For Students Dropped Out of School, Local Reenrollment Programs Actually Work

NLC’s 2016 Reengagement census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to academic reenrollment programs.

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Reengagement programs gave thousands of disconnected youth the opportunity to return to the classroom in the 2015-2016 academic year. (Getty Images)

The newest census of dropout reengagement programs from the National League of Cities (NLC) shows continuing growth in this field designed to plug a critical gap for several million youth and young adults who lack high school diplomas. The 2015-2016 data collected in the census also suggests a sustained high level of effectiveness at keeping students engaged once reenrolled in most sites, and provides important benchmarking and performance data for program operators. All told, the census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to reengagement.

Via partnerships between cities, school districts, community colleges, workforce boards and others, in aggregate the 20 programs across the country responding to the census reach out to 48,077 disengaged students. Reengagement programs assisted 24,140 of those students in completing the intake process, ultimately placing 12,319 students into education programs.

The reengagement programs generally take the form of a brick-and-mortar location where students who have left the traditional education system can go to receive assistance from specialists who help them find their best-fit academic program so the students may complete their secondary education.

This year, 17 out of the 20 reengagement programs that work with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families submitted data on where their students decided to enroll. Roughly 80 percent of students chose to attend either Alternative High Schools (39.5 percent) or GED/Adult Education Programs (38.5 percent). The remaining students chose to attend online degree programs, charter or private schools, job-training programs and other forms of educational assistance.

To track the efficacy of reengagement programs, the census asks sites to report on their persistence rate, or “stick rate” – the percentage of students who persist in or graduate from an education program in the academic year in which they reenroll. The average stick rate across 11 sites, representing 6,564 students, came in at 70.8 percent, very similar to prior years. The median stick rate stood at 67.2 percent, implying that the aggregate average skewed high as several sites reported very high stick rates. Most sites’ stick rates, however, fell within the 60 to 66 percent range.

Examining the 2016 demographic data, there appears to be little change from prior years’ data. Black and Latino students remain the most commonly reported race and ethnic categories for students placed by sites. The census found a slight decline in the number of Latino students reported from the 2015 Reengagement Census, but that change appears almost entirely due to the absence of census figures from one large site.

Trends among the ages of youth placed also continued as before, with the average reengagement student being 18 years old. The majority of students placed by reengagement programs were between the ages of 17 and 19.

Regarding gender breakdown, there was significant variation in the male-to-female ratios for those placed in reengagement programs. In some programs, males constituted an overwhelming majority of students placed, while the opposite was true in other programs. Ultimately, the average gender representation across sites showed males at 55 percent and females at 44 percent overall.

The census also collected data regarding the grade level of students at the time of placement. The most common category here was ninth grade followed by tenth grade, a pattern that continued until twelfth grade. The census found a few programs that placed students into eighth grade, i.e. middle school programs.

It is critical that students who have dropped out are given opportunities to reconnect back to education options that will prepare them for a successful adulthood. As reengagement programs continue to spread across the nation, NLC looks forward to supporting their efforts.

Join Andrew Moore, NLC’s Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections, and Niels Smith, 2016-17 Heinz Graduate Fellow, to learn more about the study and trends of Reengagement Centers across the country in a webinar on Friday, February 24 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

niels_smith_125x150About the author: Niels Smith is a Heinz Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is currently completing his degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Contact Niels at nsmith@nlc.org.

The Difference Between Serving Startups and Scaleups

City leaders have the power to help local entrepreneurs start, scale, and retain their businesses – but each stage of development calls for different tactics.

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Local elected officials have the influence required to pull specific city policy levers and build a supportive environment for small businesses and startups. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Penny Lewandowski, a NLC University seminar speaker. The post was originally published here.

In the business arena, one size does not always fit all. Businesses come in different sizes, with different needs, cultures, methods of learning, and ways of communicating. And while it can be tempting for city officials to develop programs designed to serve everyone, this easy-way-out approach can be a quick road to failure – particularly with growth businesses that are often ignored simply because they are perceived as more challenging to serve.

