The Opioid Epidemic: How Cities Are Fighting Back

The most notable success was achieved thanks to a considerable push from city and county leaders during the last days of the Congressional session.

One of the many resources available on NLC’s opioid action web page is profile of the city of Seattle’s diversion program for low-level offenders, which allows police officers to redirect individuals engaged in drug use or prostitution to community-based public health and social services rather than to jail and prosecution. (Getty Images)

Opioid overdoses and deaths continue to be the leading cause of accidental death in America. However, city leaders can take some comfort that 2016 closes with several significant successes that should ensure progress on this public health crisis in 2017.

The most notable success, the sum of $500 million appropriated by the federal government to support opioid addiction treatment, was achieved thanks to a considerable push from city and county leaders during the last days of the Congressional session. The bipartisan votes in both houses of Congress demonstrate that the scope of this public health nightmare extends to all parts of this country – urban, suburban, and rural – and impacts all ages, incomes, genders, races, and ethnicities.

The legislative advocacy success came quick on the heels of the November 17 release of, A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis.” This joint report from the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) is the culmination of a year of work by a task force of city and county leaders.

NLC and NACo agreed to launch the joint task force in February 2016. The membership included both elected and appointed city and county officials from across the Unites States. The members brought a strong background in medicine as well as criminal justice, among other fields.

Providing a perspective on behalf of the entire 22-member task force, the two co-chairs, Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas (NLC First Vice President) and Judge Gary Moore, Boone County, Kentucky said, “Although news outlets often provide little more than a running tally of the epidemic, leaders at the local level experience the human costs of this public health crisis one life at a time. It is our duty to act with urgency to break the cycles of addiction, overdose, and death that have taken hold in so many corners of this nation.”

 

As part of the launch of the task force report, NLC and NACo created a new web portal. In addition to providing resources to cities and counties, we are encouraging local officials to make a pledge to lead on opioid action in their communities and to work in partnership with other leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. The pledge campaign announcement is included as part of an archived webinar delivered by city and county task force members on December 15, 2016.

In addition to the special web portal created for the task force, NLC maintains a collection of resources on its own website. These resources include the drug control strategy from Huntington, W.V., the Seattle-King County Police Diversion Program, and the opioid report developed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association on behalf of communities in that state.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Seven Cities Work with NLC to Build Early Learning Communities

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education.

(Getty Images)

The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development. High-quality education and development for children from birth to age five not only promotes physical and social-emotional health and a strong foundation for success in school and life, it also helps build strong local economies and thriving communities. (Getty Images)

Earlier this month, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) brought local leaders from seven cities together in Washington, D.C. as part of its City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, supported by the Bezos Family Foundation. The meeting gave local leaders from cities committed to becoming early learning communities the opportunity to hear from experts on many of the key issues they are grappling with in their efforts to ensure every young child thrives and reaches their potential.

Participating cities included San Francisco; Portland, Maine; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Jacksonville, Florida; and Dayton, Ohio, which have been part of NLC’s Early Learning Nation initiative since July 2015.

City teams heard from a panel of three national experts about the area where workplace and economic support policies intersect with early childhood education. Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for Workplace Justice for the National Women’s Law Center, discussed the ways in which conditions of low-wage jobs – which often include unpredictable and non-traditional schedules and low pay – make it very challenging for families to secure stable child care arrangements. Michelle McCready, chief of policy at Child Care Aware of America, laid out data from Child Care Aware’s recently released Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report, and discussed how early care and education is unaffordable for families in nearly every state. Heidi Goldberg, director of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the YEF Institute, spotlighted innovative city efforts to set families up for economic success, including NLC’s newly formed Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force.

Julie Holland, Education Advisor to Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri, reflects on what she learned from the session on creating family-friendly policies to support young children.

On the meeting’s second day, the seven cities were joined by 10 communities from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC network for a discussion on promoting racial equity in early childhood systems. Lindsay Allard Agnamba, executive director of School Readiness Consulting, and Michelle Molitor, founder of the Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education, facilitated a series of small group conversations on how participants can leverage their roles in city government to promote racial equity. Participants committed to taking action steps to promote upon returning to their cities.

