the community as a whole. When city leaders acknowledge that they have diversity in the community, and they create opportunities to bring people throughout the community together, that creates relationships and real conversations.

This is happening in some communities, but we need it to happen everywhere. The questions involving black males in America focus on more than just police relations – they take into consideration the high unemployment rate, the low high school graduation rate, and the level of poverty that exists in cities throughout America, among other factors. The takeaway is this: city leaders have to focus on improving engagement and relations in their communities. We have to look at how we provide creative and innovative techniques to reach the African American community so that we can achieve our goal of making true connections that are lasting and productive. It will take hard work and partnerships with our educational system and the private sector – and on the law enforcement side, those same partnerships need to develop, focusing on education and training on how to value diversity and how to communicate across cultures.

The change we need will not occur overnight; it will take patience and time to build the trust that our cities deserve. We need to spur conversation, in an effort to reach a certain level of trust and understanding between police and communities. The National League of Cities is quickly becoming a nexus of conversation about race, equity and leadership in American cities. That conversation is long overdue.

Do you see the Cities United event in Philadelphia as one of the forums for that conversation?

Yes. I think Cities United is not only a forum for that conversation, but an excellent tool to help elected officials get the technical expertise they need to deal with the larger issues involved. For example, Cities United provides consultants that help city leaders respond to the challenges faced by American cities that we’ve discussed today.

How does the National League of Cities’ lead that conversation?

Our REAL initiative is a very important tool and resource for city leaders. It’s designed to help them address racial tensions in their communities and create meaningful conversations around racial diversity and equity issues. REAL stands for Race, Equity And Leadership – and the piece that we really have to elevate is the piece on leadership, because our members are the ones who are responsible for governance in American cities.

Earlier, you posed the question, “What should city leaders do if something like this happens?” The challenges we’ve spoken about today are especially difficult challenges for any city leader to face, and it’s the responsibility of the National League of Cities to develop best practices around these issues, give city leaders the space to discuss the challenges they face with a network of peers, and then provide them with the tools they need to manage the situation if something like what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson occurs in their community.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that this will be the last time that tragedies like these will occur. But the reality is that, until a systematic strategy is in place to bring about full economic participation as well as improved relations between police and the communities they serve, these tragedies could happen in any city in America. City leaders are standing up and saying, “we need to fix these issues before something like this occurs in our community.” That’s a conversation that needs to be had. We’re going to start seeing city leaders begin to deal with the injustices, the inequality, and the creation of opportunities for all of their citizens.

And that’s what we have to do: we have to build a city in which everyone is a participant, where all citizens feel like they can raise their kids, and live and work and play in a safe and vibrant environment. You don’t call a place home when you don’t have a system of governance that supports you. Right now, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges American cities face. But if we can rise to that challenge, I think we’ll have more people out on the streets saying “Hey, this is our neighborhood; we own this.” We have to create cities that all citizens can call home.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Associate Editor at the National League of Cities.

Policing Will Change

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Firefighters work to extinguish street fires in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., August 1965. The historic Watts riots occurred after neighborhood residents watched two white officers scuffling in apprehending a suspected black drunk driver. (image courtesy atlantablackstar.com)

Author’s note: After the grim and disheartening days in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and other cities across the nation, there is hope. There are cities that once faced the same climate we are seeing in Baltimore today that are now making strides and developing programs that are saving lives and transforming the relationships between the police and those they police – a move from a volatile combination of resentment and violence to one of authentic collaboration and caring. Watts serves as a shining example.

“It’s not been a change – it’s a transformation. I grew up in Watts. I got jumped into a gang when I was 13 – only way I could get to school safely. Otherwise, I got beat up every day. We hated the cops. Man, nobody talked to the cops. Nobody trusted the cops; if you talked to the cops, you could get hurt. Sold drugs… did time in prison… and now? Well, just let me say it this way: I’ve never seen moms and grandmothers sitting on their front steps waving to cops. They do now, in Watts. I’ve never seen kids running up to cops to get a hug – happens all the time. And guess what? I have a say in helping hiring these cops!”

So spoke Michael Cummings, Executive Director of We Care Outreach Ministries at a breakout session I ran for the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 28th. Michael, who also co-facilitates the Children’s Institute Project Fatherhood, and who helped organize the Safe Passage Haven program for Jordan High School, plays a key role in the Advancement Project’s remarkable report “Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts.” Things haven’t changed in the three target housing projects – Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts – they’ve been transformed. Cummings reports a dramatic drop in homicides – in some areas zero homicide, zero – in this, one of the most violent pieces of real estate in the nation.