Startups and small businesses are hungry – for information, for basic help, and to be around anyone who has taken the path before them and has lessons to share. Their issues are more operational than strategic, and a one-to-many approach works well since many of them are looking for the same thing. Startups are often willing to accept advice – and they love to network, so the more the merrier.

Second-stage businesses, or scaleups – those with 10 to 99 employees and revenues around $1 million to $50 million – face very different issues that are more strategic than operational. They are expanding their teams and markets and are sometimes in the process of diversifying industries. Scaleups are less likely to accept advice because there is a good chance they’ve already cultivated trusted sources of information.

So who do second-stage businesses trust? Their peers. Demonstrate you appreciate their differences by developing peer-to-peer networks such as CEO roundtables and putting them in front of research experts on strategic growth issues around market identification and expansion, competitor intelligence and digital marketing.

And when it comes to networking, growth companies are more selective. You’ll not likely find them at your after-hours social/networking events. Instead, get them together with a successful third-stage company willing to share their experiences – and watch the room light up. If you’re still stumped on how to serve these folks, just ask them what they need. I’ve seen amazingly innovative programs arise from one question: “What kept you up last night?”

Regardless of who you’re serving, remember the importance of speed to market. By the time you’ve finished your third study and sixth focus group, these folks have moved on to greener and speedier pastures, and you’re not likely to get them back. Gather information, get feedback, and get moving. While a one-size-fits-all approach sounds appealing, your companies will thank you for going the extra mile to understand how different they really are.

Copyright © Edward Lowe Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

penny_lewandowski_125x150About the author: Penny Lewandowski is a senior consultant on external relations at the Edward Lowe Foundation. She is also a National League of Cities University (NLCU) seminar speaker at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. Click here to send Penny comments; click here to subscribe to her blog.

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.

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.

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(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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Federalism in Focus

The relationship between the federal and local levels of government has been in the spotlight after just a few short weeks of the new administration. It is clear from public statements, Tweets and an executive order that President Trump intends to shake up political institutions as we’ve come to know them.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In this new series, Federalism in Focus, we’ll unpack the nature of the city-federal relationship today, how federalism is reflected in urban policy, and what an ideal relationship would look like.

What is federalism?

Federalism is the constitutional relationship between state governments and the federal government. Cities have a role in the federal relationship that can be difficult to decipher. Local governments are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, or even the Federalist Papers, because, for much of early American history, cities – even the largest – tended not to be incorporated. Over the years, cities derived their existence and limited powers from their state governments. Only since the 1930s has there been an active and direct federal-city relationship.

The prevailing interpretation of city authority comes from an 1868 Iowa court case. In it, Judge John Dillon offered a narrow interpretation of a local government’s authority, stating that state legislatures give cities life and can take it away. States, therefore, vary tremendously in their treatment of local governments. Some states offer cities home rule, where the cities have been granted broad authority to create new programs or raise taxes without state approval. However, states have increasingly sought to limit the power of cities through by preempting the authority of cities to regulate particular issues. States also broker the relationship between the federal government and their localities, adding their own preferences to those interactions.

Why is federalism important to cities?

The way in which a president and Congress view the relationship between levels of government is important context for the legislation they produce. From affordable housing to immigration, federal policy toward cities is shaped by the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal system it enshrines. Before approaching any policy argument, it is essential to know the way power is divided. In the case of so-called sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump’s executive order relies on the power of the purse. This is a coercive view of federalism, where state and local governments comply with federal mandates based on grant funding.

Although the federal government does not provide a significant amount of funding to local governments (only about 5 percent of general municipal revenue), it has other ways of increasing local revenue or reducing local costs. This includes establishing federal tax exemptions that reduce municipal borrowing costs. Federal tax exemptions for local property, sales and income taxes encourage homeownership and consumption of goods and services, thereby increasing municipal revenue from local sales, income and property taxes.

