Five Issues Tackled by Youth Delegates at the Congressional City Conference

The delegates designed their own sessions focused on leadership and skill development, developed strategies to solve problems in their communities, and learned the importance of advocacy at all levels of government.

Youth delegates at the Congressional City Conference learn to lobby, advocate, and collaborate on the issues that matter most to them. (Jason Dixson/NLC)

This is the fifth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Youth delegates from 37 cities across the nation convened this week at the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. In sessions with their peers and other youth allies, the delegates critically analyzed issues in their communities and developed strategies and solutions.

In one of the most engaging sessions, Lobbying and Advocacy: Making the Youth Voice Heard, delegates heard from former congressional staffers as well as current lobbyists and consultants about the importance of the youth voice in all levels of government and their power to make a difference on both a small and large scale.

As part of this session, each youth council represented at the conference identified a problem in their city, formulated a solution, and developed a plan to lobby local, state and federal leaders for change. They then encapsulated the problem, its solution and convincing messaging into a concise elevator pitch. Here are five issues discussed at the session:

Lack of youth involvement in local government: Delegates from Olathe, Kansas, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the potential benefits of increased youth participation in local government, and each youth council took a different approach to this issue. Delegates from Olathe suggested creating a teen council to listen to other youth problems and presenting those problems to city councilmembers. Delegates from Fayetteville created a plan to lower the local voting age to 16 to increase voter turnout and local knowledge. Their strong argument: “Sixteen-year-olds pay taxes if they have jobs – and there should not be taxation without representation!”

Possible loss of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding: Delegates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified the importance of CDBG funds in their city that help subsidize many youth programs. One delegate from Milwaukee noted that “these programs affect the longevity and success of youth in our city.”

Plastic pollution in cities: Delegates from Hillsboro, Oregon, described their plan to ban plastic bags in their city as “a way to save the community and contribute to a global movement.” They highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of plastic bags are used just once and then thrown away.

Mental illness awareness and resources: Delegates from the cities of Brighton and Loveland in Colorado addressed the lack of mental illness awareness and resources in their schools and communities. Both youth councils emphasized reducing teen suicide rates and teaming up with mental health organizations to implement more programs.

Dangers of invasive species: Delegates from Buckeye, Arizona, shared a unique problem in their community: the damage created by an invasive plant, the salt cedar tree. One salt cedar tree can use up to 300 gallons of water per day, meaning that 200,000 households could use the water currently being used by salt cedar trees. Their solution? Release the Salt Cedar Creek Beetle to combat the invasive species. The delegates highlighted the documented success of this strategy, which is already underway in some areas of Texas.

Feedback from the session’s panelists allowed the youth to expand on their ideas and explore ways to make their arguments more powerful. The delegates also learned about the importance of highlighting reliable data and sharing examples of best practices in similar towns and cities.

Youth delegates are sure to take their invaluable experiences at the Congressional City Conference back to their youth councils at home to spark effective change in their communities. Their enduring engagement and involvement in all of the sessions proved their dedication to the betterment of their communities.

About the author: Alessia Riccio is the 2016-2017 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

NLC University Seminars Prepare City Leaders for an Uncertain Future

Annually, city leaders from across the nation convene in Washington, D.C. for NLC’s Congressional City Conference. Coupled with traditional conference programming, NLC University is hosting a series of pre-conference seminars designed to prepare city leaders for the road ahead.

The 2017 Congressional City Conference takes place in Washington, D.C., March 11-15. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Chris Abbott and Laura Lanford. It is the first post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Cities are at the forefront of the national economy, public safety, infrastructure and a host of other issues. But with the increased potential for cuts to funding for cities, the need for knowledgeable, connected and engaged city leaders is more critical than ever.

City leaders need to make their voices heard – and the Congressional City Conference is the perfect opportunity for local elected officials to boost their leadership skills. From introductory overviews to in-depth explorations, NLC University seminars at the Congressional City Conference offer participants a wide range of subject areas to choose and benefit from, regardless of their background, experience, region, or size of their municipality.

NLC University is a collaborative educational and professional development initiative that focuses on four key proficiency areas: leadership, management, engagement and issue expertise. The goal of NLC University is to provide municipal leaders with an interactive and engaging approach to refine existing skills and develop strategies to better govern, serve and advocate for their respective communities.

The Value Proposition

NLC University seminars provide one of the largest opportunities for local elected and appointed city officials to receive training from leading issue experts. The interactive training sessions are offered as full- or half-day sessions in which city officials are challenged with problems and concepts relevant to current city environments. The training sessions will stretch conventional thinking by applying creative, innovative solutions.

NLCU seminar participant Lydia Glaize, councilwoman from Fairburn, Georgia, had this to say after attending the Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations seminar:

“One of the best courses I’ve taken through NLC University. The presenters were knowledgeable and connected with their audience. They stated goals for the class at the beginning and wrote them down in terms of outcome-based objectives. The structure worked like a charm.”