“The cops stay with us for five years, and they get two stripes. They don’t get the stripes if they don’t stay. Yes, they arrest. But they are really part of us in the community. They help coach the Watts Bears. They take the kids to the Clippers’ and Dodgers’ games. They’re on the ground. They’ve even helped with providing food in emergencies, and helping kids get jobs.

The Advancement Project’s relationship-based policing, called “the Community Safety Partnership” (CSP), “imagines a new way of operating for the police where their legitimacy in the community is built on procedural justice, authentic relationships with community members, and sustained commitment to improve the health and well-being of the community, not just a focus on crime statistics.” CSP has targeted Watts’ highest crime areas, areas “plagued” by other issues: poor school retention, unemployment, few usable green spaces, limited access to healthy foods, and chronic mistrust. (See Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Program, Community Safety Partnership and Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts).

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck established CSP in partnership with former Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) CEO Rudy Montreal and the Advancement Project. CSP vision stresses both “safety” and “peace” along with “long-term community development” and “a healthy quality of life.” It would do this through a combination of support programs and “the presence and sustainable relationships between LAPD officers, residents and other community leaders.” Safety and relationships with law enforcement are conjoined with community capacity development.

To ensure sustainability, and to avoid being viewed as just another program or short-term initiative, CSP planners, who intended that CSP be seen not as “an isolated tactic of a few officers, but an established practice endorsed by the highest ranks of LAPD,” carefully screened and selected 35 officers out of 400 applicants. CSP officers received promotions, were rigorously trained with 25 community stakeholders, and, in order to forge lasting relationships in a notoriously mistrusting community, pledged a five-year commitment. Promotions and raises (“incentive structures”) are not solely based on traditional enforcement measures such as an increase in arrests, but on other measures such as diversion of youthful offenders and helping students travel safely to school. “These new cops had to get to know the community,” said Cummings. “We showed them around. We had lunch with community leaders. Took them to schools and had them meet with the principals and teachers. Yeah, they have to help us keep the crime down – but, now that they know us, they’re worried about us, how we’re doing, helping kids have a good future.”

(image courtesy advancementprojectca.org)

(image courtesy advancementprojectca.org)

The Advancement Project’s 2012 report, “A Call to Action: Los Angeles’ Quest Toward Community Safety,” concludes that CSP has been instrumental in:

  • Reducing violent crime by more than 50% in three Watts housing developments
  • Notable decreases in gang membership and activity
  • Plummeting homicide rates

CSP is seen as the first step in a $1 billion effort to redevelop the housing developments via mixed-income homes, stores and parks, support of construction jobs, and newly-created small businesses.

The overly-militarized “warrior” culture of policing will change. Officers, with the community, will eventually be seen as co-producers of safety. If found guilty, officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston and other cities must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Race-biased, culturally insensitive policing must end. But the most good that can emerge from the events claiming headlines daily is not just a change in the ethos of policing in America, but that the public will see and act upon the real issues, now glaringly evident – seethingly evident – in cities across the nation: issues of unemployment, poor schools, families with no fathers, absence of jobs paying livable wages, chronic exposure to violence, the obscene availability of guns, sub-standard housing, and hopelessness.

These should be the lessons we all learn from the grim events in Baltimore – and from the hope in Watts.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Investing in Early Childhood Education through the Shared Services Model

Many early childhood care and education centers are small organizations, often with just one person managing both the educational direction of the center and the day-to-day business operations. These dedicated individuals are also frequently being asked to do sophisticated work with curriculum development and evaluation, often on a shoestring budget.

Shared Services_blog(Creatas)

NLC staff recently attended a convening in Battle Creek, Mich., for organizations working to strengthen local early education systems, specifically through alignment of early childhood education systems. The convening was a great opportunity to share NLC’s alignment work, make deeper connections with partner organizations and take advantage of the collective knowledge and wisdom in the room. All attendees were grantees of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

An interesting model profiled at the event was the shared services model. Shared services models in the early childhood field are a way for early care and education (ECE) providers to share some of the business functions of an ECE operation.

As I learned from Opportunities Exchange, an organization working to support shared services alliances, these models can take many forms, but have the following traits in common.