In addition, federal aid reaches municipalities in the form of grants. Federal grants come in two forms: block and categorical. Block grants are allocated according to a predetermined formula that dictates how much money a locality can expect to receive, depending on quantifiable factors like population, housing density or health indicators. Cities that apply for block grants must use funds from a preapproved broad functional area such as community development, but generally have few restrictions on how it is spent. Categorical grants, on the other hand, may be spent on more narrowly defined programs.

How has federalism changed over time?

As political climates shift, the way federalism plays out in America also changes. The 1960s saw a very activist federal government that worked directly with cities to implement social policy. Federal aid to cities was a much larger share of the budget than it is today. During the administrations of presidents Nixon and Reagan, the paradigm shifted. Grants became less specific, preferring block grants over categorical, and funding also shrunk.

Today, federal policy tends to prefer transfers of aid to individuals rather than to governments. Money for cities is therefore limited. This is emphasized in the federalism today, which values accountability through results oriented programs and increased incentives to work across jurisdictions. Moving forward, we can likely expect a Trump administration and Republican Congress to look for ways to leverage private investment in cities, rather than direct federal dollars. In the current landscape, we can also expect differences between levels of government to become highly politicized to the point of brinksmanship.

In the rest of this series, we’ll look at what specific federal policies can tell us about the city-federal relationship. To find out more – and make your voice heard at the federal level – come to NLC’s Congressional City Conference!

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

Cities Can Lead National Effort to Get More Young People Working Again

Here are three specific areas in which cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives that benefit more youth.

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Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. (Getty Images)

“A country for all, and all working when able.” If more city leaders were to adopt this vision – along with those of us providing support and assistance at the national level – we could continue to build effective local stair-step responses to a nagging national dilemma: nearly six million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 remain out of school and out of work, and less than 50 percent of youth work each summer.

As we enter into a new era of national politics, it’s wise to recall that the federal government has a critical role in assuring high quality and fairness nationwide in areas such as housing, health care, infrastructure and the environment, under an umbrella characterized by equal justice, equal opportunity, and improved outcomes for lagging groups. And when it comes to scaling what’s effective or signaling what’s important, the federal government has no peer. Yet the intensity of a presidential campaign and transition taking place in a 24-hour news cycle has a distorting effect worth noting that, too often, obliterates individuals’ sense of agency and conveys instead that “it all comes down to what happens in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, in policy areas essential to getting more young people working, cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives to benefit still more youth – with more long-term impact. For instance, three areas to consider:

  • Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth: Over the past several years, mayors and other city leaders across the country have jumped at the opportunity to institute structured approaches to help young people finish school so they can reach the baseline qualification needed just to enter the labor market. Those same leaders also witness the persistently high cost of school dropout and pushout along dimensions ranging from public budgets to neighborhood efficacy. With too many young people still not finishing high school, and concentration of that effect in people of color and low-income communities, cities and towns have plenty of reasons to advocate for and support comprehensive reengagement initiatives. Even as the past year has seen an uptick in federal attention to reengagement, local energy and funds will continue to drive the spread of reengagement beyond its presence in some 20 cities and two states.
  • Summer Youth Employment: Mayors and the cities they lead stand at the vanguard of efforts to reduce the catastrophic recent trend of declining work experience for youth and young adults. Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. Efforts to grow high-quality local youth hiring initiatives with the all-in participation of city governments and private sector employers might smartly leverage some federal funds, but ultimately will not depend on federal sources. Showing the benefits of bringing a new focus to summer jobs programs, to ensure that young people who need jobs the most get jobs – alternative school students, for example – must begin at the local level.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform and Jail Reduction: Cities have begun to join county and state partners in efforts to hold youth and young adults accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. In keeping with the goal of getting young people to work, reducing justice system involvement and attendant long-tail records removes a potentially significant barrier to employment. For those who do develop records, Ban the Box and similar strategies playing out mainly at the local level hold promise as tools for effective reintegration.

Meanwhile, as elements of city government, police departments have a particularly prominent role in shifting what happens at the first moments of contact between an officer and a young person, in most cases away from an emphasis on arrest and toward increased supports or formal diversion and restorative justice. Federal support could promote continued peer learning and sharing about police training, diversion, and related practices, yet has not proven essential in instituting reforms to date. Building out a robust continuum of supports and services for youth – with the major exception of mental and behavioral health services supported by Medicaid – remains a largely local and locally-funded task, alongside training and support for police officers.