Charmaine Webster, Preschool Promise Program Manager at Learn to Earn Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, shares her takeaways from the session on racial equity.

The convening also featured Ellen Galinsky, executive director of Mind in the Making at the Bezos Family Foundation. Watch Galinsky lay out her vision for an Early Learning Nation.

Through the City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, NLC will continue to work with these city leaders toward the goal of building an Early Learning Nation by 2025. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Alana Eichner at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families at eichner@nlc.org.

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

Arrested Development: Adolescent Development & Juvenile Justice

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, we often feature TED Talks focused on cities, community issues or local government. This week’s talk is presented by Elizabeth Cauffman, Professor and Chancellor’s Fellow in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

A 9th grader charged with assault for a spitball. A 12-year-old sentenced to life in prison. These are the types of cases that Elizabeth Cauffman has focused her career on. She asks the fundamental question: are adolescents different from adults in ways that require different treatment under the law? In her talk, Elizabeth discusses how we can approach this question in a matter that is fair within our society.

Research suggests that city policies using law enforcement to address offenses by youth and young adults may be doing more harm than good. To learn more about how some cities use diversion or deflection to steer young adults who offend into services and hold them accountable for their actions, connect with the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ City Leadership to Reduce the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative.

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

Affordable Housing is the Real Issue Behind the Oakland Warehouse Fire

Clutter, code enforcement, and safety regulations are simply distractions. Here’s how city leaders can prevent tragedies like the Ghost Ship fire in their own communities.

(photo courtesy of oaklandghostship.com)

The social, cultural, and psychological links between living spaces and their inhabitants are real; spaces often reflect the values of their inhabitants. Beyond just displaying a preference or style, spaces like the Ghost Ship warehouse are built forms for a shared identity that is usually overlooked in most communities. (photo courtesy of oaklandghostship.com)

The tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland earlier this month may be a difficult one for cities to absorb. How much was the fire a result of the underground activities and unsafe conditions in the Ghost Ship? How much responsibility does a city – through its building and safety code adoption and enforcement power – have for tragedies that occur in structures those codes are designed to help keep safe?

Code violations and safety hazards were diverse and numerous at the Ghost Ship. The warehouse was home to stairs made out of wooden pallets, cluttered collections of found furniture, no real fire walls separating the spaces of the several tenants who lived there. It’s clear from the photographs of the Ghost Ship that some level of this arrangement was by design, contributing to a bohemian aesthetic with an eclectic collection of East Asian sculptures and furniture, mannequins, paintings by local artists and friends, fabric hung over light fixtures, and an immense collection of pianos, organs, speakers, and other musical instruments. The electrical system posed a hazard as well; reports claim that occupants of the space siphoned power off neighboring properties with a system of ganged extension cords connected to aging fixtures and appliances.

The nature of counter-culture communal living spaces like the Ghost Ship is in opposition to dominant social norms, so it can be easy for people to view he Ghost Ship photographs with an air of smugness and think how different that type of living scenario looks compared to the relatively less cluttered homes many people occupy. But rather than counting the number of unsafe conditions in those photos and pinning blame for this tragedy on the victims themselves, we should focus on education efforts like this public safety video, which was produced by occupants of similar communal living spaces together with fire safety experts involved in the famous Burning Man festival. The video includes numerous safety tips such as locating bars and dance floors near exits, ensuring that battery-lighting signs are placed at two or more exists, and testing fire safety equipment before major events.

For city leaders who are already working to increase fire safety education in their communities, the next question may be: How much blame lies at the feet of code inspectors or fire officials in these scenarios? The city of Oakland’s planning and building department had investigated the warehouse as recently as last month following complaints about trash outside the property and illegal internal structures, but their role is limited and underfunded. In fact, the Oakland firefighters union made several public statements blaming the Fire Chief for understaffing inspection functions in the department.

