Forecasting the Role of Cities in Education

Both cities and the federal government want great schools because they help create a strong workforce, boosting the economy at a local and national level – but the legal and fiscal powers of both levels of government are limited, and the policies of the new administration will likely complicate this dynamic even more.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two of the series focused on how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today. In this post, we examine federalism in the context of the American educational system.

The expectation that government should provide accessible, quality education for all has become deeply engrained in the American psyche. This responsibility, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Quality education is most often a local responsibility, increasingly paid for at the state level, and managed by policies set at the national level. More specifically, states and local school districts have always made the critical decisions about education, from who should teach to what should be taught. The role of the federal government has been more limited; education policy has long flowed from the bottom up, with the federal government often expanding innovative local policies nationally. For these reasons, education presents an interesting look at federalism.

History of National Education Policy

While the role of the federal government in education has been muted, its level of involvement has steadily increased over the last sixty years. Federal interest in schools was triggered by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the fear that American education was falling behind on a global scale. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, delivering resources to poor urban and rural schools. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the federal government worked to combat de facto segregation in public schools. The Department of Education became its own cabinet-level department in the Carter administration, only to see its budget severely reduced during Reagan’s tenure.

Similar to other policies, education policy followed the trend of heightened national importance during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with the focus shifting back to the states during the Reagan administration. However, these federal trends coupled with changes at the state level to constrain public school budgets. Funding for education, which has typically been tied to property tax revenues, started to come under threat in 1978 when California was the first state to pass a limit on local tax collection. In 1979, state spending overtook local spending as the largest source of education funding, in effect limiting local autonomy.

Today, the federal government contributes between 8 and 10 percent of the public education budget. This amounts to $55 billion annually as of FY 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Much of this funding is discretionary, which means that Congress sets the amount annually through the appropriations process.

The most recent era of federalism, while hard to define, has largely focused on accountability and performance – doing more with less money. No policy area exemplifies this better than education, and no particular legislation better than the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Enacted at the outset of the George W. Bush administration, NCLB was built on the premise that standards should be equalized across states so that a school’s performance could be accurately measured. These priorities continued during the Obama administration with the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that adopted common standards and broadened performance metrics.

In the Trump administration, the Department of Education will be led by Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos has been an advocate for school choice, meaning the privatization of education through school voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools. It is likely she will bring her views on education reform to the Department.

Because of recent reforms to federal education funding, local governments and school districts are under pressure to ensure schools are performing adequately or they risk losing critical funding to privatization. If Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure as Indiana governor is any indication, the Administration will likely move to expand charters and voucher programs. When the vice president was governor, Indiana shifted millions of dollars shifted away from public schools, and more children from middle-income families received vouchers to attend private schools.

Steps Cities Can Take Moving Forward

While education policy is administered at the local level, city governments often do not have direct oversight of their public schools. In some municipalities, school boards are jointly appointed by the mayor, city councilors, and/or the governor. In contrast, many school districts are independent special-purpose governments with leadership that is elected rather than appointed by city officials. In both of these scenarios, the policies of the new administration will likely add to the complexity of local-federal relationships in the education arena even more.

However, whether or not cities are directly responsible for their public schools, local governments can still lead (or expand) educational programs. Many cities offer programs during out-of-school times, either in the evenings or during the summer. These programs enrich the education experience, prepare students for specific careers, or help close the racial achievement gap.

Cities can also use data to improve their school systems. In the City of Nashville, for example, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months. This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind. In another example of partnerships, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders.

Finally, local elected officials can exercise leadership to support youth education beginning with pre-school, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Meet Your Municipal Finance Advocate

“When cities are given the directive and the resources, projects just get done faster, more efficiently and with better end results.”

Every week leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference we’ll feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Brett Bolton, principal associate for finance & intergovernmental relations at NLC.

bolton

Brett Bolton is the principal associate for finance and intergovernmental relations at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Brett Bolton
Area of expertise: Finance and Intergovernmental Relations
Hometown: Pensacola, Florida

Hey Brett, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me. Why don’t you share a little bit about your background and why you are passionate about cities?

I was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida – the Navy originally brought my mom’s family down that way. I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, and grad school in Tallahassee, Florida, before eventually making my way up to Washington. After school, I interned for Congressman Steve Southerland in his D.C. office. He represented Florida’s second district – basically the area along the panhandle between Panama City and Tallahassee. I wound up getting a staff position as a legislative correspondent and stayed there for two years. After my time on the Hill, I lobbied for the state of Florida. Most of my work there focused on securing funding for the Everglades and building partnerships between the state and FEMA. And then I came to NLC.