Demonstrated local success in these three areas (and others) will “trickle up” to the state and federal levels.  The portion of the youth development field focused on older youth has at least six million reasons to continue generating such concrete successes.

Andrew Moore About the author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Kitchen and Farm Incubators Support Access to Local Food Systems

NLC’s newest municipal action guide provides an overview of food incubator programs as well as guidance on how local governments can support these emerging strategies to promote local entrepreneurship and strengthen local food systems.

(photo: A Muse Photography, courtesy of Union Kitchen)

Union Kitchen, a food incubator in Washington, D.C., provides food businesses with a professionally maintained commercial kitchen space as well as services to help grow and accelerate their business. (photo: A Muse Photography, courtesy of Union Kitchen)

As the American Heart Association kicks off national American Heart Month, we are reminded about the importance of accessing healthy and affordable food. Whether it’s from a local grocer, food truck, or farmer’s market, the freshest and most nutritious meals are most often sourced, prepared, and served locally. In addition to the obvious health benefits, there are also economic gains when cities support access to local food systems and local food entrepreneurs. That is why so many communities are supporting food-based businesses, particularly through the creation of food business incubator programs.

For years, co-working spaces and incubator programs have accelerated the growth of technology-based startups. Now, this concept of providing entrepreneurs with shared working space, mentorship, and education is increasingly being translated into food-based business incubators. The type of assistance provided to food entrepreneurs includes access to a shared workspace, education programs on how to run a business, and mentors who can deliver industry-specific guidance.

Kitchen incubators and farm incubators are two programs for food-based entrepreneurs. These food-centric programs support individuals in their efforts to launch or grow a business in the food industry, which could include opening a restaurant, food truck, or catering service, as well as selling products at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and online.

A new action guide from the National League of Cities, “Food-Based Business Incubator Programs,” provides an overview of kitchen and farm incubator programs, as well as guidance on how local governments can support these emerging strategies to promote local entrepreneurship and strengthen local food systems.

Below is a Q&A with several of the practitioners and experts who helped inform the guidebook. Read on to learn more about why food-based incubators are so important for their communities.

Why are food incubators important?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: Food incubators allow startup businesses to gain access to the resources, tools, and connections necessary to launch a successful business. At Union Kitchen, we build successful food businesses. We provide the professionally maintained commercial kitchen space that all food businesses need, but we differentiate ourselves by offering the services that businesses need to grow and accelerate their business. Our distribution company and retail outlets reduce the risk of failure for these businesses and supports them in establishing a strong baseline of success. We define our success by the revenues and profits we create, the businesses we grow, the jobs we create, the economic impact we have, and the employment training we deliver.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: Food incubators are where the next generation of agriculturally informed citizens will be inspired, educated and instilled with the principles and values necessary to meet the challenge of creating a just and equitable food system in the 21st century.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Food incubators provide food entrepreneurs with critical resources for building their businesses. Securing a private space to produce food commercially is a major financial and logistical barrier for start-ups. Financing the renovation of a production space with specific capabilities is even more costly and more of a risk. Incubators help food entrepreneurs avoid these hurdles by providing access to a licensed and regulated commercial kitchen space. This allows these small businesses to scale up to larger orders, receive assistance from qualified incubator staff, and network with other entrepreneurs utilizing the space.