2017 NLC University Seminar Lineup at the Congressional City Conference:

  1. Healthy Cities: Lessons Learned from Crisis Leadership
  2. Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations
  3. Urban Plan for Elected Officials
  4. An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-Sector Collaboration in the Public Sector
  5. Congratulations, You Got Elected – Now What?
  6. REAL Action: Advancing Racial Equity in Local Government
  7. The Role of City Leaders in Public Sector Retirement
  8. Fostering Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship
  9. Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate
  10. The Ethical Leader: Rules and Tools
  11. Understanding Public Finance
  12. Federal Advocacy 101 (offered twice)

Featured trainers and presenters include:

  • Julie Willems Van Dijk – Associate Scientist and Director – County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program
  • Kathryn Pettit – Senior Research Associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center – Urban Institute
  • John Chesser – Enterprise Management Analyst – Mecklenburg County; Charlotte, NC
  • Janet A. Phoenix – Assistant Research Professor – George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health
  • Karen Seaver Hill – Director – Children’s Hospital Association
  • Steve Traina – Branch Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Erica Bueno – Program Coordinator – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Brian Delvaux – Contracts Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Blake Ratcliff – Director – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Chris Fennell – Project Leader – IBTS OnHand Resource
  • Mike Conduff – President of the Elim Group and Former City Manager – The Elim Group
  • Jim Hunt – President & Founder of Amazing Cities and Past President of NLC – Amazing Cities
  • Sean Geygen – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Sophie Lambert – Senior Director of UrbanPlan – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Gideon Berger – Director of the Daniel Rose Fellowship Program – The National League of Cities
  • Jess Zimbabwe – Executive Director of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership – The National League of Cities
  • Jacquelyn Wax – Communications Director – The Intersector Project
  • Neil Britto – Executive Director – The Intersector Project
  • Malcom Chapman – President – The Chapman Group
  • Simran Noor – Vice President of Policy & Programs – Center for Social Inclusion
  • Julie Nelson – Senior Vice-President – Center for Social Inclusion and Director of the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE)
  • Leon Andrews – Director, Race Equity And Leadership (REAL) – National League of Cities
  • John Saeli – Vice President, Government Affairs and Market Development – ICMA-RC
  • Jeannine Markoe Raymond – Director of Federal Relations – National Association of State Retirement Administrators
  • Keith Brainard – Research director – NASRA
  • David Myers – Executive Director – Ponca City Development Authority
  • Penny Lewandowski – Senior consultant, External relations – Edward Lowe Foundation
  • Dan Barry – Director – Path to Positive Communities
  • Scott Paine – Director of Leadership Development and Education at the Florida League of Cities
  • Laura Allen – Town Administrator – Berlin, MD
  • Mike Mucha – Deputy Executive Director and Director – GFOA Research and Consulting Center
  • Ashley Smith – Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy – National League of Cities

Join colleagues for one (or many) of the outstanding NLC University seminars offered at the Congressional City Conference. NLC University will also host a Leadership Summit in San Diego, California, October 2-5 as well as pre-conference sessions at the 2017 City Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, November 15-18.

About the authors:

Chris Abbott is a Senior Associate at the National League of Cities University.

 

 

Laura Lanford is the Principal Associate for Leadership Training at the National League of Cities University.

Four Takeaways from the California Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Summits

For local officials, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Clarissa Hayes and Dawn Schluckebier. It originally ran as part of the Food Research & Action Center’s FRAC On the Move series, which follows policy and program experts as they connect with advocates across the country to explore strategies and develop solutions to end hunger.

Representatives from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and the National League of Cities (NLC) recently joined the California Department of Education and more than 250 California representatives from local governments, school nutrition departments, food banks, law enforcement agencies, libraries, county health departments, community-based organizations, literacy and youth development agencies at two regional afterschool and summer nutrition summits, one in Richmond and one in San Bernardino County.

Hosted by the California Summer Meal Coalition, the summits provided attendees the opportunity to learn more about federally-funded summer and afterschool meal programs and share ideas and best practices for increasing the number of children served in their communities.

The Coalition – a program of the Institute for Local Government – is a key partner in NLC and FRAC’s Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. CHAMPS has provided support to more than 41 cities and 18 anti-hunger organizations across the country to develop and implement strategies to increase children’s access to healthy meals and snacks through the child nutrition programs.

This year, new CHAMPS projects are being launched in three states: Alabama, California, and Kansas. In California, NLC, FRAC and the Coalition are partnering to provide technical assistance to 11 grantee cities and a number of city agencies to increase participation in afterschool and summer meals.

Collaboration was the theme of both summits. Speakers and attendees discussed the importance of collaboration among city, county, school and community leaders to leverage limited resources. In Southern California, the summit was followed by a breakfast for elected city, county and school district leaders to highlight the critical role that elected officials can play to advance the health and well-being of their communities by supporting access to afterschool and summer meal programs.  These roles range from supporting the development of a citywide promotion campaign and participating in local community events to sponsoring and operating the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs and working with county and school colleagues to identify solutions to out-of-school time barriers.