  • Reduced or shared costs and time through joint purchasing, staff sharing, centralized administration or some combination of these;
  • Shared program and/or administrative capacity-building through the use of common tools and systems, shared mentoring and supervision and collaborative improvement processes; and
  • Reinvestment of cost and time savings into enhanced program quality.
Preschool classroom - Copy

Preschool classroom. (federicofoto)

ECE providers can use the savings they gain from adopting a shared services model to invest in high-quality care and education — whether that means increasing their capacity to serve more children or improving the quality of their existing program. Additionally, a shared services model can build learning communities across partner organizations.

Opportunities Exchange has identified eight areas of service sharing for ECE programs: Research and development, classroom supports, administrative services, comprehensive services (family supports), fundraising, staff recruitment and screening, bulk purchasing of services and good and human resources.

An example of a shared services alliance is the Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Chambliss Center operates a child development center for 300 children and provides management services for 13 community-based ECE programs. Each site maintains their independence with individual nonprofit status, a board of directors and a separate banking account. The sites have the same benefits, employment policies and curriculum. Directors are shared among the sites and training is often done collectively with staff from all sites.

In addition to this type of fee-for-service model, several providers can come together to create a cooperative to provide management services to its members, or an intermediary organization can provide the services on behalf of its members.

A question I kept coming back to was: is there a role for city governments to play in a shared services alliance? As cities work to align early educational systems and improve the quality of ECE, this model could provide an opportunity for cities to work more closely with community providers to achieve the shared goal of high-quality early care and education for all children.

Cities could promote this type of model through their economic development offices by working directly with ECE providers to set up an alliance, and provide expertise and technical assistance or possibly seed money to launch the alliance.

Could cities perhaps go even further and take on a primary role in an ECE alliance? A city could, for example, enter into an agreement with providers to make bulk purchases or serve as host to a training program for teachers from multiple ECE providers within the community. There are many creative ways cities can play a role in easing the administrative and cost burden to community providers in order to improve the quality of education and care for young children.

Katie Whitehouse


About the Author:
Katie Whitehouse is the Senior Associate for Early Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Katie on Twitter at @KatieLianeTX.

How Libraries Are Creating Community Connections by Serving Summer Meals

This is a guest post by Patrice Chamberlain, director of the California Summer Meal Coalition

Summer is right around the corner, yet in many low-income communities, this time of year can leave children with limited access to learning opportunities, few safe places to gather and without access to the free or reduced-price meals they received through their school lunch and breakfast programs.

In California and across the nation, a growing number of public libraries are teaming up with city agencies, schools and community-based organizations to ensure that low-income youth stay healthy and engaged when school is out by serving summer meals alongside library summer reading and enrichment programs.

Why Public Libraries? kids eating at library - blog
Libraries are community hubs: trusted, safe spaces that provide an engaging, welcoming environment for community members of all ages. Library summer reading and enrichment programs keep kids engaged and combat summer learning loss. In addition, access to computers and the Internet are a crucial resource for families with limited access to technology at home. Interaction with library staff and opportunities for social engagement can also be invaluable to families. Librarians can help guide reading choices, serve as positive role models and connect families to community resources.

Recognizing the need in their communities, libraries across the nation are stepping up to address the summer nutrition gap. In California, the number of libraries serving summer meals has increased dramatically, from fewer than 15 library branches in 2012 to more than 90 this summer. In 2014, nearly 65 libraries served more than 88,000 summer lunches to kids in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Libraries As “Community Connectors”
Children aren’t the only ones that benefit from library meal programs. Libraries benefit, too. Among participating libraries in California in 2014, library staff reported an increase in library card issuance, participation in summer reading programs and new families visiting the library. Library meal programs also provide valuable volunteer experiences for youth, helping them develop workforce readiness skills and opportunities to engage with the community. USDA summer meal programs are enhancing libraries’ community-building efforts and are helping to create connected and vibrant cities. Here are some examples from communities across the country:

  • At California’s Riverside Public Library, meals were provided by Riverside Unified School District, and the city public works department provided weekly conservation programming for kids participating in the lunch program.
  • At Massachusetts’ Peabody Institute Library, volunteers from the sheriff’s department, local churches and the Rotary Club managed activities with kids. Funds from the local Workforce Investment Board paid for youth to manage the lunch service.
  • In New York State, some libraries are expanding their involvement in out-of-school time nutrition programs by offering afterschool snacks and dinner alongside their afterschool enrichment programs during the school year.