But Oakland, like its peers, has overlapping agency responsibilities for building inspection and enforcement. In many cities, the fire department works in partnership with departments of planning, public health, public works, and building inspection to inventory, inspect, and enforce code compliance in man-made structures. Given this complex matrix of authority, an incident like the Ghost Ship fire might not represent the failing of any one agency or department but rather a lack of communication among them. In this particular tragedy, no city agency had any record that the Ghost Ship was being used as anything other than a warehouse, and its officially unoccupied status meant that a state-mandated fire inspection was never called. No city official had conducted a formal inspection of the building in more than 30 years.

Ultimately, though – and this represents the largest challenge, systemically, for cities – the fire at the Ghost Ship is a reminder of the costs we pay as a society when we do not provide affordable housing options to artists and other creative types living in communal settings or at society’s margins. Years ago, I lived just four blocks from the Ghost Ship when I rented a room from a sculptor who owned a warehouse she used as her home and studio. The neighborhood was fairly rough-and-tumble at the time, and despite the fact that many considered its buildings incompatible with residential use, artists moved into the area because industrial neighborhoods like that offer creative types the opportunity to live in an affordable setting with less interference when it comes to musical performances and eccentric lifestyles.

But the fact that artists are often drawn to edgy neighborhoods and affordable co-living spaces with ramshackle interiors doesn’t absolve us from a collective duty to provide better housing options to all city residents. Consider what would have happened if code compliance inspections had been completed at the Ghost Ship and the findings showed violations. Former residents as well as associates of the Ghost Ship’s founder and master tenant, Derick Ion Almena, describe him as mercurial and unresponsive to the complaints of his tenants – and the building’s owner, Chor Nar Siu Ng, has a long history of building violations that have caused the city to place liens against her and partners. So, if the city had exposed code violations, it seems likely that either Ms. Ng would have evicted the entire Ghost Ship operation, since their residency was not a legally permitted use of the building to begin with, or Mr. Almena would have evicted several of his tenants to avoid the risk of losing his occupancy altogether. And in those cases, given the white-hot San Francisco real estate market, the individual artists living there would likely have few affordable housing alternatives. Already, residents of other similar spaces have begun receiving eviction notices.

Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area have seen rents and home sales prices rapidly escalate in concert with the local technology boom centered in nearby Silicon Valley. Real estate service Zillow shows that the average monthly rent in the area is $2,899, up about 70 percent from five years ago — the fastest increase in the nation. In this context, renting a space in a co-living situation for $700 is attractive – even without consistent heat, water, or power. California is home to roughly 13 percent of the nation’s population, with a population growth rate slightly higher than the national average. But somehow, the state has accounted for only 8 percent of all national building permits in the past twenty years.

Just days after the Ghost Ship fire, the City of Oakland announced a $1.7 million philanthropic grant to help arts groups stay in Oakland. Even large gifts like that are stopgaps in the scheme of the region’s viciously competitive real estate market, though. And research shows that many affordable artist housing programs end up subsidizing white, non-poor artists. Diverse neighborhoods like Oakland’s Fruitvale have already experienced decades of displacement of communities and artists of color by marginally more resourced artists who see cheap living conditions among the industrial spaces of the neighborhood. Individual artists, artist communities, and the other residents of dramatically changing neighborhoods like Fruitvale all deserve more comprehensive approaches.

California’s dramatic housing shortage has hit the Bay Area hard, and Oakland is especially vulnerable to displacement and gentrification pressures stemming from the region’s rising wealth and dismal housing production. Oakland has long appealed to artists, musicians, and those interested in alternative, Do-It-Yourself culture – even more so since the Silicon Valley boom fueled a frenzied real estate market in neighboring San Francisco. The sky-high costs of living there have pushed artists across the bay to Oakland where they compete with existing residents as well as low-, middle- and even upper-income San Franciscans driven out of the city for limited housing. Many of the displaced are people of color, being pushed out of neighborhoods formed in the aftermath of white flight and blockbusting in the 1960’s.