What was the biggest challenge in launching the program/incubator?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: The greatest challenge has been to create an effective local food system that promotes supply and demand for local products, but that also delivers on the logistics necessary to be a successful operator in the food industry. We are creating the demand and supply for local products through our Grocery stores, and we need our distribution company’s operations to be strong enough to support this demand.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: The biggest challenge in starting our urban farm project was learning to manage a small business.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Through community outreach, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) identified a trend of residents having food business backgrounds and interest in jumpstarting food-related businesses. At the same time, NYCHA recognized it would need support in gaining the necessary business education, funding, and accessing a regulated commercial kitchen space. SBS was able to address these challenges by creating the NYCHA Food Business Pathways program, in partnership with other key supporters. NYCHA resident participants in Food Business Pathways receive 8 weeks of training on business practices and food industry specific topics. The program teaches participants about kitchen incubators, provides assistance to participants on applying for space in incubators, and offers grants that allow graduates to rent space at the incubators for no cost. Grant funding also covers the cost of required licenses and permits for the training graduates.

(photos courtesy of Union Kitchen)

(left) Chris Hiryak of Little Rock Urban Farming. (center and right) Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C.

How did your local government support or assist the creation of your program/incubator?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: The local D.C. government has been essential in supporting us through the permitting and licensing process. They have played an integral role in training D.C. residents to work for us and our Member businesses through subsidized training programs and initiatives.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: Mayor Mark Stodola of Little Rock appointed me to the Little Rock Sustainability Commission, where as the Chairman of the Urban Agriculture committee, I have been able to make recommendations to the City of Little Rock Board of Directors related to urban agriculture policy. This has allowed us to have an ongoing dialogue with city staff and officials to ensure that all urban agriculture projects in Little Rock are supported.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) works to help small businesses, launch, grow and thrive in New York City through various services and initiatives. SBS’ Food Business Pathways program works directly with NYCHA to meet the recognized needs of residents. This collaboration grew to include several other entities; Citi Community Development provided funding for the program, the New York City Economic Development Corporation provided funding and connections to NYC kitchen incubators, and Hot Bread Kitchen provided technical assistance and access to their commercial kitchen incubator.

What are one or two success stories of businesses created in your incubator program?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: Over the past four years, current and alumni Union Kitchen Members have collectively opened and operated nearly 70 storefronts in the D.C. region and have developed over 400 unique products. Approximately one third of our current Member businesses are distributing their products with Union Kitchen to nearly 200 retail locations in the region, including 25 Whole Foods Stores. We have seen our Members grow their businesses rapidly and successfully and are proud to support their ongoing success as distribution and retail partners. One of Union Kitchen’s first Members, TaKorean now has three storefronts and a fourth one on the way in 2017. What started as a food truck peddling unique Korean-inspired tacos has become one of D.C.’s most popular fast casual concepts.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Joann Poe, owner of Joann’s Elegant Cakes, participated in the Food Business Pathways program and won a grant that provided her with free use of the kitchen incubator, Hot Bread Kitchen, in Harlem. Use of the food incubator led to Joan building up the capacity of her business which ultimately catalyzed growth and allowed her to contract with clients such as the City of New York, Citibank, and Kate Spade.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.

How Six Cities Are Pursuing Equity and Innovation in Economic Development

The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities – but each city is employing different tactics.

This week, NLC staff is heading to Houston, one of six cities in our inaugural class of EED Fellowship participants. Our plan is to further provide technical assistance to help the city pursue economic development goals. (Getty Images)

This week, NLC staff is heading to Houston, one of six cities in our inaugural class of EED Fellowship participants. Our plan is to further provide technical assistance to help the city pursue economic development goals. (Getty Images)

The need for equitable economic development programs is dire. The National League of Cities‘ (NLC) new president, Matt Zone, councilmember from Cleveland, Ohio, launched a new NLC Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity at City Summit in Pittsburgh towards the end of last year. According to the Brookings Institute, states and localities spend $50 to $80 billion on tax breaks and incentives each year in the name of economic development, despite a mountain of evidence showing that tax incentives produce mostly marginal returns. These traditional approaches to economic development by local governments have not benefited all populations – and, in many cases, the policies and programs have particularly neglected or even shortchanged people of color, immigrants, and low income communities. Cities need to be intentional about targeting their economic development programs, funding and policies at the specific populations and neighborhoods that are increasingly distant from the growth sectors of their regional and city economies.