There are several ways that city leaders can work with the public libraries in their communities to organize summer meal programs, ranging from the immediate to longer-term opportunities:

  • Convene city and school leaders to create a citywide dialogue about promoting summer meals and literacy. This dialogue should include an assessment of summer learning programs and summer meal sites to identify gaps in neighborhood coverage or opportunities for collaboration with local libraries. In addition, many libraries participating in local Campaign for Grade Level Reading efforts can help connect summer meal providers to their networks. Or consider creative school collaborations like Washington State’s Federal Way Public Schools’ F.R.E.D. mobile lunch and literacy bus.
  • Provide support for enrichment activities. Adding incentives and activities can help increase participation at summer meal sites. Bringing the library bookmobile to a meal site, for example, can pique children’s interest in reading while they eat a healthy meal. Similarly, facilitating relationships with other agencies — such as police and fire departments — that may be able to support library meal programs with activities or serve as guest readers can be mutually beneficial and stimulate greater interagency collaboration.
  • Encourage libraries to become summer meal sites for 2016. For many municipal libraries, budgets have been set and plans have been made for this summer. Yet starting the dialogue now will facilitate effective planning this fall or for summer 2016. Now is the time to set the vision for a connected city and identify how a library summer meal program can be a driving force behind it.

Additional resources for libraries are available at LunchAtTheLibrary.org.

P_ChamberlainHeadshotAbout the Author: Patrice Chamberlain is the director of the California Summer Meal Coalition, a program of the Institute for Local Government. The Institute for Local Government is the education and research affiliate of the California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities and the California Special Districts Association. Follow the California Summer Meal Coalition at @CA_SummerMeals.

Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative: Improving Education Across the Pipeline

This is a guest post by Greg Fischer, mayor, Louisville, Ky. The post originally appeared on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog. More on Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative can be found on the city’s website

Mayor Greg FischerMayor Greg Fischer hosted Louisville’s community conversation.

As Mayor of Louisville, I’ve learned that city government plays a major role in making sure that all of our city’s young people have a chance to succeed. That is why I launched the Cradle to Career Initiative that recognizes that whether you are a baby in a crib or an adult getting a new certification, you must constantly be learning if you are to succeed. Cradle to Career has four pillars: Early Childhood, K-12, 55K, Louisville’s postsecondary completion goal, and 21st Century Workforce.

Our friends at the Metro United Way convene the Kindergarten Readiness Pillar, in which more than 40 individuals and organizations meet regularly to discuss strategies to make sure our children are ready for kindergarten. In the past few years, we have increased kindergarten readiness from 35 percent to 51 percent, and we are committed to attaining our goal of 77 percent by 2020.

Although Louisville has incredibly exciting momentum, there are some challenges that remain. Too many kids – almost 50 percent in Louisville – arrive for their first day of kindergarten already behind. But, over and over again I hear the same thing: the number one way we can dramatically improve our youngest citizens’ life potential is with quality early childhood education.

You want to create more high tech jobs of the future and fill those jobs?  Get more kids into early childhood programs.

You want to lower our crime rate and keep Louisville a safe place for our families and businesses?  Make sure those early childhood programs are quality programs.

You want fewer kids dropping out and more enrolling and completing a postsecondary degree?  Give parents the tools they need to help their kids on Day One.

To continue dialogue around early childhood development and kindergarten readiness in Louisville, local leaders, educators, parents and community members were invited to participate in one of 15 community conversations hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National League of Cities. These conversations included early childhood education, afterschool learning and postsecondary success, and explored ways that cities are working to close the achievement gap and increase student outcomes. Louisville’s community conversation was the last one in this series of events held over the last year.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provides closing remarks at Louisville's community conversation.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provided closing remarks at Louisville’s community conversation.

Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Tonja Rucker from the National League of Cities, and the Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education all participated in this important community dialogue.

We were also thrilled to have U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan join us to provide closing remarks on the importance of partnership between the federal government and local communities in improving educational opportunities and outcomes across the pipeline, from Pre-K to college.

This community conversation was a terrific stimulus for the work we have been doing around kindergarten readiness and has re-energized us with fresh ideas on how to continue tackling early childhood education and development challenges for our youngest citizens and their families. I am grateful the U.S. Department of Education chose Louisville to have this important conversation, and excited for the work to come.

mayor-fischer-header-image
About the Author:
 Greg Fischer was elected Louisville Ky.’s 50th mayor in 2010, and was sworn in for a second term in January 2015. Follow Mayor Fischer on Twitter at @LouisvilleMayor.