Why am I interested in cities? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Hurricane Ivan hit Pensacola in 2005 and pretty much wiped out whole neighborhoods in the city. The storm and ensuing devastation were horrible, but it did bring together a lot of actors in the same room to discuss rebuilding. Local leaders helped play a role in creating a renaissance in the city, and today the downtown is booming and businesses are thriving. It made me proud to watch my hometown get back up on its feet after the worst had happened. More importantly, the whole experience sparked an interest in local politics for me.

Secondly, I happened to be finishing up a degree in public administration at Samford University in Alabama right as the surrounding Jefferson County entered into bankruptcy. At that time, it was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing, and I began following how local finance.

Right, so Birmingham’s restructuring process really guided you into the world of municipal finance?

Yeah, it played a role for sure. It was an interesting process to watch as an MPA candidate. Honestly, working on Everglade issues also opened my eyes to how much a project’s execution could be improved simply by infusing more local control and directing more money to local governments. When cities are given the directive and the resources, projects just get done faster, more efficiently and with better end results. I also realized that states and the federal government can be partners to cities, but cities often have to rely on their own financing capacity bridge the gap between what they need to do on a daily basis and what they have been provided.

Interesting. Along those lines, what do you think 2017 has in store for municipal finance?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question right there. There’s some uncertainty for sure, but I don’t think we should expect any immediate or sudden changes in this lane. As you probably know, Speaker Ryan released a plan for tax reform in June, President Trump campaigned hard for corporate and personal tax reform, and Congressman Brady, the House chair of the Ways and Means Committee, says there will be a tax reform proposal. At the end of the day there are a lot of promises, but the fact of the matter remains that we haven’t seen many details as of yet.

Nonetheless, this all leads me to believe some sort of tax policy proposals will happen, just maybe not this instant. That’s what resolves us to keep pushing so hard to make sure city interests and voices are well heard at the table. We’re out there, and we are pushing to make sure the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is protected, that state and local tax deductions remain, and we’re still working to get Chairman Goodlatte, from the House Judiciary Committee, to address marketplace fairness.

Sounds like a busy 2017. So what is your spirit city? 

This is the hard one! Is it cheesy if I go with my hometown?

No, not at all!

You know what? I have to say Chicago here. I am a food fanatic and the city of broad shoulders has the best food in my opinion. Best steak, best pizza, best everything. It’s a beautiful city with great people.

You ever go to the food festival?

No, never. I need to go, though!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Brett and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

 

Local Leaders Take on Tough Issues to Support the Early Childhood Workforce

Giving proper support to the people who care for young children is really a matter of infrastructure in any city – and city leaders should treat it with that level of importance. Here are five key takeaways from the Early Childhood Workforce meeting that occurred in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

ohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Cohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Leaders from seven cities joined the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to kick off the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative. These local leaders, along with experts from NLC and its partner organizations, explored ways to support and transform the early childhood workforce in their communities, as well as the challenges they may face.

Local officials from Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; San Francisco; Rochester, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle engaged in rich and informative discussions with Winona Hao, program manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), and Kat Kempe, senior director for professional recognition and advancement at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which are both partnering with NLC in the initiative.

Here are five key takeaways from the meeting:

  • Cities are leading the way with innovative methods of supporting the professionals that care for our cities’ youngest residents. The Jacksonville Children’s Commission coordinates a network of local agencies to provide coaching services to staff in local child care centers. In Richmond, the Office of Community Wealth Building is using a poverty reduction lens to tackle early childhood issues, which includes bringing the voices of those living in impoverished communities to the forefront of the decision-making process. These are just two of the many efforts cities are already undertaking to make sure early childhood professionals have the supports they need.
  • Low salaries for most early childhood workers is a persistent problem that must be addressed in any efforts to support this workforce. Caitlin McLean, workforce research specialist at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley, presented CSCEE’s robust collection of data that tracks conditions and policies for the early childhood workforce in each state. McLean shared strategies localities have used to address compensation, such as wage supplements and salary parity for pre-k teachers.
  • The early childhood workforce is infrastructure (and other tips to effectively talk about the value of the early childhood workforce). Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, shared effective messaging strategies in communicating the importance of supporting the early childhood workforce with key policymakers and other stakeholders. Cleary explained that giving the proper supports to the people who care for young children is crucial infrastructure in any city, and we need to treat it with that level of importance. She also shared that those advocating for the early childhood workforce should closely align their work with a mayor’s strategic priorities in order to gain increased support.
  • We need to talk about the impact of early childhood trauma – not just on children, but on the early childhood workforce, too. More and more exciting efforts are being made to incorporate the impact of early childhood trauma into systems of care for young children. However, individuals who care for children haven often experienced trauma themselves. While we continue to think about trauma’s impact on young children, we must simultaneously take steps to incorporate trauma-informed care into professional development systems for the workforce.
  • Partnerships with higher education are key to deepening support for the early childhood workforce. Kim Owens, the Grow NJ Kids incentives coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, described partnerships that the state of New Jersey has with five different institutions of higher education. These partnerships allow New Jersey to jointly administer many programs that they would not be able to administer on their own, such as a statewide workforce registry and training for early education providers. Dr. Antoinette Mitchell, assistant superintendent of postsecondary and career education for the Washington, D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told city leaders about Washington’s program that gives high school students career and technical education to move them toward credentialing as early childhood educators.