To that end, the National League of Cities (NLC), together with PolicyLink and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), launched the Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship last year with the generous support of the Surdna and Open Societies Foundations. Specifically, the EED Fellowship provides one year of technical assistance to a class of six cities to help them pursue more equitable and inclusive economic development policies and programs in traditionally underserved communities – those that have the highest levels of unemployment, lowest levels of income and educational attainment, and represent the highest needs for job- and workforce-related programs in the city. Through leadership development, technical assistance, peer learning and sharing best practices, the fellowship provides city leaders with insights and tools to make equity, transparency, sustainability, innovation, and community engagement driving forces for how they conduct economic development and bring an intentional focus on communities that have been historically disconnected from economic growth and prosperity.

The EED Fellowship kicked off in June 2016 with a two-day retreat, during which the EED Fellows presented the group with one specific project in their economic development agenda on which they would focus during the course of the fellowship. Later in the fall, EED program staff conducted scoping visits to each of the cities, during which they introduced the fellowship and its goals to senior city officials, departments and agencies, met with community or government stakeholders, and advised the EED city fellows to finalize the scope of fellowship project. Two EED fellows from each city then met for a second convening at which they presented a project update to their EED fellowship peers. The mid-year retreat also included sessions with leading experts on economic development issues.

Throughout the year, the EED Fellowship also offers technical assistance via webinars on different topics identified by the six cities. Some of the topics covered include: inclusive strategies for small business development and entrepreneurship support, best practices in collecting data for equitable economic development, institutionalizing equity in economic development programs and policies, and presenting a framework to incorporate an equity lens in economic development incentive package.

The inaugural EED Fellowship class consists of three fellows from the cities of Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Below is a quick summary of each city project, as well as a list of the three EED Fellows from each city:

Boston

The city of Boston is interested in exploring the intentional support of worker co-operatives in the private sector by developing and expanding access to capital and technical assistance for existing worker co-ops and ensuring that new firms focus on promising growth sectors.

  • Joyce Linehan, Chief of Policy, Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh
  • Trinh Nguyen, Director, Office of Workforce Development
  • John Smith, Policy Analyst, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development

Charlotte

The city of Charlotte is seeking address its economic mobility gap – and encourage investment and involvement of the private sector in addressing the problem – with a set of tactical programs and larger-scale economic development policy reforms. Charlotte hopes these initiatives will allow it to learn about innovative evaluation practices, identify model programs and best practices that address these challenges, better evaluate small-business capacity and connectivity, and measure whether these initiatives are helping to close the gap.

  • Ann Wall, Assistant City Manager
  • Kevin Dick, Economic Development Director, Neighborhood & Business Services, Economic Development Division
  • Holly Eskridge, Entrepreneurship and Small Business Manager, Neighborhood & Business Services, Economic Development Division

Houston

The city of Houston is seeking to focus its economic development activities in the traditionally underserved communities located generally east of downtown, which have the highest levels of unemployment, lowest levels of income and educational attainment, and represent the highest needs for job- and workforce- related programs in the city.

  • Andrew Icken, Chief Development Officer
  • Gwendolyn Tillotson, Deputy Director, Economic Development Department
  • Carnell Emanuel, Staff Analyst, Economic Development Department

Memphis:

The city of Memphis is seeking to address a vacancy problem in commercial buildings that also facilitates the growth of neighborhood-scale businesses. While Memphis has experienced considerable economic growth in the last decade, very little has been occurring in its low-income neighborhoods.

  • Doug McGowen, Chief Operating Officer
  • Paul Young, Director, Division of Housing and Community Development,
  • Joann Massey, Director, Office of Business Diversity and Compliance

Milwaukee:

The city of Milwaukee is seeking to create a framework that matches responsible development entities that own, renovate and manage their portfolio of foreclosed small mixed-use buildings with entrepreneurs who want to open a business in a commercial space and possibly occupy residential units in that space. The city currently owns, manages and markets a large portfolio of foreclosed properties, mostly located in distressed low-income neighborhoods.

