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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children are the Future

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

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

What is enough?

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

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

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

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

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

Providing a Local Voice in the National Education Conversation

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

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

Emily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily

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

Reno Tackles Reengagement

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

Washoe County Reengagement Center Photo credit: Washoe County School District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Low-Skilled to College Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out- Part 3

Flickr: Gates Foundation

This post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. It is the third in a series on dropout reengagement, drawn from the case study: For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way? which details the work of two community organizations. The study is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and The Pinkerton Foundation. To comment, write peterkleinbard@Verizon.net.

In the previous post I highlighted two programs for young adults who have dropped out of school and how they have gained flexibility by convincing funders to support longer periods of service. This post focuses on a major gap in serving youth who have dropped out, the quality of classroom work.

Many young adults drop out because of their struggles in the classroom. While our field has often focused on counseling and work experiences, further education is essential to achieve economic independence.

In the study, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop out of High School and What Can Be Done About It, Russell Rumbergpulls together leading research and concludes: “educational performance…is the single most important predictor of whether students drop out or graduate from high school.” Academics are highlighted again in a recent study that tracked a single cohort of New York City students from elementary through high school: “and only one in three of the students who failed to meet the third-grade [English Language Arts] standard [emphasis added] graduated from high school.”

While numerous factors may contribute to dropping out, such as those highlighted in America’s Promise Alliance’s recent report, disengagement stemming from academic struggles is nearly always central. For young adults to build skills in reading, writing, oral communication and math, they must become engaged in learning. When instruction is done well, young adults take pleasure in learning.

Interviewed youth affirmed research findings as to what keeps them engaged in learning:

  • High interest materials
  • Activities that feel tailored to them as individuals
  • A sense of control from knowing where they stand and what more they need to achieve
  • Caring staff who expresses belief in their success

A Model for Engaging Young Adults in Academic Study

In my study, Site A adopted a model developed by an intermediary rather than creating its own program. Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) integrates research findings from youth development with those from instruction and is designed to address the needs and strengths specific to young adults. In this guide, I focus on the literacy component, though the work in math is similar. (For purposes of transparency, I was involved in the development of CEPS.)

The program created a structure of progressively more demanding classes, so that a young adult who enters at any skill level can move up to college preparation. Teachers receive training and ongoing coaching in delivering instruction. For example, they are taught to use high-interest books at reading levels that enable students to experience mastery. Assessments are used both to place students in classes and to target specific skill gaps. Non-instructional staff are trained how to reinforce the work of instructors and meets regularly with instructors as a team to strategize about students. The emphasis is on consistent and systematic application in the classroom and other program components.

Classes are highly structured and therefore follow the same sequence of activities each day. Work is familiar and comfortable to students, even as it increases in difficulty. While focusing on instruction, the model reshapes the entire program as an integrated whole, addressing counseling, transition planning and other components.

Following an encouraging evaluation, the city in which Site A is based adopted the model and is funding several sites to implement it, adding a work experience component. These and other strategies are detailed in documentation about the model and a three-year evaluation of eight sites.

As readers know, the path to financial independence is long and uneven for many young people, especially those with poor skills. For students that desire immediate work experience, Site A’s staff tries to place them so that their work schedules allow continuation in education. In other sites, young adults who had gained solid work skills – carpentry or using common software – acquired jobs, though rarely steady, that provided income so that they could continue their studies. Although many returned, for others there were periodic hiatuses in their participation.

Our challenge as a field is to make sure that we support the hopes for success of young adults with engaging and effective programs. Some are ready to move ahead when they come to our doors; others will need time before they are ready to sustain their commitment. For practitioners, this requires flexibility, a high degree of commitment, and a determination to find and implement approaches with solid evidence of success.

Peter KleinbardAbout the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.

Keeping the Promises in Jacksonville, Florida

This post was written by the Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor, Jacksonville, Florida. It originally appeared on the GradNation blog.

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As mayor of Jacksonville, I recognize the importance of education to the success and vitality of a city.

By equipping students with the skills they need to achieve their fullest potential, we ensure our city has a talented and competitive workforce ready to meet the challenges of the global economy. Support for education must be the responsibility of the entire community – we all have an interest in providing empowerment and opportunity to our young people.

That’s why it was so important to me to bring a GradNation Community Summit to Jacksonville. I am proud of the way our community has rallied around our children and young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years. But we must continue our efforts to close the achievement gap, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

From the first day I took office in 2011, education has been a top priority in my administration. During my first week in office, I created by executive order the cabinet-level position of education commissioner to carry out my vision for education initiatives that support lifelong learning in our city. The commissioner, Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette, partners with schools and community organizations to improve the quality and accessibility of educational programs for Jacksonville residents.