Remarkable New Policy Allows City Employees in Louisville to Mentor — and Pays Them

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Louisville, Ky. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, the city of Louisville, Ky., has created a new program which allows employees the opportunity to take two hours of paid time a week to work with at-risk youth. (Getty Images)

“When I ask businesses and others to step up to mentor, they ask, ‘What are you guys doing?’ And I say, ‘Here’s our Mentors Program. Mentoring is an act of citizenship; at the end of the day, we’re put on the earth to make the world a better place… being an American is not a spectator sport.’”

– Mayor Greg Fischer, City of Louisville

When speaking about his groundbreaking new mentorship program, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did not limit his rallying cry to moral exhortation and sound bites. He set a goal: to sign up 10 percent of the city’s workforce – 600 individuals – as mentors. And he anchored his exhortation in city policy.

Louisville’s Metro Government Personnel Policies, states, in section 1.21 (1), “The future of Louisville rests in the hearts and minds of our young people – we must do all we can to plant the seeds of future growth and success in our young people. The purpose of this policy is to allow all Louisville Metro employees to act as mentors for area youth.” The policy continues: “Metro employees qualifying to participate in the program will be allowed up to two hours per week, to be used during their regular work shift, in order to volunteer at one of the program’s partner organizations with the purpose of mentoring at-risk youth in our community and shall commit to participate for a minimum of one year. This time will be paid.”

“We talk the talk, but now’s the time to walk the walk,” asserts Sadiqa Reynolds Chief for Community Building, top aide to Mayor Fischer. “Ours are public employees, and we see this as part of their public service commitment.”

Anthony Smith, who directs the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods for the City, has woven mentoring into “One Love Louisville,” the City’s comprehensive violence prevention/community building plan. He views mentoring as an essential crime prevention tool: “We have a lot of kids who might be involved in the criminal justice system. They need positive adults in their lives right now. And there are kids in the third grade who can’t read. They’re in danger of dropping out and getting into trouble.”

Sytisha Claycomb, a city employee who serves as the Administrative Director for the Youth Detention Center, points to the powerful effect of mentoring on her life. Having helped her mentee complete his GED, and now working to enroll him into a local university, she states: “I felt like a proud parent at his GED graduation this morning at the institution. All the facility workers, line staff and other kids and family attended his graduation. He thanked me from the stage. Thanked me! I can’t tell you how honored I felt.” She also underscored one of mentoring’s core purposes, namely, steadiness and reliability in otherwise chaotic, mistrusting lives. Speaking about her mentee, she noted that “He doesn’t need another person dropping in and out of his life. He needs consistency.”   The City’s program asks for a year’s commitment. Not enough for Sytisha: “I originally signed up for one year,” she stated, “but I’m committed for at least two to make sure he’s solidly on his next path.”

In addition to consistency and trust, exposure to a wider world and to trusted adults who can provide that exposure, lie at the core of a successful mentoring program. Says Smith, “The mentees need to see a better world than they see now, a wider world, the wide horizon of Louisville and beyond, because all they know is their tiny corner.” City employees can introduce them to that wider world. As Smith notes, “We’re actually talking about job shadowing now, kids coming into city hall and other places to see what people actually do.” Darryl Young, another mentor, echoes Smith’s sentiment: “We who have made it take for granted that everyone has people to look up to, people who are examples of jobs, of opportunity.”

The paid mentorship program instituted in Louisville offers city employees increased incentive to serve as positive examples for at-risk youth, and the program serves as a model of what can be accomplished by cities willing to dedicate resources to such an endeavor. The key takeaway: this model doesn’t add additional costs to city budgets. It simply allows employees to spend two hours of their work mentoring youth . Two hours makes little difference in employee productivity and a huge difference in the lives of young people. And Mayor Fischer is quick to recognize that not every city employee is prepared to mentor a youth who has been in trouble or who finds him or herself in a particularly turbulent, even violent situation. His response?  “I understand that, but come on, everyone can help a third grader read!”