The devastating fire at the Ghost Ship may have gained speed from the kindling of unsafe Bohemian clutter, or allowed to spread through some neglect in proper inspections – but even without those factors, an astoundingly unaffordable housing landscape is always going to drive some segment of the market into off-the-books, unpermitted and fundamentally unsafe spaces.

City leaders must educate residents in similar living situations about basic fire safety and prevention strategies, such as how to check smoke detector batteries. We also need to hold inter-agency meetings to see how we can better coordinate inter-agency responses and code inspections. These are perennially worthwhile endeavors. Most importantly, though, we need to develop comprehensive, well-considered solutions to housing affordability. Not just a measure here, or a program there – I’m referring to the kind of throw-everything-at-it approach that leaves no idea untested and no possible funding source unexplored. The city of Oakland suffered a devastating loss in the Ghost Ship fire. Working together, we can prevent a similar tragedy in our own communities.

About the author: An architect and city planner, Jess Zimbabwe is the Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.

McAllen Targets Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety with Run, Ride & Share Campaign

The city of McAllen’s awareness campaign is a story of local partnerships in action.

(Getty Images)

The Run, Ride & Share campaign aims to significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities through community-wide education. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Veronica Whitacre.

After four tragic deaths across South Texas, leaders from the city of McAllen, Texas, partnered with community activists and concerned citizens to address safety on city streets and highways. Created in 2014, our Run, Ride & Share awareness campaign brought together runners, cyclists and motorists to establish a unified regional effort to educate the community on the importance of sharing the road in the Rio Grande Valley. The campaign has now branched out and partnered up with other surrounding cities such as Pharr, Edinburg, Weslaco and Mission.

The success of the campaign is a direct result of the partnerships built throughout the movement. As part of the campaign, we initiated Operation Clean Sweep to get local cities working together to clean the shoulders of the roads and highways for bike safety. This operation had the added benefit of bringing together city workers to communicate as a region. The broader campaign also educates youth in our local schools through their physical education classes, and Run, Ride & Share committee members host bike rodeos as well as bike safety and bike education classes for children at special events as well as the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. The city of McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have also worked together to implement dedicated bike lanes.

Other byproducts of the Run, Ride & Share campaign that have resulted from partnerships are emergency call boxes on our hiking and bike trails, promotional materials such as lighted arm bands and bumper stickers, and educational brochures. The campaign also leads an annual event hosted in cities worldwide called the “Ride of Silence,” which brings together residents, local shops, cycling teams and city staff to honor those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and inform motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to use public roadways.

The campaign has received attention in local newspapers and on social media, and awareness of the campaign has increased to such an extent that, once a copyright has been approved for the Run, Ride & Share logo, the Texas Department of Public Safety has offered to guide and assist the project as well as design and print additional educational materials.

As a driver, cyclist, runner and pedestrian, I believe there’s always more to do to make our streets safe – and everyone has to do their part. We believe city-wide educational campaigns like this can significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and we will continue to build relationships with other cities to get the Run, Ride & Share campaign implemented in as many communities as possible. Please join us.

About the author: Veronica Whitacre is a City Commissioner for the City of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the first city to achieve All-Star Status in first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative.

Mayors Link Education, Workforce Training to Economic Development

As our 2016 State of the Cities report shows, mayors across the country are becoming increasingly aware of the link between a strong local economy and investment in programs that help residents build workforce skills.

In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. (Miahi Andritoiu/Getty Images)

Economic development and thriving communities are a top priority for mayors across the nation. As seen in the National League of Cities’ 2016 State of the Cities report, elected officials are underscoring the need for access to educational opportunities as well as pathways and training to reach their local economic and workforce goals.

“To have a resilient economy, we must invest in our workforce development, small businesses and neighborhoods – and most of all, we have to invest in public education,” said Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Cities across the country are linking education and workforce development. In Richardson, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, new partnerships are being forged between businesses and higher education institutions. And the cities of  Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Paul, Minnesota are building more robust and workforce-centered summer and expanded learning opportunities.