Our recent GradNation Community Summit focused on four key issues that require our attention: early childhood education, mentoring and support for at-risk middle school students, literacy and grade-level reading, and African-American male achievement.

I was delighted that Alma Powell was able to join us in person for the summit, and we were honored to host her and the America’s Promise Alliance team in our city, along with the opportunity for our community to hear Mrs. Powell speak so powerfully about our achievements, challenges and goals here in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville’s GradNation advisory council reconvened on May 20 to discuss findings from the summit, and make recommendations about short-term and long-term education goals for our community. One of the goals highlighted by the council and meeting attendees was to meet the continued demand for mentors in our schools.

Our community has rallied around our young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years.

I have been so gratified to align our mentoring efforts with Achievers for Life, a dropout prevention initiative developed and funded by the United Way of Northeast Florida in partnership with Communities in Schools of Jacksonville and Jewish Family and Community Services.  Serving the community since 2007, Achievers for Life has expanded from two to ten middle schools with plans for additional schools in the near future. By leveraging the influence of my office in support of our students, my Mayor’s Mentors program has successfully placed over 600 screened and trained mentors with youth considered at-risk for dropping out of school. I have been able to connect students at these schools with diverse opportunities including visits by NBA Legends players to talk about the importance of staying in school, to science enrichment opportunities offered by partnerships with DuPont, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At our city’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast earlier this year, I announced a citywide youth initiative to improve opportunities for Jacksonville’s next generation, recognizing that we must invest in their success and help them take their lives in the right direction. An important aspect of this initiative is helping young people who are first-time offenders stay out of further trouble by expanding Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Boards.

These programs follow a restorative justice model, allowing students to be accountable for their mistakes through sanctions such as public apologies, community service, and other rehabilitative measures. Successful completion of these requirements means they avoid a criminal record that could otherwise foreclose future educational and employment opportunities.  By guarding young people who have made minor mistakes from the harsh realities of the criminal justice system, we give them the opportunity to stay focused on their education and enter adulthood with a clean slate.

The overwhelming percentage of students not only fulfill the requirements, but also take to heart the lessons they learned through the experience. Consider that 92 percent of juveniles who appear before Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Board in Duval County successfully complete the program. Of those students, 91 percent are not rearrested within the next year. Statewide, these programs boast a 4 percent recidivism rate, the lowest of any Florida juvenile justice program.

Additionally, through the expansion of this initiative, young people are receiving increased quality of care as Teen Court monitors work with them identifying needs for mental health services for trauma, neglect, or sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse counseling.

Recognizing the wealth of resources within our own community, we have partnered with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and other youth services groups in Jacksonville to increase funding for a system of care that will help young people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems access services. By reversing a damaging trend of low funding for these vital services, we are able to improve the lives of young people who face the highest risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Together we can give hope for a healthier, more productive future and the opportunity to succeed. That hope has the power to transform our young people, and we must honor our shared responsibility to stand by them during that transformation, nurturing the self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline they need to succeed in school and in life.

MayorAlvinBrownFormal

 Alvin Brown is the Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. He was elected in 2011 and education is one of his top priorities, along with job creation, downtown revitalization, and public safety.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

From Low-skilled to College-Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out

Low skilled to college ready - for blogThis post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. This is the first post in a series that describes how organizations that operate dropout reengagement programs work with city and state leaders as well as private funders to maximize success.

In 2011, I began an examination of two programs serving young adults who had dropped out of school. Having worked for years with such programs, I was frustrated by the lack of research that could guide local efforts. Most research is about national initiatives, funded at $10,000 or more per participant, and has limited applicability to programs that are developed in communities where funding levels typically are much lower.

Further, trends affecting dropouts are changing rapidly. On the one hand, new reports from the U.S. Department of Education and Building a GradNation show that high school graduation rates are at an historic high. However, disparities continue to exist between states, and major cities persistently have lower graduation rates. Prospects for federal support of national projects continue to dim as a result of Washington’s political battles, even though there are excellent initiatives with their extensive resources and highly developed programs. In addition, in districts that are unprepared, the Common Core’s rigorous academic standards, a good thing for most youth, will push out more of those who are struggling.

How do local programs that serve dropouts actually work? How do the organizations that operate them work with city, state leaders and private funders?
Over the next few months, this blog series will provide an overview of how two community-based organizations (CBOs) have worked with governments and funders to reduce obstacles to their services in funding and policy, re-engage and advance the skills of young adults, and establish strong and positive cultures in the programs that they operate. The full paper, For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way?, chronicles their work in greater detail.

