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.

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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.

City Leaders are Taking Up the Charge of Juvenile Justice Reform

This is the first in a series of blog posts providing ongoing updates as more cities – especially those in NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative – create new examples of successful reform.

Kid - blog(Getty Images)

As cities strive to create fair and effective responses to young people in the juvenile justice system, everyone benefits from reduced future crime and improved outcomes for young residents. We see new examples of progress toward reform emerging in four key areas:

  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities that begin at the first point of contact between the system and youth – arrest. This reduction can often be accomplished through improved police training and arrest protocols.
  • Opportunities to improve outcomes for youth accused of non-criminal offenses, such as skipping school or running away, by addressing the needs of these youth in their communities rather than sending them to detention facilities.
  • Mechanisms for sharing information and data across city agencies to support informed policymaking, align services for youth and measure success.
  • Structures that connect youth with a continuum of community-based services so that they are held accountable for their actions in ways that improve their life outcomes and reduce the risk of future criminal activity.

These opportunities have frequently been the focus of conversation among the six cities participating in the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative. At the recent Mayors’ Institute on Children and Families, hosted by the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, five mayors discussed juvenile justice reform opportunities, analyzed data demonstrating the need for reform in their cities, and took up the mantle of juvenile justice reform champions.

Finally, in case you haven’t seen it yet, NLC’s recently released municipal action guide, Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform introduced city leaders to opportunities for city-led juvenile justice reform. The guide also highlights several local examples, including innovative programs and policies in Gainesville, Fla., Minneapolis and Baltimore.

Through this blog series and other resources, NLC will continue to build on the information included in the guide throughout the year, thanks to support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.

headshot_LFurrAbout the Authors: Laura Furr is the senior associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr. Stay engaged by subscribing to the juvenile justice reform newsletter! Email Laura to start receiving it.  

Investing in the Future is Paying Off for Cities Today

Researchers, policymakers, educators and parents are increasingly recognizing the value and benefits of early childhood care and education. Even the President of the Unites States has made this issue a priority.

<> on September 20, 2012 in Woodbourne, New York.Research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. (Getty Images)

Last December, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents and business and community leaders to talk about the importance of quality early childhood education. The summit highlighted the launch of Invest in US, a new initiative created by the First Five Years Fund to help communities expand early learning programs by connecting them with philanthropic and private resources. The National League of Cities (NLC) is a partner with Invest in US in furthering these efforts.

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President Obama hosts the White House Summit on Early Education on December 10, 2014. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

A growing body of research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. Economists have documented a return of $7 or more for each dollar invested in quality early education. This has been achieved partly through a reduced need for spending on services such as remedial and special education, and partly through increased productivity and earnings in adulthood. The long-term, societal returns on investment include a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, and fewer residents living in poverty.

Mayors and local officials have a unique ground-level perspective on the impact that a high-quality early education system can have on the lives of young people, families and residents. Local officials know that in order to improve educational, economic and social outcomes for young people, these systems must begin at birth and continue through preschool and into the early grades.

Cities in Action
City leaders can and increasingly do play a lead role in ensuring more children and families have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.

Cities such as Hartford, Conn., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Seattle (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 percent of preschoolers in school by 2019.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also established the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children, which serves to consolidate all policymaking, planning, coordination and implementation on early childhood issues. This cabinet is composed of nine elected and appointed public sector leaders who advise the mayor on policy issues affecting young children and their families. The cabinet also works with the mayor to advance the city’s early childhood plan.

Several years ago, city leaders in San Antonio decided to make early childhood education a high priority. To explore options for creating a citywide Pre-K program, former Mayor Julián Castro created the “Brainpower Taskforce.” Made up of members of the business community, school superintendents and education professionals, the taskforce determined that a tax increase would be necessary in order for the city to be able to fund a high-quality Pre-K program.

In November 2012, San Antonio voters passed the Pre-K4 SA initiative, increasing the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund a full-day Pre-K program for 4-year-olds. The initiative has demonstrated progress so far – preliminary results indicate that achievement gaps for children in the program, compared to kindergarten students who did not participate, have been reduced by at least 25 percent in language, 33 percent in math and 90 percent in literacy.

Finally, as part of our Early Alignment for Young Children initiative, NLC is working with six cities to promote the healthy development and education of children from birth to age eight. The initiative focuses on three key elements of educational alignment: formal partnerships or governance structures, quality professional development opportunities for early education providers, and parent engagement and family supports. Contact us to learn more!