To learn more about the YEF Institute’s Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce project, click here.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

What’s Next for President Trump’s Travel Ban

The executive order on refugees has had a significant impact on America’s cities – but it could also be an indicator of how the president’s executive orders will generally be interpreted throughout the legal system moving forward.

(Getty Images)

Litigation will likely continue regarding President Trump’s travel ban, which prohibits refugees and other visitors from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Getty Images)

On February 9, the Ninth Circuit Court refused to stay a district court’s temporary restraining order disallowing President Donald Trump’s travel ban from going into effect. The executive order prevents people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

The states of Washington and Minnesota sued President Trump, claiming their public universities are harmed because students and faculty of the affected countries cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or personal reasons. A wide swath of people are affected by this executive order, including refugees, legal residents, and visa holders who may have different rights and legal claims based on their status.

The government argued that the president has “unreviewable authority to suspend admissions of any class of aliens.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed, stating “there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewablity, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the states are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the executive order violates the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees. More specifically, the executive order provides no notice and hearing before restricting a person’s right to travel and “contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum.”

Technically speaking, no court has yet ruled on the merits of this case – instead, the courts have only temporarily prevented the executive order from going into effect based on their view that the government is likely to ultimately lose. The purpose of a temporary restraining order is to stop a likely unlawful activity until a full briefing can occur to determine if unlawful activity is in fact occurring.

In response to the temporary restraining order, the president Tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT.” We have every reason to believe the litigation in this case will continue, so what are the president’s options?

A run-of-the-mill case would now go back to the district court where the legal issues would be fully briefed. The district court would then issue an opinion determining definitively whether the executive order is unconstitutional. That ruling could then be appealed back to the Ninth Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. However, President Trump has two other options.

First, he can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the district court’s temporary restraining order while the case is being fully briefed at the district court. This request would go to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees emergency appeals from the Ninth Circuit. Justice Kennedy could rule on this issue alone or ask the entire Court to rule (which is probably more likely). Five votes from the current eight Justices would be needed to temporarily reinstate the ban. As Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog notes, “if the government can’t get those votes – which could be difficult, given the temporary and relatively narrow nature of the court’s ruling – the ban could remain on hold while its full merits are litigated in the lower courts.”

Second, instead of going directly to the Supreme Court, President Trump could ask the entire Ninth Circuit to stay the district court’s temporary restraining order while the case is being briefed at the district court.

Two other technical points about this case that could affect whether and how it is litigated are noteworthy. First, the travel ban only lasts for 90 days, so at some point very soon the litigation in this case could be moot unless the president extends the travel ban. Second, President Trump could modify the executive order to cure the due process problems the Ninth Circuit pointed out. However, this might not be enough. Washington and Minnesota raised numerous claims in addition to due process which the Ninth Circuit did not rule on for the sake of expediency. However, the Ninth Circuit went out of its way to describe, but not rule on, the states’ religious discrimination claim – which at the very least implies that the court thought this claim might be valid as well.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Reminding Washington That Cities Lead

Leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., city representatives held 42 meetings this week with federal officials, working to build local-federal partnerships and tell Congress why city priorities will help to move America forward.

(NLC)

(clockwise from top middle) White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Director Billy Kirkland addresses state league leaders; Maryland Municipal League President and Edmonston, Maryland, Mayor Tracy Gant and Maryland Municipal League Executive Director Scott Hancock meet with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); New York State Conference of Mayors President and White Plains, New York, Mayor Tom Roach and New York State Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes meet with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); Mississippi Municipal League President and Magee, Mississippi, Mayor Jimmy Clyde and Mississippi Municipal League Executive Director Shari Veazey meet with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS); State municipal league leaders descend on Capitol Hill for day of action. (NLC)

This post was co-authored by Carolyn Berndt, Angelina Panettieri and Ashley Smith.