Note: It’s an idea that’s taking root at the federal level. The Department of Justice recently approved two hours a week (8 hours a month) of paid administrative leave for Office of Justice Program (OJP) employees to receive training and perform academic mentoring at a DC area public school through an already approved afterschool program. Echoing Louisville’s Reynolds, Beth McGarry, OJP’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General said, “When I returned to OJP one of my goals was to ‘walk the walk’ and set up a program for our employees to mentor.”Cities throughout the nation are embarked on mentoring campaigns, especially for at risk children and youth. The Louisville and the Department of Justice examples show that the government can model what it is asking citizens to do.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Three Ways Cities Can Help Employees Build a Secure Retirement

In support of National Retirement Planning Week 2015, we asked Alex Hannah, ICMA-RC Vice President, Marketing Communications & Education, to contribute the following post on retirement planning tips and resources for public sector employees.

nrpw15-half-page-copyNational Retirement Planning Week® 2015 is a national effort to help consumers focus on their financial needs in retirement.

It’s important for public sector employees to plan and save for a comfortable retirement —whether they are just getting started in their career or have been working for their cities for some time. While many public sector employees will receive a defined benefit pension, it is unlikely to cover all retirement costs. And not all public employees will fully vest in their pension while some do not participate in Social Security.

Added savings to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 457 deferred compensation plan, and an IRA can be the difference between a financially adequate and successful retirement. Equipping public sector employees with these options and the educational resources to help them save for retirement is key.

Here are a few ways that local governments can help provide their city employees with the tools and resources to build a secure retirement:

Offer efficient ways for employees to enroll in the city’s retirement savings plan.

Many employees delay saving for different reasons, and among them is a perception that getting started can be complicated and take time. One way to combat this is to simplify the process by offering online enrollment, allowing employees to join the plan using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Research indicates that employees today, especially younger employees, will use whatever device is within reach, so making the savings plan accessible and easy to enroll across all hardware is important. As an example, an employee could use a smartphone to immediately enroll in the plan while attending an enrollment seminar or online webinar. Once enrolled, messaging is communicated across platforms that employees can use to easily increase contributions to their account. Increasing contributions by even $10 or $20 more can add up over time.

Another way to simplify the enrollment process is through a method called quick enrollment, which allows an employee to enroll in the plan by making just a few choices. The employee is defaulted into investments based on a predicted retirement age. After enrollment, additional education is provided along with direct access to their account so they can make changes and alter their account to reflect their personal goals. This strategy minimizes hurdles to enrollment and allows employee to begin saving for retirement.

Use automatic features to boost savings.

Another reason public sector employees may not begin saving for retirement is inertia; features such as automatic enrollment can address this plan challenge. Auto-enrollment is a feature in a retirement plan that allows an employer to “enroll” an eligible employee in the employer’s plan unless the employee affirmatively elects otherwise. The employee may choose not to contribute at the plan’s default percentage rate or decide to contribute a different amount. Auto-enrollment has proven effective in helping employees get started in saving for retirement.

In addition, some employers may want to consider offering an automatic escalation feature, allowing plan participants to increase contributions automatically over time. The study, “Using Automatic Escalation in Public Sector Retirement Plans to Increase Savings,” from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, provides recommendations on how governments might incorporate such policies into their defined contribution retirement plans. More research on public sector workforce trends is available on the Center’s website at www.slge.org.

Develop and support an education curriculum with the goal of improving financial literacy.

In order to make smart decisions about their finances, employees need access to the proper financial tools and resources. They may want to understand basic investment concepts such as compounding interest, diversification, and the impact of inflation as well as their risk tolerance.

Knowing the tax treatment of these plans is also important information for city employees. They could also benefit from debt management education; lower debt means employees can focus more of their efforts toward saving for retirement. These concepts, and others, can be explained in a straightforward way when meeting with a local plan representative or through multiple media platforms to accommodate employees’ learning styles, including online resources such as a mobile app, video, calculators, and webinars. The RealizeRetirement® educational resources at www.icmarc.org/realize, contains a wide array of multimedia tools city employees can use, at any stage of their career.

Founded by the public sector for the public sector more than 40 years ago, ICMA-RC’s only mission is to help public sector employees build retirement security. Put simply, we work with public sector employees to help their employees save for the future and the concepts I have outlined are some of the ways that employers can help their employees have a successful retirement.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not to be construed or relied upon as investment advice. ICMA-RC does not offer specific tax or legal advice and shall not have any liability for any consequences that arise from reliance on this material. It is recommended that you consult with your personal financial adviser prior to implementing any tax or retirement strategy. Copyright © 2015 ICMA-RC. All rights reserved. AC: 0415-7702

AlexHannah_CSAbout the Author: Alex Hannah is responsible for education and marketing communication strategies for ICMA-RC, a financial services organization focused exclusively on serving public sector employees.