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Big Ideas for Small Cities: 6 Mayors Discuss How to Get Creative on a Budget

Union City, Ga., Mayor Vince Williams at the Big Ideas for Small Cities EventUnion City, Ga., Mayor Vince Williams at the Congressional City Conference Big Ideas for Small Cities event on Sunday, March 8, 2015. (Jason Dixson)

In a large city, implementing a creative idea doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between innovation and laying off a police officer. Smaller cities, on the other hand, have a significant challenge when it comes to establishing new programs – a smaller budget. This afternoon, mayors from small cities gave examples of out-of-the-box ideas that didn’t break their bank. Here are six ideas they shared with Congressional City Conference delegates:

1. Build your brand around a cultural endeavor: Mayor Jud Ashman of Gaithersburg, Maryland encourages small city leaders to define their community to the larger world through culture. The Gaithersburg Book Festival attracts prominent and celebrity authors from all over the world, not to mention scores of attendees who eat, shop, and stay in the city of Gaithersburg, which normally has a population of 64,000. He shares three tips for putting on this kind of game-changing event in your city: get the whole community involved (including schools, libraries, and private partners), make sure it occurs at the right time, and choose the right event for the market.

2. Believe in your own city. Mayor Nancy Backus of Auburn, Washington says “Show everyone how much you believe in your city, and they’ll believe in you.” Through a very tough economic time, Backus and her council asked “What can we do to attract developers?” And answered their question by restraining development fees, securing grants, and starting a small business assistance program.

3. Put people on your team without putting them on the payroll. If you have the challenges of a big city without the resources, Mayor Christian Price of Maricopa, Arizona suggests finding people in your city who can help change the narrative. These are well-connected, outgoing citizens who can serve as “ambassadors.” They are given accolades and responsibility to debunk the idea that their city is less desirable than their neighbors. Mayor Price’s ambassador program has tremendously changed the story of Maricopa, through real citizens who love their community and want to share it.

4. Have vision for your community. Mayor Vince Williams of Union City, Georgia transformed a failing mall into a movie set, and brought 800-1200 jobs into his city in one year. After a lot of work and state lobbying, this endeavor brought incredible opportunities for young people, huge growth in small businesses, job training, tourism, and tax credits. Identify what challenges could transform into something beneficial for your whole community.

5. The three most important ways to improve your community are partnerships, partnerships, and partnerships. Mayor Garrett Nancolas of Caldwell, Idaho created the Caldwell Youth Master Plan using resources from NLC’s YEF Institute and collaboration with public and private partnerships. For example, the city now offers free swimming lessons for all 3rd graders with help from the bus companies, who bus kids free of charge to this important after-school program that directly correlates to a major improvement in reading scores. Crime has gone down and reading scores have gone up since Mayor Nancolas began collaborating to meet huge goals. Caldwell is now considered one of America’s 100 best communities for young people!

6. Provide education for your business owners. After his city lost its successful and vibrant downtown due to big box shopping centers and online retailers, Mayor Stan Koci of Bedford, Ohio joined with his small town downtown retailers to revitalize the area through education. To reengage with the community identity of Bedford, he invested public dollars to fund free classes to give retailers the tools they need to grow with the times and prosper as small business owners.

Want more big ideas? This event kicks off NLC’s brand new, ever-growing database of City Practices. This is a resource for you to find examples of initiatives and projects in cities of all sizes across the country.

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more creative clothing.

Highlights from the REAL Talk Town Hall Meeting at the Congressional City Conference

This is a guest post by Leon Andrews.

i-HDF2h7q-X3REAL Talk Town Hall panel members listen as NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone discusses relationships between Cleveland police and community members.

National League of Cities President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker today announced the launch of a new NLC program, the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative. The announcement was made at the first REAL Talk Town Hall meeting at the Congressional Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 10th. FOX News Commentator Juan Williams moderated a provocative discussion with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone, and President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Member Dr. Cedric Alexander.

More than 400 city leaders attended the riveting discussion on race and justice in our communities and the challenge and opportunity to build trusting relationships between the community and police. Panel members began by sharing stories about the challenges they face regarding racial inequities in education, criminal justice and housing systems, and highlighted actions they are taking to implement programs and partnerships that include youth employment programs and citizen ambassadors programs.

The second panel was moderated by NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, and featured leaders from NLC constituency groups – Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Suzanne Chan, Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials (APAMO) President and San Marcos, Texas, Mayor Daniel Guerrero, Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO) Board Member and Wilmington, Del., Councilmember Dr. Hanifa Shabazz, and National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Vice-President and District Heights, Md., Mayor James Walls. The panel also included Julie Nelson, the director for the Local and Regional Government Alliance for Race and Equity. Panel members provided helpful insights on understanding race and equity issues in diverse communities, and expressed the need to take careful steps to normalize the conversation about race in communities with a common understanding and language before organizing to advance racial equity.