State Municipal Leagues Join NLC to Advocate for Cities on Capitol Hill

This week, more than 35 executive directors and local leaders from 20 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for an inaugural fly-in to advocate for city priorities on Capitol Hill and with the Trump Administration. At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reinvestment in municipal infrastructure and e-fairness. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that local leaders are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

The fly-in began on Tuesday with a briefing hosted by NLC’s Federal Advocacy staff, which provided state municipal league executive directors and local leaders with an update on the new political dynamics in Washington, D.C., as well as substantive updates on NLC’s 2017 federal legislative priorities. NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, and NLC Executive Director/CEO Clarence Anthony welcomed fly-in attendees to NLC’s office and spoke about the importance of advocating for cities during this time of change in Washington. In addition, Billy Kirkland, the newly appointed Deputy Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, addressed the state municipal league executive directors and local leaders and opened the door to future collaboration between the administration and cities.

On Wednesday, the state league leaders descended on Capitol Hill for a day of action to advocate for city priorities, including investments in municipal infrastructure and protecting municipal bonds, as well as introducing cities to newly elected members of Congress. In their time on the Hill, they met with more than 45 congressional offices across 15 states. Additionally, state league leaders and NLC staff met with staff directors of two key House committees to discuss issues important to cities – brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates – and with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau to urge the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting.

The day of action also included a briefing on Capitol Hill for senators, members of Congress and their staffs. Rep. Drew Ferguson (GA-3), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, spoke at the briefing about the need for stronger federal-local partnerships.

Local Leaders Call on Congress to be a Partner to Cities

This Thursday, NLC hosted a Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress and staff to consider the best ways to partner with cities to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone opened the briefing by calling on Congress to support local efforts to combat public health crises like the opioid epidemic, to give city leaders a voice in how federal infrastructure dollars are invested, and to protect the tax-exemption for municipal bonds that helps cities invest in infrastructure to grow their local and the national economy.

“Cities are the builders of America’s infrastructure. We are the creators of economic opportunity for our residents. And we are leaders in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing our communities and our nation,” said Zone.

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, and a newly-elected Congressman, spoke about his perspective of coming to Washington, D.C. after serving at the local level and the need for stronger federal-local partnerships. He spoke eloquently about the role of economic development and education in helping to move people out of poverty and into the middle class. In closing, Ferguson said, “The health of the nation can be measured by the health of our cities.”

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two recent NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to be a partner with federal government. “City finances are stable. Cities are in a positive trajectory to growth, but city finances are vulnerable to economic swings. And the authority of local governments to raise revenue is often constrained,” McFarland said.

Council Member Zone was joined by Mayor C. Kim Bracey, York, Pennsylvania, and First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee, Flaorida, and First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities, to share experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level.

Mayor Bracey and Commissioner Ziffer talked about the impact that homelessness has on their communities. In Tallahassee, the city utilized a public-private partnership to build a homeless shelter that provides other wrap around services including medical assistance, mental health services, and job retraining that has become a model for other cities in Florida.

Although York is a city of 43,000 and only 5.2 square miles, Mayor Bracey shared the city experiences the same kind of societal issues, good and bad, that larger cities face. While crime is going down and homeownership is up, homelessness, particularly among children, is a big challenge for the city. Programs like the Community Development Block Grant help the city leverage other public and private sector dollars to address the issues.

As the conversation turned to the topic of infrastructure, Councilmember Zone said that cities need a diverse array of financing options in order to improve our nation’s transportation and water infrastructure. While private sector financing is critical for cities in terms of increasing investments, Councilmember Zone said public-private partnerships might work for large projects, but it will not work for the types of Main Street projects that are needed in smaller communities nationwide.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Florida Local Leaders Travel to D.C. to Advocate for Federal Issues Impacting Cities

City officials from Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress and advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities.

The Florida League of Cities, led by FLC First Vice President Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee and FAST Chair Mayor Joe Durso, Longwood, brought 28 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) and three staff members to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation. The advocates first received a briefing from NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, then traveled to Capitol Hill. During their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, FLC FAST members advocated for the tax exemption for municipal bonds, federal infrastructure funding, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the FEMA Public Assistance Program, and e-fairness legislation.

(NLC)

The Florida League of Cities FAST Strike Team visited Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for city priorities and attend a number of key meetings. (NLC)

State League Directors and City Leaders Talk Brownfields, Unfunded Mandates with Committees

During NLC’s State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In this week, local leaders met with staff directors of several House committees to discuss issues important to cities: brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates.

NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Mayor Harry Brown, Stephens, Arkansas, and President of the Arkansas Municipal League, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Brookline, Massachusetts, and President of the Massachusetts Municipal League, along with Arkansas and Massachusetts state municipal league representatives discussed with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment the need to reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The committee, which shares jurisdiction over brownfields with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is currently drafting legislation and will likely hold a hearing later this spring. NLC members voiced their support for addressing the local liability concerns and improving the flexibility of the program in the reauthorization bill.