My selection of sites was based on recommendations from leaders in the field and my observations in five cities. Besides evidence of high-quality services, the programs had to be “local” in the sense that they were designed and managed by CBOs and, funded, at least partially, with local resources. And the sites had to serve the full range of 16- to 24-year-olds that have dropped out, from those who are low-skilled to those nearly ready for work or college. Costs at these sites averaged $7,000 per participant. I interviewed and tracked 27 young adults for a year or more, and spoke to more than 30 staff as well as observing program activities.

What I learned casts a sharp light on how these sites build and sustain effective programs, and the challenges in enabling these youth to achieve financial independence. I hope this knowledge will be useful to cities and CBOs, and that the qualitative study will inform and provoke more formal and rigorous research.

Stay tuned…the next post will describe how community-based organizations have worked with funders and local governments to help overcome a major obstacle to success: the short time periods allowed to serve individual young adults.

Peter Kleinbard_headshot

About the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.  

Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling Likely to Affect Local Government

supreme-court-blog

The Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action ruling should be viewed through the lens of public employment and contracts not just public universities.

In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action the Supreme Court held 6-2 that voters may by ballot prohibit affirmative action in public universities admission decisions.  While this case was limited to the use of race in public university admission decisions, Michigan’s constitutional amendment also prohibits the use of racial-preference in state and local government employment and contracting.

Presumably, these provisions are also constitutional.  As NCSL’s Affirmative Action:  State Action chart describes, a number of states prohibit the use of affirmative action in local government employment and contracting.

In 2003 in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court held that public universities may consider race in admission decisions.  In 2006 Michigan voters adopted a constitutional amendment which prohibited preferential treatment in admission to public universities on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The majority of the Court held this amendment does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Justice Kennedy, in a plurality opinion joined only by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, concluded that this case is about who and not how the debate over racial preferences should be resolved.  “There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

In reaching this holding Justice Kennedy rejected a broad reading of past precedent that any state action with a “racial focus” that makes it “more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other groups” to “achieve legislation that is in their interest” is subject to strict scrutiny.

Justice Kennedy pointed to numerous practical problems with this so-called “political process” doctrine including:  assuming that all individuals of the same race think alike; defining race-based categories in a society where “those lines are becoming more blurred;” and determining which policy realms racial groups have a political interest.

Justices Scalia and Thomas agreed that the ballot measure was constitutional but would have overruled the precedent that Justice Kennedy read narrowly.  For the first time since she joined the Court in 2009, Justice Sotomayor read a summary of her dissent, which Justice Ginsberg joined, from the bench—signaling her displeasure with the Court’s decision.

Justice Breyer provided the sixth vote in favor of the amendment but wrote separately; Justice Kagan did not participate in the case.

While those for and against the ballot measure disagree about the wisdom of the Court’s decision, both agree that it will only be a matter of time until more states follow Michigan’s lead.

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

WUF7: Final Thoughts on My Week in Medellin

This is the seventh post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

medellin-hills-pic

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to a tour of the city of Medellin, the trip would have been worth it. This is truly a city on the rise. Gone is the violence and narco-terror for which the city was famous. In its place is a young, vibrant city filled with new libraries and schools serving some of the poorest neighborhoods; parks that include concert halls, a planetarium and computer learning centers; and a metro system that runs the length and width of the city, employing traditional rail cars, cable cars and escalators.

Its town center or “el Centro” is filled with the wonderful and massive sculptures of Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, whose work is wonderfully sardonic and sarcastic at the same time, and includes a small gem of a museum that proudly displays Colombia’s pre-Columbian, colonial and modern artists. Its neighborhoods are diverse and reflective of a city that is growing but retaining a “small town” feel. Looking out over the city at night from a bar atop the Charlee Hotel in the Poblado, one can feel the pulsating rhythms of this increasingly successful business center.

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to participation in the mayor’s roundtable on urban equity and the new urban agenda, the trip also would have been worth it. This was truly a roundtable that demonstrated the optimism that exists among city leaders from around the world to create “cities of opportunity” — cities where the poorest and most disadvantaged are able to take advantage of what their city has to offer so they can create a better life for themselves and their families.

As I reported in my fourth and fifth blogs, in its broadest sense, the message of the mayors forum was cities are on the rise as economic centers, centers of innovation and centers of learning — what we have chosen to call “cities of opportunity” — and that cities are replacing individual states and nations as the places in which “real change is taking place.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to attending the various “dialogues” that focused on city resiliency and financing, the trip also would have been worth it. For here the conversations focused on how to finance cities, and how to build cities that can respond to and come back from natural and man-made disasters, but not just for the benefit of the few, but in a way that promotes inclusion and social equity.