Finally, Executive Director Anthony introduced REAL Director Leon T. Andrews, Jr., and encouraged city leaders to stay engaged and join the REAL network to get next steps, share experiences and learn more about what others are doing to combat racial inequity in communities across the nation.

About the Author: Leon Andrews is Senior Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. For more information on the REAL initiative, please contact Leon at andrews@nlc.org.

What President Obama’s New TechHire Initiative Can Do For Cities

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the mayor of a big city or a small town – you understand that the economy is dynamic now, and you can’t just stand still; you can’t rest on your laurels.”

– President Barack Obama

"Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com"At NLC’s Congressional City Conference on Monday, President Obama addressed an enthusiastic crowd of over 2,000 mayors and councilmembers from small towns and large cities. The President used this opportunity to announce a brand new initiative, TechHire. Watch the video of his announcement. (Jason Dixson/jasondixson.com)

The President’s TechHire initiative is intended to create a pipeline of tech workers for the 21st century economy, and help local leaders connect tech training programs to available jobs. As the President noted, “right now, America has more job openings than at any point since 2001… Over half a million of those jobs are technology jobs.”

The 20 communities that the White House is holding up as models – the list includes cities such as St. Louis, Louisville and San Antonio alongside high-tech havens such as San Francisco – have demand for tech jobs that appears to outstrip supply. But in many communities, employers may be overlooking talented applicants because they don’t have four-year degrees. As the president observed, a college degree is not necessary for many positions in the tech field. “Folks can get the skills they need for these jobs in newer, streamlined, faster training programs,” he said. These 20 TechHire communities will help employers link up and find and hire potential employees based on their skills and not just their résumés.

Cities already engaged in efforts to boost their rate of postsecondary credential attainment, including training programs, such as those participating in the Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnerships for Attainment initiative and Kresge Foundation-supported partnerships, can take advantage of a new competitive grant program under TechHire. The Obama Administration is launching a $100 million competition for innovative ideas to train and employ people who are underrepresented in tech.

TechHire aims to reach women and people of color, who are still underrepresented in this sector, as well as veterans and lower-income workers, who might have the aptitude for tech jobs but lack the opportunity to access them.

Overall, as concerns about a “skills gap” continue to abound – even without clear evidence of how quickly employers would grow their workforces if more skilled potential employees presented themselves for hiring – the Obama Administration is taking a bold step forward to offer employers what they’ve been asking for – more qualified workers who can fill the demand for tech jobs.

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

The Best Lifestyle Might Be the Cheapest, Too

This is a guest post by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. It originally appeared here.

If you were to build a city from scratch, using current technology, what would it cost to live there? I think it would be nearly free if you did it right.

This is a big deal because people aren’t saving enough for retirement, and many folks are underemployed. If the economy can’t generate enough money for everyone to pay for a quality lifestyle today, perhaps we can approach it from the other direction and lower the cost of living.

Consider energy costs. We already know how to build homes that use zero net energy. So that budget line goes to zero if you build a city from scratch. Every roof will be intelligently oriented to the sun, and every energy trick will be used in the construction of the homes. (I will talk about the capital outlay for solar panels and whatnot later.)

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I can imagine a city built around communal farming in which all the food is essentially free. Imagine every home with a greenhouse. All you grow is one crop in your home, all year, and the Internet provides an easy sharing system as well as a way to divide up the crops in a logical way. I share my cucumbers and in return get whatever I need from the other neighbors’ crops via an organized ongoing sharing arrangement. My guess is that using the waste water (treated) and excess heat from the home you could grow food economically in greenhouses. If you grow more than you eat, the excess is sold in neighboring towns, and that provides enough money for you to buy condiments, sauces, and stuff you can’t grow at home.

Medical costs will never go to zero, but recent advances in medical testing technology (which I have seen up close in start-up pitches) will drive the costs of routine medical services down by 80% over time. That’s my guess, based on the several pitches I have seen.

Now add Big Data to the mix and the ability to catch problems early (when they are inexpensive to treat) is suddenly tremendous.

Now add IBM’s Watson technology (artificial intelligence) to the medical system and you will be able to describe your symptoms to your phone and get better-than-human-doctor diagnoses right away. (Way better. Won’t even be close.) So doctor visits will become largely unnecessary except for emergency room visits, major surgeries, and end-of-life stuff.

 

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Speaking of end-of-life, assume doctor-assisted-suicide is legal by the time this city is built. I plan to make sure that happens in California on the next vote. Other states will follow. In this imagined future you can remove much of the unnecessary costs of the cruel final days of life that are the bulk of medical expenses.