Additionally, President Zone, Mayor Brown, Ken Wasson, Director of Operations for the Arkansas Municipal League, and Sam Mamet, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League, met with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee to discuss how unfunded mandates place a burden on local governments, particularly small towns with limited financial resources. NLC leaders also discussed with committee staff how to ensure that the local voice is heard throughout the rulemaking process. Recently, NLC compiled feedback from local elected officials on unfunded mandates and regulatory reform proposals at the request of the committee. The committee will likely hold a hearing on these issues later this spring, and is seeking ongoing feedback from NLC and cities on how to reduce the burden on local governments.

State League Advocates Urge FCC to Respect Local Authority

In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau, advocates from the Georgia Municipal Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and League of Minnesota Cities urged the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting. The meeting was held in response to a public notice published by the FCC in December that requested feedback on the current state of small cell deployment in cities.

The state municipal league advocates discussed the widely varying challenges faced by cities throughout the nation in working to improve wireless coverage for city residents, while preserving their residents’ rights of way, safety, and city planning priorities. They also shared their cities’ specific challenges, particularly the proliferation of excess or abandoned pole infrastructure in the rights of way, challenges in balancing repeated requests to site wireless infrastructure in densely populated cities, while neighboring rural towns lack service, and the difficulties for local planning officials to acquire adequate staff support for processing of unpredictable influxes of siting applications. The advocates also provided information about the great variation between their states’ respective laws on city authority in wireless siting.

About the authors:

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

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.

Cities Are Part of the Prescription to Fix America’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Dr. Ben Carson will likely take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget. HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents – so when it comes to affordable housing assistance, what does that mean for cities?

(NLC)

(NLC)

This article was made possible with the research support of American University Department of Public Administration and Policy graduate students.

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters for cities. In this post, we’ll look at how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today.

An Affordable Housing Crisis

There is an unprecedented demand for rental housing, among all income levels. With rental markets tight, low- and moderate-income renters are having a difficult time finding housing. In America’s central cities, which house the majority of low-income renters, the problem is exacerbated by an overall decline in public housing developments and a steady increase in transferable vouchers. These cities are seeing an increase in the number of severely distressed renters and a decrease in the affordable housing supply.

While the federal government takes an active role in the housing space, local governments face tough decisions daily. The negative effects of homelessness and poor housing have real effects on resident well-being. And because property values are usually tied to revenues, city budgets are strongly affected by changes in the real estate market. The federal government works to support housing in all of these areas, but the tools available sometimes reflect past problems.

With his likely confirmation, Dr. Ben Carson will take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget of over $40 billion (FY17 requested outlays). HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents, including both rental and homeownership assistance. For this reason and others, housing policy offers an interesting look at the federal-city relationship.

Federal Housing Policy

The nature of federalism over the past 30 years has been defined by an interplay between economic and political realities. As the economy has expanded and contracted, governments at all levels have responded by expanding or cutting spending. Similarly, different administrations have had drastically different viewpoints on the size of government and the degree to which local problems warrant national solutions.

During the 1980s, a changing economy and the Reagan administration combined to drastically change the face of federalism. Increased reliance on block grants, incentivizing third-party partnerships, and limiting unrestricted funding all began during this time. To meet their aggressive fiscal goals, the federal government shifted from place-based to person-based aid. By redirecting the flow of federal assistance to people instead of places, housing vouchers became more portable since they were attached to eligible persons instead of eligible units; however, this shift decreased the amount of funding received by local governments. As a result, although federal aid increased by 78 percent from 1989 to 1994, states captured approximately 89 percent of the increase because states are the principal administrators of intergovernmental aid-to-persons programs.

By decreasing the use of direct federal funds allocated to affordable housing, localities were forced to become more involved in supplying affordable housing. This led to the practice of combining grants such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME block grant, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). The Reagan administration’s emphasis on less federal spending and more private market solutions laid the foundation for the relationship of federalism and affordable housing policies that can still be felt by localities today.

In 1998, Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress enacted the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, which sought to address the issues of deteriorating public housing, concentrations of poverty, and the allocation of subsidized rental assistance to individual households. The law continued the trend of devolving responsibility to lower levels of government by granting public housing authorities greater flexibility and authority.

Today, with the election of Donald Trump as president, the future of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has been called into question. The tax credit has subsidized the construction or renovation of a substantial number of multifamily units since its inception in 1986. Funding for new projects funded with LIHTCs have become less attractive as investors anticipate the new administration to reduce corporate tax rates. If the trend holds, this presents a significant worry to cities.

Recommendations

It is likely that the trend toward greater private involvement in affordable housing policy will continue into the future. Members of the new administration, including Dr. Carson, view housing assistance as a government handout that is not necessary to escape poverty. Undoubtedly, local leaders need to be innovative if they want to use yesterday’s tools to address today’s crisis. The following are recommendations for dealing with housing policy in the current federalism context:

Successfully leverage federal aid by drawing from as many programs as possible. Take advantage of the entire package. There are a number of programs and resources available to cities. Each has a different purpose and structure. Working in concert, these funds can be powerful tools for combating a city’s affordable housing crisis from all angles.