“We cannot expect our existing businesses to grow if we are not providing well-suited employees, and we will continue to work with our local schools and institutes of higher education to ensure we are creating opportunities,” said Covina, California, Mayor Kevin Stapleton.

For the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up a larger proportion of the current workforce than those with a high school diploma or less, based on the latest research out of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. The research shows that, since the recession, the U.S. economy added 8.4 million jobs which require a bachelor’s degree or higher as compared to the only 80,000 jobs for those with a high school diploma or less. Research also shows the importance of continued learning to promote educational attainment.

Numerous studies have shown that afterschool programs have a beneficial effect on factors that influence high school completion such as a student’s attendance, behavior and academic performance. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs and found that, when compared to their non-participating peers, students participating in a high quality afterschool program demonstrated improvements in a number of areas, including better school attendance.

Cities are utilizing a variety of resources, including existing summer and out-of-school time programming, to engage citizens of all ages to not only learn subjects but to build employable skill sets. In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot Camp, one of the many offerings at the Centers of Hope, connected employers with individuals to work on skill development and provided a bridge to training and employment. In St. Paul, Minnesota, over 20,000 youth were connected to over 90 different organizations with various levels of exposure to learning through the Sprockets out-of-school time network, and the city has discovered the link between programming and increased achievement in schools.

Cities are also forging partnerships that combine the expertise of local colleges and universities as well as local employers to meet workforce needs. Austin, Texas, looks to link education and workforce building in a new strategic plan centered around economic needs while also addressing barriers to college completion. In Tucson, Arizona, the city partnered with the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona and formed a Commercialization Advisory Network of 750 industry professionals available to guide tech entrepreneurs in the city. The program has already received 200 patents, executed 86 licenses, and created 12 new startups in biotech, materials science, software and publishing.

As cities continue to innovate and build thriving communities, NLC supports these efforts through peer-sharing, technical assistance and resource creation. Look for more education and workforce solutions as the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families takes on this burgeoning body of work beginning this fall. For more information, contact Dana D’Orazio at DOrazio@nlc.org.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about housing.

About the Author: Dana D’Orazio is the Program Manager for Postsecondary Education in the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Early Learning Nation Expands by Seven Cities

The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development. High-quality education and development for children from birth to age five not only promotes physical and social-emotional health and a strong foundation for success in school and life, it also helps build strong local economies and thriving communities.

kids painting - blogCredit: Ashley Wiley/Getty Images

Communities across the country are investing in early childhood programs and working to build comprehensive systems that address all aspects of a child’s development, and the role of the family in early learning and school readiness.

To support these efforts, the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families has selected seven cities to participate in City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation, a technical assistance initiative designed to help communities strengthen or build early childhood education systems and provide national visibility to the early childhood work being done in these communities. The seven selected cities include:

  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Kansas City, Mo.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Portland, Maine
  • San Francisco, Calif.

As a part of this project, NLC is partnering with the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC (Learning and Innovation Network for Communities) to connect strong leaders who are committed to helping young children get the best possible start in life. In addition to the seven cities NLC will be working with, Early Childhood-LINC has an existing, robust network of nine communities in place.

Each city will receive assistance in:

  • Building partnerships,
  • Promoting parent engagement,
  • Increasing enrollment in high-quality early education, and
  • Communicating the importance of high-quality early education to diverse audiences.

The technical assistance provided by NLC and Early Childhood-LINC will develop or enhance local early learning systems to ensure they are based on best practices and meet the needs of local families. NLC will emphasize creative approaches to stimulate local innovation based on up-to-date research and promising practices. Communities will also receive assistance with developing/implementing local plans and support in developing new or sharing existing metrics meant to help local governments evaluate their early learning systems.

This project is made possible by generous support from the Bezos Family Foundation, which is working to make the U.S. an Early Learning Nation.

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

Mayors’ Education Advisors Focus on Equity and Student Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPAN comm schools panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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