  • Martha Brown, Deputy Commissioner, Department of City Development
  • Ken Little, Commercial Corridor Manager, Department of City Development
  • Matt Haessly, Real Estate Specialist, Department of City Development

Minneapolis:

The city of Minneapolis is seeking to pilot a capital access project for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged businesses located in north Minneapolis, where disparities are worse than the Minnesota state average. The city’s Access to Capital is a formalized program that helps provide qualified Minneapolis businesses owned by people of color with access to financial and knowledge capital at a level they have not previously had, and would not likely have but for the program. The Access to Capital program will bring together potential investors, funders and lenders to offer deal packages that provide documentation and use systems already in place to fund qualified businesses that participate in the program.

  • Craig Taylor, Director, Community Planning and Economic Development
  • David Frank, Economic Development Director
  • Jim Terrell, Senior Project Coordinator, Community Planning & Economic Development

This spring, the EED program staff is planning our next round of scoping visits to each of the cities above. These scoping visits are intended to further assist each of the six cities with their program and provide them with access to subject matter experts recruited from our networks. The visiting technical team will include subject matter experts and practitioners, EED fellows from other cities, and program staff from NLC, ULI, and Policylink. We look forward to finishing our work with our current class and announcing our next class this spring – stay tuned!

carlos_delgado_125x150About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.

Forecasting the Future of Cities Under President Trump

Campaign rhetoric can give us insight into a politician’s perspective, even after they take office.

This is a guest post by Dr. Michael Pagano.

The 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric was laced with mischaracterizations of cities, even as we have come to understand the importance of cities and metro regions as the nation’s key economic drivers in the 21st Century. Yet, campaign rhetoric and the candidates’ statements do speak to an understanding of each candidate’s perspectives on cities and their connections to the federal government.

Rather than work through the list of proposed people-based programs and estimate their potential city impacts, let’s take a look at three broad federal policy areas that will certainly be (or already have been) addressed by the Trump Administration and that clearly have a place-based dimension: infrastructure, tax reform, and sanctuary cities.

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America’s infrastructure needs attention. While much is still unknown about the future of infrastructure in American cities, there are some indications of where we are headed. (Getty Images)

Infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the nation on its infrastructure deficit, and the latest report card isn’t pretty. A failing or near-failing grade is commonplace, and ASCE estimates $3.6 trillion as the infrastructure deficit – a staggering shortfall.

Although President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan is still being shaped, the role that cities play in designing the infrastructure plan – and, more importantly, the extent to which the Trump administration will focus on local infrastructure needs – is not entirely known. But here’s what we do know:

First, it is clear that the Trump Administration will call on public-private partnerships (PPPs) to boost spending by $550 billion (and up to $1 trillion, as he proposed during the campaign). In confirmation hearings, Trump’s nominee for DOT Secretary, Elaine Chao, raised the prospects of PPPs to rebuild the nation’s highway system. This kind of PPP activity tends to be unattractive for fixed assets that are ‘jointly consumed’ (e.g., city hall, courts, police stations, fire engines, parks). Shared assets are hard to price according to use, and it is equally difficult to assign a ‘fee’ for their services. However, the more cities can benefit from PPPs (e.g., bridges, water, transit), the more freed-up capital they will have for ‘jointly consumed’ public assets. PPPs may be tempting for cities with massive infrastructure needs and backlogged maintenance projects, but cities should move cautiously to assure that taxpayers’ investments are secure and treated the same as private investments.

Second, infrastructure investment can be for creating new projects as well as maintaining existing structures. Although politicians prefer to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new building or bridge, it’s important to appreciate that both new construction and maintenance projects are necessary and spur local economic activity. And, given the state of so much municipal infrastructure, a federal plan should emphasize ‘maintaining’ these existing structures.

Third, if we learned anything from the 2009 federal government stimulus grants, it’s that infrastructure block grants delegated to states don’t always trickle down to the local level. Cities often know their infrastructure needs better than states do, so cities should be offered the authority and responsibility to decide on the infrastructure projects that they find critical to their economic development strategies.