Low-cost initiatives like Inclusionary Zones can be successful, but don’t assume that they will work in all situations. There are always going to be new and innovative programs. Make sure these work for your city. When copying a successful model, cities must always evaluate whether administrative structures that have been used elsewhere can be duplicated. When copying a model program that relies on the cooperation of private actors, cities must also assess if there are enough similarities between the extra-governmental environment in the model city and their own.

Make the most of federal programs by making your city attractive to the private sector. Despite the difficulties brought by increased reliance on the private sector, cities can increase the odds of success by making themselves attractive to outside investment. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to simply market existing opportunities to developers. Even if LIHTCs are distributed through state governments, cities can work to help developers apply for them and make the process to attain them as smooth as possible. Similarly, inclusionary zones with density bonuses are more likely to draw investment than inclusionary zones with punitive fees. The less organic interest there is in development, the more cities must do to encourage it. Unfortunately, there can come a point where no amount of promotion can overcome economic realities, and even the most innovating third-party partnership policies will flounder. It is these situations that highlight the continued need for stable federal aid more than what the market will provide.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

The City of Wichita Leads the Way in Career and Technical Education

Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

(Getty Images)

A 2013 report by the Brookings Institution reported that the city of Wichita was one of three American cities which had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Jeff Longwell. This is the first post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.

As the mayor of Wichita, Kansas, I have seen the importance of investing in Career and Technical Education (CTE). At NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Task Force meeting, I emphasized the role of local leaders in developing opportunities for youth and adults to gain meaningful employment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines and technical industries. In Wichita, we have experienced the value of CTE as a conduit for rewarding careers in the fields of automotive maintenance and technology, advanced manufacturing, information technology, climate and energy control, and healthcare.

Wichita is known as the “Air Capital” of the world because of our expansive global aviation supply chain. Many of the early aviation pioneers came from, or have roots in, Kansas. This has enabled Wichita to also pioneer new technologies in advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing and robotics.

The specialized technical education required for these jobs often can be completed in a one- to two-year program. It is precisely these career technical education programs that are important to creating a successful and available workforce. Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

In 2013, the Brookings Institution reported that the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and Wichita had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. This report also found that half of STEM jobs do not require a four-year degree, although they pay 10 percent more on average than jobs with similar educational requirements. This knowledge has been a strength of our local economy for many decades, and it has helped build our industries and improve our citizens’ lives. Cities across our nation could benefit from increased access to quality credential programs and career pathways.

The state of Kansas recognized this several years ago and created scholarships that encourage people to obtain a variety of two-year technical certificates and degrees that help to grow our economy. The Kansas Department of Education prepares secondary students for this opportunity by using the National Career Cluster Model, grouping similar job skills into 16 fields of studies as Career Clusters. By developing structured career pathways, Kansas secondary students can access further education and employment opportunities right after high school graduation. The career pathways offered are developed in collaboration with business and industry leaders to ensure relevant and trade-worthy skills are embedded into the CTE secondary curriculum.

In Kansas, skilled automotive technicians who have completed a two-year education program can often earn six-figure salaries in the industry within the first few years of their career. Even with this reality, we see many industries and companies struggle to find people with the proper credentials and technical education to fill these jobs.

Here in Wichita, we are proud to have a leading example in our Wichita Area Technical College (WATC). This nationally-recognized technical college recently launched the Wichita Promise, a scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for training and certification for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs. Recently launched in 2016, the program works with local employers and provides personal career coaching and a guaranteed interview upon completion. WATC also works with our local high schools, providing students access to low-cost or free college and technical courses before students even graduate from high school.

In partnership with the new presidential administration and CTE advocates across the nation, I believe that adequate funding and marketing strategies can encourage education leaders, high school counselors, students and parents to explore a career and technical education pathway.

The critical requirement is that state and federal lawmakers support access to these opportunities and promote quality one- to two-year career technical education programs for adults and young people graduating high school. City leaders like myself have an important leadership role to play in guiding the momentum of our communities’ economic growth. With CTE, we can help employers find a ready and skilled workforce in our cities and improve citizens’ access to training and education, preparing them for quality, well-paying careers.

About the author: Mayor Jeff Longwell was elected to office in April 2015 and sits on NLC’s Mayors’ Education Task Force. He is a long-time resident of Wichita, having grown up in a west-side neighborhood and attended West High School and Wichita State University. Mayor Longwell began his community involvement as a member of the Board of Education at the Maize School, where his children attended school.