 

Parks and Recreation Agencies Can Help Fill the Summer Nutrition Gap

This post was co-written by Kellie May. A version of this post appears on the National Recreation and Park Association’s blog, Open Space.

summer meals blog post(Getty Images)

In cities across the country, parks and recreation departments are often the go-to resource for quality programs and activities that help residents get active and enjoy an improved quality of life. Parks and recreation departments play a critical role in promoting health and wellness, especially among children and young people. This is particularly evident in the programs they provide to reach and engage children when they are not in school.

One of the most critical times of the year to keep children healthy is during the summer, when many children may not have access to healthy food and may not be as physically active as they are during the school year. Providing a nutritious meal to hungry kids is an important way to ensure that they are able to reach their full potential both in and out of school.

Over 21 million low-income children receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year to help them meet their daily nutrition needs – but only three million of these children are getting these meals during the summer, making the work that local parks and recreation agencies do to fill the gap during out-of-school times that much more critical.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federally funded, state administered program, enables parks and recreation departments and other entities the ability to provide free, healthy meals to children and teens in low-income communities. Parks and recreation departments often maximize their programs by pairing nutrition education with physical activities.

Serving meals at parks and recreation sites that provide physical and enrichment activities is a comprehensive approach to improving a child’s health. This approach also contributes to a community’s financial bottom line and provides a safe space for kids to play while getting a nutritious, free meal. Some of the benefits of summer meal programs include:

Kids Get Much More than a Meal
The outdoor activities and educational enrichment programs provided by parks and recreation departments can help improve a child’s physical health and contribute to his or her intellectual, emotional and social well-being.

The Saint Paul, Minn., Parks and Recreation Department provides enrichment programming at many of its meal sites. Activities such as art, cooking, science, theatre, special-themed event days, and indoor and outdoor games and sports are offered. The meals are served before and after the summer programming, and are a part of their afterschool programs during the school year.

This gives young people plenty of time to eat, socialize, and participate in a variety of activities. Parents who seek free or low-cost quality programming recognize the value of what is offered and consistently send their children to these programs. Many youth go to the sites because of the relationships they develop with the staff as well as the fun and varied programming.

The Local Economy Gets a Boost
When cities participate in federally funded meal programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and SFSP, the revenue provided by these programs can help boost the local economy. In addition, parks and recreation departments that offer afterschool programming and participate in the CACFP can move straight into serving summer meals by also participating in SFSP. This diminishes the amount of administrative paperwork required to operate both meal programs – and, if a site is providing programming through the afterschool meal program, they can easily transition to providing that same programming during the summer.

In 2014, the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Parks reached over 8,000 young people in five of their largest youth-serving programs. They have seen success in establishing a new summer program, Food, Fun and Fitness, which pairs drop-in physical and artistic activity with free meals for children under 18. This program has not only benefitted the children in the area but has resulted in a positive economic outcome for the community.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 20,000 kids under 18 live in poverty in Montgomery County. During the summer of 2014, the department of parks was able to serve 75,728 snacks and meals to these children. The county estimates that meals and snacks served through USDA meal programs like Food, Fun and Fitness have a yearly positive economic impact of over $600 per child for families that take full advantage of such opportunities.

A Safe Environment for Kids
Parks serve as public spaces for recreation and civic engagement, and can help improve quality of life in cities. When parks and recreation agencies provide summer meal programs for children, they are also providing parents with peace of mind; parents can rest assured knowing that their child is in a supervised and safe environment, often in their own neighborhood.

In Philadelphia, a city that serves nearly one million meals each summer, the Parks and Recreation Department operates “playstreets” in conjunction with their meal program. Playstreets are small, residential streets that are blocked to traffic during weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. These temporary neighborhood “parks” provide children a safe place that is close to home where they can play and enjoy a healthy meal during the summer.

To find a summer meal program site near you, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY.

Jamie Nash bio photo
About the Author:
Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact
Jamie.

Kellie May Head shot
About the Author:
Kellie May is a Senior Program Manager at the National Recreation and Park Association. To learn more about the important role of parks and recreation in helping cities provide healthy meals during out-of-school times, contact Kellie.