Though the solutions that were offered are costly, what was clear is that to do nothing would be even more costly. And though it is much easier to make decisions from the top down, or to make investments that benefit the wealthiest residents, for a city to thrive and grow, every resident must be included in the decision making process, regardless of their income or social standing, and every citizen must be viewed as a likely beneficiary of the investments made.

As Michael Cohen, a professor at the New School (New York) said, it is no longer feasible to operate the way Buenos Aires and New York City have operated until now, where 60 percent of the expenditures benefit the wealthiest 11 percent of the population. “If our cities are to be financially sustainable we must find ways to effectively leverage our resources to the benefit of all.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to hearing Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economics professor and Nobel laureate, speak passionately about the need for national and local governments to take meaningful steps to end inequality and create opportunity through investments in education, job creation and small business, the trip would have been worth it. Had it been limited to hearing Leon Krier, the famous and highly controversial architect, urban planner and architectural theorist, the trip would have been worth it. His desire to create urban environments that are inclusive but limited in size, and therefore more humane in scale, rang true as we sat in the midst of a city whose one-time modest scale has given way to skyscrapers as far as the eye can see.

Finally, had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to visiting the exhibit hall and witnessing what nations and cities around the world are doing to address inequality and create cities of opportunity – from Barcelona to Jerusalem, Guangzhou to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires to Paris – the trip would have been worth it.

But in fact, this trip to the World Urban Forum 7 and Medellin, Colombia, was worth it for reasons that transcended each of its parts. It was a place for people from around the world to exchange ideas and learn from one another. It was a place where creativity was acknowledged and innovation rewarded. It was a place where one’s status as part of the developed or developing worlds did not seem to matter – everyone had something important to offer.

And it was a place that confirmed what we at the National League of Cities have long stated: cities are the laboratories of innovation and creativity, and the solutions to the world’s urban settlement problems will not happen because of national government. Rather, the solutions will emerge at the local level through the commitment of mayors and other local officials, private sector leaders who share the goal of creating “cities of opportunity,” as well as foundations, non-governmental organizations and universities.

This conference left no doubt: if those who live and work in cities are able to come together to create inclusive, resilient and financially sustainable cities, then the urban future is a very bright one, indeed.

Neil Bomberg

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

NLC and Dept. of Education Partner to Advance Afterschool Opportunities

This post was written by Jen Rinehart, Vice President of Research & Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. It originally appeared on the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool Snack blog.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk with a room full of mayors, city council members and education/policy advisors about the role of federal policy in local afterschool efforts.  With a crowd like that, I certainly felt like I was standing on the wrong side of the podium!

It was a dynamic discussion about how federal policies related to 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, Child Care Development funds and newly proposed initiatives—like Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity—may impact local afterschool initiatives.

Many of the city leaders in the room were first drawn to afterschool because they recognized it as a strategy to keep their communities safe.  After learning more about afterschool, they readily saw how keeping youth safe also supports working families, which is linked to worker productivity and therefore economic development.  This necessitates a skilled workforce of the future, which brings you right back to education and safety again.  In short, they were quickly sold on the importance of afterschool.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Congressional City Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Congressional City Conference.

I’d like to take credit for the participants’ excitement about afterschool, but in truth it was most likely the result of an announcement made earlier that morning.  Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Chris Coleman, president of the National League of Cities, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laid out a plan detailing how they would work together to boost partnerships among federal and local governments, schools, families, faith-based organizations, businesses, nonprofits and universities to advance learning, enhance student engagement and improve schools in cities across the country.

Increasing access to afterschool programs, along with early childhood education and postsecondary education, was a key part of the plan.  It is exciting to see afterschool recognized by these two national leaders and organizations as a key strategy to close the achievement gap and improve educational opportunities for all.  Throughout the year, community conversations will be held in the following cities, with leadership from the mayor of each city:

Avondale, Arizona – Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers
Berkeley, California – Mayor Tom Bates
Dayton, Ohio – Mayor Nan Whaley
Gary, Indiana – Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
Hattiesburg, Mississippi – Mayor Johnny Dupree
Kansas City, Missouri – Mayor Sly James
Louisville, Kentucky – Mayor Greg Fischer
Madison, Wisconsin – Mayor Paul Soglin
Memphis, Tennessee – Mayor A C Wharton
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- Mayor Michael Nutter
Phoenix, Arizona – Mayor Greg Stanton
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Mayor William Peduto
Saint Paul, Minnesota – Mayor Chris Coleman
Salt Lake City, Utah – Mayor Ralph Becker
Savannah, Georgia – Mayor Edna Branch Jackson

We are excited to follow these conversations and to see what plans take shape in each of these 15 cites, and hopefully even more cities, throughout the year.