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Tax reform could have repercussions for cities’ abilities to finance local projects. (Getty Images)

Tax Reform. Whether it’s massive, like the 1986 Tax Reform Act, or just incremental, cities will feel the impact of any potential tax reform. President Trump has said in no uncertain terms that the tax brackets need to be lowered. And although he hasn’t embraced it, there is also talk of eliminating the tax exemption on municipal bonds. Coupled, these two ‘tax reform’ initiatives could reduce municipal issues, which means fewer city-financed infrastructure projects as the costs of infrastructure rises.

Elimination of the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds would reduce the value of bond issues, as the interest rates would increase to compete with the corporate sector for capital. The municipal bond market would most likely require a premium from municipal issuers that, assuming all other things equal, could possibly raise the borrowing costs to cities by some 2 percent more or less. A 200 basis point penalty would probably diminish the volume of municipal bond issuances.

A second tax reform proposal would reduce both the individual and the corporate income tax rates. There appears to be little disagreement that tax rates will be reduced, but at what cost? If the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is preserved, lowered income and corporate tax rate schedules could reduce the attractiveness of tax-exempt bonds.  Reducing the top marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent or lower would require the market to increase the interest rates on municipal bonds to compensate investors. City investment in infrastructure would most likely fall.

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Ellis Island has come to embody America’s symbol as a melting pot. The debate around “sanctuary cities” goes beyond ideological debates around America’s immigration policy. (Getty Images)

Sanctuary cities. Many of the nation’s largest cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities, by which they mean that they have chosen to limit the voluntary role cities play in federal immigration enforcement.

Under the U.S. Constitution, immigration is a federal (as opposed to state or local) responsibility. Although cities may choose to cooperate with federal authorities, these cities argue that they will not divert city resources to fulfill a federal responsibility. Cities that have declared themselves as sanctuaries do so from a variety of positions. Philadelphia, for example, refers to itself as a 4th Amendment city, meaning that the city refuses to hold persons without a warrant.

President Trump’s Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States executive order, signed earlier this week, directs his Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to prohibit federal grants going to cities and other jurisdictions that do not comply with their interpretation of immigration enforcement law. In other words, President Trump appears to be trying to “make good” on his promise to shut off federal funding to sanctuary cities. While it remains unclear which and to what extent cities will be affected by this order, it very well could spur enormous consequences if it emboldens Congress to amend legislation governing the distribution of federal funds. Reconsideration and passage of legislation similar to a failed bill that was introduced in 2016, called the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act”, would wreak considerable havoc for cities.

Chicago, for example, receives nearly $1 billion from federal sources, as does San Francisco; New York City’s federal revenues amount to $7 billion. One estimate of withdrawing federal funds to Chicago and four sister agencies of the city places the impact at some $3.6 billion. And other sanctuary cities receive funds, ranging from federal COPs money to CDBG, which could be in danger if Congress approves.

Even should the penalty for being a sanctuary city be restricted to just ‘policing’ grants, as has been proposed, the impact could still challenge the financial stability of cities. And given cities’ fiscal positions, withholding any federal support would trouble cities. City finances have yet to rebound to pre-Great Recession levels.

An Urban Agenda?

President Trump has other people-based proposals that will have an urban impact, such as reforming primary and secondary education, modifying federal housing programs, and overhauling the Affordable Care Act – but these are broad social issues that affect people residing in cities and rural areas alike. Yet, because the majority of the U.S. population today resides in cities, shifts in these policy areas will disproportionately impact local governments. Any people- and place-based proposal that affects cities or city residents will affect the health, safety and welfare of the American people, and they will affect the nation’s GDP.

Cities are resilient, and cities can adjust to these and other shifts in the federal landscape depending in large part on how much local autonomy they possess. And the relative capacity of cities to adjust to changing circumstances is governed by states. Resiliency depends in large part by how much decision-making authority states allow. Given the numerous policy arenas that Trump has said he will change, cities need to be nimble. To be nimble, states must work with cities so they can adequately adjust and continue to be the economic engines of the nation.

michael_pagano_125x150About the author: Dr. Michael Pagano is the dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelAPagano