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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five key takeaways from the meeting:

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

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

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

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.

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.

Seven Cities Activate Strategies to Connect Kids to Nature

“Imagine a city known for excellent environmental education because its parks are natural classroom. As a city, we are creating greater access to nature for all of our younger residents.” -Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

City leaders address disparities in children’s opportunities to play, grow, and learn in the outdoors through Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network.

In November, seven Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) sites began implementing strategies for connecting children to nature more equitably in their cities. Mayors like Rosalynn Bliss of Grand Rapids, Michigan, seek to restore childhood to the outdoors and commissioned eight months of community dialogue, policy scans, nature-mapping, and network building to inform strategies for action, such as:

  • Developing green schoolyards and enhancing access to nature at public elementary schools and early childcare facilities
  • Connecting to nature through out-of-school time programming
  • Cultivating youth leadership and stewardship
  • Bringing more diverse groups of residents in regular contact with natural features in city park systems

The chart below indicates priority strategies among the pilot cities: Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Over the next three years, each of these cities will execute its priority strategies with peer exchange, learning and technical assistance from the CCCN partners and $50,000 grants to kick start city efforts for at least the next nine months. Prominent strategies rely on involvement of key partners such as parks and recreation agencies, school districts, out-of-school time networks, conservation and youth development organizations, and elected and community leaders, as well as adult and youth residents. A metrics framework drawing upon cities’ initial assessment practices and indicators will inform a broader field of cities and partners seeking to measure both systems-level change and direct impact on children. CCCN partners will offer additional resources for municipal action in the coming months, including in-person opportunities detailed below.

Join Us to Learn More

Representatives of the seven-city cohort will share its implementation and planning experience at the 2017 International Conference and Summit of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), April 18-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia. C&NN extends an open invitation to a wide variety of additional participants to attend the Conference and Summit including other city leaders, planners, public health advocates, field practitioners and thought leaders committed to advancing policies, partnerships and programming for connecting children to nature.

Additionally, city parks professionals can learn more from Austin and the other CCCN cities at a May 17-19 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Connecting Kids to Nature Innovation Lab.

The CCCN webinar series begins with “Emerging City Strategies to Connect Children to Nature” on Thursday, February 23, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST. Register here to learn more about the priority strategies adopted by CCCN pilot sites.

Cities Connecting Children to Nature is a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network. Connect with CCCN through upcoming conferences, webinars, and our newsletter.

priya_cook_125x150About the author: Priya Cook is the Principal Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature program, the newest program of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Meet Your City Human Development Advocate

“Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life.”

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Federal Advocacy team will be busy raising the voices of cities throughout 2017. As part of our initiative, we wanted to introduce you all to our Federal Advocacy team members and share what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series. This week, I sat down with our human development lobbyist, Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman.

stephaniemr

Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the program director for human development advocacy at the National League of Cities. (NLC photo/Brian Egan)

Hey Stephanie, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure I interviewed you early on in the process given the discussion around healthcare, but we’ll get to that in a minute. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Well, I’m originally from D.C., and then I moved up to Massachusetts for college. I came back to Washington to work on the Hill — in both the House and the Senate. That was in the early 2000s, and it was definitely a hectic time. September 11th had just happened, and then there was the anthrax scare.

I started working in the office for the newly-elected Senator Hillary Clinton, and then went on to work for Representative Payne, whose district covered the Newark and parts of North Jersey area. I mostly focused on transportation policy.

Oh your background is starting to sound very similar to Matt’s: transportation policy, working on the Hill, Jersey. 

Ha-ha, I know – but transportation just was not my thing. I then switched over to the Senate to work with Senator Landrieu of Louisiana, and I started to focus more on health and education — topics like social security, healthcare, etcetera. So that’s where I really laid the foundation for the policy area I work on today. Senator Landrieu was very passionate about adoption issues; both her children and her husband were adopted. While working through those case issues, I deepened my interest in how federal policy impacts individuals.

I left the Hill and headed to New York to go to Columbia for graduate school – and ended up staying for 12 years! I spent some time working for the Bloomberg administration, as the policy director for the city’s workforce investment board. We were responsible for the oversight and implementation of the federal Workforce Investment Act at the local level in New York City.

It was fascinating to come from a world of working on crafting federal policy, and then be afforded the chance to see how it is implemented at the local level. You can work on a lot of fancy things in Washington, but you really measure a program or an initiative based on how well its being implemented and the results you see at the local level.

Immediately before coming to NLC, I did government relations for the New York Public Library. I dabbled into all different policy areas there because of the amazing mandate and reach of libraries, and gained a broad swath of policy experience there — including a front row seat to the city budgeting process. And then I came back to D.C.! Partially to return home, but also [because] NLC was an amazing opportunity to continue my work with cities.

Very cool! You already answered a lot of my second question just now, but why human development policy? Anything else you wanted to add?

Yeah, for me, human development — and all of the services designed to help people that fit under this umbrella term — is a bit of a nexus of all different policy areas. Your citizens need quality healthcare, great, but they also need reliable transportation to access that healthcare.

And ultimately, it’s the people connection. Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life. I think you see the fruits of labor here — perhaps more so than in most policy areas — because you see the people who benefit from the policies. That’s always been very important to me.

Yeah, definitely. Well along the lines of policy, what do you see in store for human development policy and cities in 2017? 

There are really three pieces to watch. The infrastructure bill should be coming soon, and hopefully there’s a workforce component to it. Any infrastructure investment will create jobs, but I’m also looking for a focus on training that leads to more sustained job creation with career pathways. There are people out of work, and I’d love to see how this bill could reengage and support them, even after the funding runs out. On the education front, we have the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There may be some examination into college affordability and federal financial aid. And then the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Ah yes, the white elephant in the room.

Yes. Earlier this month, Congress passed a budget proposal instructing the committees of jurisdiction to come up with language that would repeal the ACA. And President Trump has signed an executive order on his first day in office calling for its repeal.

We are in a waiting period at the moment, but NLC has made it very clear that any repeal of the ACA must include a simultaneous replacement. We need to make sure that the financial burdens of healthcare reform don’t fall onto local governments. Whether that’s resulting in an overload of local health resources from millions of additional American’s becoming uninsured, or local healthcare initiatives losing their funding.

Twelve percent of the Center for Disease Control’s budget is appropriated through the ACA. We’re mostly talking about public health programs and vaccination programs. And there’s also grant money through the CDC that flows directly to local areas. Most of the time public healthcare is not administered by a city, but the impacts of health policy often fall on local governments. We’re following this one particularly close.

That’s really interesting about the CDC budgeting. Well, I have my favorite question next. What is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

Oh, don’t judge me.

I would never.

I know it sounds cliché, but I have always been a New York City kind of a person. I’ve always wanted to live there and I had the amazing opportunity to do it. It’s a very interesting place to innovate and try things and then replicate. I think about the first lady of New York’s Thrive Initiative on mental health. New York has the financial ability to experiment with these municipal projects that, if they work, can grow to other cities.

And I mean, you have all that, and then you have great food and great theater as well.

Join us at CCC and meet Stephanie and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

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

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.

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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.