Now assume the city of the future has exercise facilities nearby for everyone, and the city is designed to promote healthy living. Everyone would be walking, swimming, biking, and working out. That should reduce healthcare costs.

Now imagine that because everyone is growing healthy food in their own greenhouses, the diet of this new city is spectacular. You’d have to make sure every home had a smoothie-maker for protein shakes. And let’s say you can buy meat from the outside if you want it, so no one is deprived. But the meat-free options will improve from the sawdust and tofu tastes you imagine now to something much more enjoyable over time. Healthy eaters who associate with other healthy eaters share tricks for making healthy food taste amazing.

Now assume the homes are organized such that they share a common center “grassy” area that is actually artificial turf so you don’t need water and mowing. Every home opens up to the common center, which has security cameras, WiFi, shady areas, dog bathroom areas, and more. This central lawn creates a natural “family” of folks drawn to the common area each evening for fun and recreation. This arrangement exists in some communities and folks rave about the lifestyle, as dogs and kids roam freely from home to home encircling the common open area.

 

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That sort of home configuration takes care of your childcare needs, your pet care needs, and lots of other things that a large “family” handles easily. The neighborhood would be Internet-connected so it would be easy to find someone to watch your kid or dog if needed, for free. My neighborhood is already connected by an email group, so if someone sees a suspicious activity, for example, the entire neighborhood is alerted in minutes.

I assume that someday online education will be far superior to the go-to-school model. Online education improves every year while the classroom experience has started to plateau. Someday every home will have what I call an immersion room, which is a small room with video walls so you can immerse yourself in history, or other studies, and also visit other places without leaving home. (Great for senior citizens especially.) So the cost of education will drop to zero as physical schools become less necessary.

When anyone can learn any skill at home, and any job opening is easy to find online, the unemployment rate should be low. And given the low cost of daily living, folks can afford to take a year off to retool and learn new skills.

The repair and maintenance costs of homes can drop to nearly zero if you design homes from the start to accomplish that goal. You start by using common windows, doors, fixtures, and mechanical systems from a fixed set of choices. That means you always have the right replacement part nearby. Everyone has the same AC units, same Internet routers, and so on. If something breaks, a service guy swaps it out in an hour. Or do it yourself. If you start from scratch to make your homes maintenance-free, you can get close. You would have homes that never need paint, with floors and roofs that last hundreds of years, and so on.

Today it costs a lot to build a home, but most of that cost is in the inefficiency of the process. In the future, homes will be designed to the last detail using CAD, and factory-cut materials of the right size will appear on the job site as a snap-together kit with instructions printed on each part. I could write a book on this topic, but the bottom line is that home construction is about 80% higher than it needs to be even with current technology.

The new city would be built on cheap land, by design, so land costs would be minimal. Construction costs for a better-than-today condo-sized home would probably be below $75,000 apiece. Amortized over 15 years the payments are tiny. And after the 15th year there is no mortgage at all. (The mortgage expense includes the solar panels, greenhouses, etc.)

Transportation would be cheap in this new city. Individually-owned automobiles would be banned. Public transportation would be on-demand and summoned by app (like Uber).

And the self-driving cars would be cheap to build. Once human drivers are out of the picture you can remove all of the safety features because accidents won’t happen. And you only summon a self-driving car that is the size you need. There is no reason to drag an empty back seat and empty trunk everywhere you go. And if you imagine underground roads, the cars don’t need to be weather-proof. And your sound system is your phone, so the car just needs speakers and Bluetooth. Considering all of that, self-driving cars might someday cost $5,000 apiece, and that expense would be shared across several users on average. And imagine the cars are electric, and the city produces its own electricity. Your transportation budget for the entire family might be $200 per month within the city limits.

The cost of garbage service could drop to nearly zero if homes are designed with that goal in mind. Your food garbage would go back to the greenhouse as mulch. You wouldn’t have much processed food in this city, so no cans and bottles to discard. And let’s say you ban the postal service from this new city because all they do is deliver garbage anyway. (All bills will be online.) And let’s say if you do accumulate a bag of garbage you can just summon a garbage vehicle to meet you at the curb using the same app you use for other vehicles. By the time you walk to the curb, the vehicle pulls up, and you toss the bag in.

I think a properly-designed city could eliminate 80% of daily living expenses while providing a quality of life far beyond what we experience today. And I think this future will have to happen because the only other alternative is an aggressive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor by force of law. I don’t see that happening.

Scott AdamsAbout the Author: Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic series. He can be reached on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays. You can also find Dilbert on Facebook.