Meet Your City Energy and Environment Advocate

“[An overhaul of the EPA] is not something that can nor will happen overnight, but I think we know that it is something the new administration is interested in.” 

Every week leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference we’ll feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Carolyn Berndt, our program director for sustainability advocacy.

carolynberndt

Carolyn Berndt is the program director for sustainability advocacy at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Carolyn Berndt
Area of expertise: Environment and Sustainability
Hometown: Winchester, Mass.

Carolyn, thanks for sitting down with me today. To kick it off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, what have you done? 

Well, I’m from Winchester, Massachusetts, not too far from Boston.

Oh, I guess the Super Bowl went the way you had hoped.

I was wondering how long it would take me to slip a ‘Go Pats!’ into this interview. But, yes – I’m from a suburb just north of Boston, but moved down to D.C. right after college. I didn’t have a job at that point, but I knew I wanted to be in Washington. I’ve had three jobs in government relations, but I never had a personal connection to the first two. I started working with a nuclear engineering company. Fascinating topics and interesting, but not the most engaging job if you’re not devoted to all things nuclear. My second job was with the American Society of Interior Designers doing state advocacy and grassroots, and again, I just wasn’t an interior designer. Both jobs had me working in government relations and I gained an interest in public policy, so I decided to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration from American University.

Go AU.

That was when I really started to think about cities and local government. Chris Hoene, who used to be NLC’s director of research, did a guest lecture for one of my classes at American.

So Chris Hoene was like the former Brooks Rainwater [NLC’s current director of research]?

Yes, sort of. I remember sitting in class and thinking I should check out the National League of Cities. Eighteen months later I landed a job with NLC! What makes my time at NLC different from my previous jobs is that I’m passionate about my city and the neighborhood where I live. It upsets me when people rag on Washington. I understand frustrations with policy and politicians, but D.C. is my home – and it’s actually a very nice place with great people and a great community to live, work and play. I have a profound respect for local leaders and the communities they help shape every day. Everyone deserves to be proud of their city — and everyone deserves a clean and safe environment.

Well, that segues nicely into my next question: Why sustainability policy? 

I more or less fell into it. I have always been passionate about the subject, having spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid – the beach, the mountains, our national parks – and I took several environmental policy classes in undergrad and grad school. And now, as a parent, there is the basic desire to leave my children with a clean and sustainable future.

I always see cities as being ‘pragmatic environmentalists.’ We all want and need clean air and water, but from the local government perspective there are costs. I’m seeing some cities advance sustainability policies for environmental reasons, but many do it because it just makes economic sense for them. They find in the long run it’s ultimately cheaper to invest in sustainable practices now, particularly with disaster preparedness, rather than ignore it and face the higher costs later.

Interesting. So what do you think 2017 has in store for city sustainability policy?

We hope to have conversations with the new administration and Congress on where they see energy and environmental policy going. Some of the messaging has been around an “all of the above” energy strategy. On the issue of climate change, NLC and cities have been supportive of policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. I hope that climate adaptation and disaster preparedness stay priorities for the federal government. I think it’s hard to argue against being prepared for natural disasters, and cities are the first responders.

The administration has made it clear they want to overhaul the EPA, everything from programs and policies to regulations. This could have a big impact on local governments. While cities certainly have some concerns about various agency rulemakings, there are many programs at EPA that work very well for cities, such as the Brownfields program. And of course programs like the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds and WIFIA are important for funding water infrastructure development.

Do you see cities picking up the gauntlet in the absence of federal leadership on sustainability?

I think cities have already been leading. When I came to NLC, “sustainability” was a relatively new thing and NLC had just adopted a comprehensive sustainability resolution. But since that time, more and more cities have been leading many of the commonsense and innovative environmental policies spreading across the country. Cities will continue to lead in this space, and they’ll continue to look for a federal partner.

I feel like I might already know your answer to the next question, but what is your spirit city?

Well… I’ll always be a New Englander at heart, but I’m afraid I have to steal Matt’s answer here and say San Diego. I love being outside and I love the beach. The idea of having 75-degree perfect weather year round sounds wonderful!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Carolyn and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME

How Cities Can Support & Finance a Culture of Health

What does it take to ensure cities are healthier places to live, learn, work and play? A strategy that engages the right stakeholders.

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Cities can create a Culture of Health by implementing a comprehensive approach that puts the health and well-being of all residents front and center. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Kevin Barnett, Colby Dailey and Sue Pechilio Polis.

When leaders in local government, community development, and the health care system came together to develop a plan for rehabilitating a historic building – the Swift Factory in North Hartford, Connecticut – they viewed the building as a potential hub for community health.

Community Solutions partnered with the city, state, Saint Francis Hospital, and others to engage the community in dialogues about their health needs and concerns. Using resident feedback as a guide, they began the process of designing a building that will serve as a neighborhood hub for job creation, food production and health promotion. “We have the opportunity to reinvigorate one of the poorest communities in Connecticut,” said Rick Brush, CEO of Wellville and Director at Community Solutions. “Support from the city and state government was critical to bring together the collective vision, resources and innovative financing needed for success.”

Now more than ever – given tight budgets and fiscal constraints in cities – it’s critical for leaders and stakeholders to work together. Community anchor institutions such as hospitals are often one of the largest employers in communities and are essential partners in community health improvement efforts. Likewise, community development financial institutions (CDFI’s) also play a key role in financing strategies to improve neighborhoods and ensure better access in vulnerable communities to health improving resources, services and supports.

Here are two specific strategies cities can use to engage with these stakeholders:

Engaging Hospitals as Partners

The following strategies can help city leaders expand the depth and breadth of their existing relationships with hospitals to build healthier communities.

  1. Review Hospital Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA’s). Give attention to how hospitals define their geographic communities (required by the IRS) and the degree to which their geographic parameters are inclusive of census tracts where poverty and associated health disparities are concentrated. In their analysis of population health dynamics, do they identify disparities by race and ethnicity only, or do they identify the communities where these populations are concentrated? An excellent public access tool to assist in the identification of these census tracts, hospital locations and other relevant factors is the Vulnerable Populations Footprint (VPF) tool.
  2. Compare CHNAs to Other Assessments. Review other assessments conducted by a variety of organizations (e.g., local public health agencies, United Ways, Community Action Agencies, Federally Qualified Health Centers) to identify opportunities for alignment of priorities and programs.
  3. Review Hospital Implementation Strategies (IS). Determine whether the programs outlined in the IS indicate a focus in communities where disparities are concentrated, or are they framed as “serving the community at large,” with broad dispersion of limited resources at the city, county or other broad geographic parameters. This provides an invaluable entry point for dialogue and analysis into ways in which resources of multiple organizations and entities may be better aligned and focused in order to produce a measurable impact.
  4. Focus on the Social Determinants of Health. Develop a matrix of priorities across organizations to identify potential alignment with city efforts to address various social determinants of health, including land use, affordable housing, food systems, transportation, planning with a focus on links to jobs, and livable wages.
  5. Build a Shared Sense of Ownership for Health. In an environment of increased transparency and public scrutiny, it is important to communicate an ethic of shared ownership for health in the engagement of hospital leaders. Communicate an interest in coming together to solve complex problems and optimally leverage the limited resources of diverse stakeholders including nonprofits, community development financial institutions (CDFI’s), city agencies, etc. Hospital leaders need to understand that the city and other stakeholders will be partners in the allocation of resources, including the development of public policies that offer the potential to scale and sustain positive outcomes.
  6. Build Capital to Support Community and Economic Development Projects. City leaders can set the tone for hospitals to consider investments in community infrastructure through tax incentives, loans, assistance with the permitting process, and informing development to ensure it meets the concerns of residents.

Engaging Community Development Financial Institutions

As city leaders look for ways to spur and leverage resources to ensure improvements in neighborhoods to promote improved health and safety, another key partner are Community Development sector actors, including Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI’s) that bring investment capital and Community Development Corporations (CDC) that bring deep knowledge of a community needs and assets. The Community Development sector is in the leveraging business and can often help stretch limited resources through innovative financing including tax credits (e.g. new market tax credits), investment products (e.g. Healthy Futures Fund), and low-interest loans. As city leaders and staff consider outreach to local CDFI’s and CDCs, some good initial steps include:

Mayors, city leaders, hospitals and CDFIs can leverage and bolster each other’s efforts. By engaging with one another, identifying common ground, and collaborating across sectors, they can join forces to advance health equity and opportunity, creating communities where all people can live rewarding and healthy lives.

About the authors:

kevin-barnett-headshot_125x150Kevin Barnett, DrPH, MCP is a senior investigator with the Public Health Institute. Kevin has conducted applied research and fieldwork on two distinct but related issues: the charitable obligations of nonprofit hospitals and the diversity of the health professions workforce. Email him at kevinpb@pacbell.net.

colby_dailey-headshot-125x150Colby Dailey is the Managing Director of the Build Healthy Places Network and has worked for over a decade spearheading local, national, and global initiatives while cultivating and guiding cross-sector collaborations for collective measurable impact. Email her at cdailey@buildhealthyplaces.org.

sue_polis_125x150Sue Pechilio Polis is responsible for directing the health and wellness portfolio for the National League of Cities (NLC) as part of the Institute for Youth, Education and Families. Email her at polis@nlc.org.