Attendees at both summits left energized and equipped with innovative strategies to try, new partners to engage, and a renewed commitment to year-round nutrition access. Four key summit takeaways:

City leaders can play a critical role in supporting meal programs.

Hayward City Councilman Mark Salinas shared an example of the important role city leaders and elected officials can play in expanding summer and afterschool meal programs. After hearing about the need in his community, and the federal funding available through the afterschool and summer nutrition programs, he engaged community stakeholders and brought partners together to better meet the nutritional needs of the children in his city.

Having a vision and setting goals is important.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. Having a vision for your city and setting goals for program growth is important. These programs take time to build, and setting realistic goals helps keep efforts on track. Find out where your state ranks in summer meals participation and where you may be able to target efforts.

No community should work in a vacuum.

To reach more children with summer and afterschool meal programs, it’s important for cities, counties and school districts to work together to ensure the well-being of kids in the community. Thinking holistically about the issue of hunger and the solutions that exist – and how to include out-of-school-time in that conversation – allows us all to think creatively about strategies and the unique strengths every organization can add.

When something works, share it.

When models work locally – whether it be a specific type of marketing campaign, a way to improve the quality and appeal of meals served, or a strategy to engage elected officials – it’s important to share them broadly so they can be scaled and tailored to other communities. FRAC and Feeding America’s Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is a great place to share and learn about successes across the country – register today!

If you are a city leader, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out. Reach out to the anti-hunger advocates in your state to see how you can get started today.

Learn more about CHAMPS and the work being done by the California Summer Meals Coalition.

About the Authors:

Clarissa Hayes is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst with the Food Research & Action Center.

 

 

Dawn Schluckebier is a Principal Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

For City Administrators, Open for Business Means Open for Benefits

In this guest post, Colonial Life’s Johnny Castro shares two reasons why benefits communication should be a year-round effort for local governments.

Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Johnny Castro.

If your city government functions like most companies in America, you just completed your annual benefits enrollment. The meetings are over, the posters are down, and the enrollment forms are tidied away in their virtual filing cabinet. Even with good benefits providers on your team doing the heavy lifting, it was likely a lot of work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year – except for a few new employees you’ll probably hire over the next year, you’re good until next fall, right?

In order to truly maximize the major investment your city administrators make in its benefits program, helping city employees understand and make the best use of their benefits requires year-round effort. But it’s worth the work, and here are two great reasons: employee engagement and cost control.

Build a bond with workers

Strong benefits communication does more than help your employees make better benefits choices during open enrollment – it also helps you hold onto your top talent by increasing job satisfaction and workplace loyalty. Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. In fact, employees who rate their benefits education highly are also 76 percent more likely to rate their workplaces as very good or excellent, according to a Colonial Life/Unum U.S. Worker Benefits Survey released last year.

Building a strong, long-term relationship with your employees drives up retention, morale and productivity. Think about what it costs you to replace a worker who leaves for perceived greener pastures. Now add in the resource drain of performance-managing out a disengaged employee who later then must be replaced. While great benefits communication alone isn’t going to change a slacker into a superstar, there’s a clear connection between how well you communicate and how committed your employees are to their work and your government agency.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Avoiding turnover is only part of the cost-control formula. There are hard dollar costs associated with your employees not understanding and using their benefits to protect their health and well-being. Take chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis, for example. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they account for three-fourths of health care costs. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says arthritis is the nation’s top cause of disability.

Yet these types of chronic conditions are among the most preventable problems. Not taking advantage of preventive care coverage such as health screenings and flu shots for fear of the doctor’s bill can lead to more serious illnesses and lost time at work that might have been avoided.

If your city offers more than one health plan option — for example, a lower-deductible, higher-premium traditional preferred provider organization plan or a high-deductible “consumer-driven” plan with lower premiums — it’s important for your employees to understand how each works so they can make the best financial and health decisions for themselves and their families. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts can help employees plan for and manage health care expenses — but only if they participate in them. And that won’t happen if they don’t understand them.

By the way, if you’re ready to pat yourself on the back because your benefits communication is pretty good, you might want to ask your employees if they agree. Research shows there’s a pretty big disconnect on this issue. Less than 40 percent of employers have a formal benefits communication plan (surely, you’re not one of those), yet the vast majority — 90 percent — think their approach is effective, according to LIMRA’s 2016 Help Employers Connect the Dots report. But only a third of employees in our U.S. Worker survey said they understand their benefits very well.

Keep talking

Keeping the benefits conversation going all year long doesn’t have to drain your resources. Here are some simple low- or no-cost ideas for city administrators to build benefits and health knowledge beyond enrollment season:

  • Benefit of the month — Run a series of articles on your employee intranet site explaining in plain language different benefits and how to tell if they’re a good fit. Just because you explained the difference between term and whole life six months ago doesn’t mean every employee will remember the details. Keep the articles archived where they’re easy to find.
  • Share success stories — Use email newsletters, websites or visual displays to celebrate employees who are proud to share they’ve lost weight, committed to an exercise program, or reduced their dependence on medication for high cholesterol, for example.
  • Think seasonally — Create a calendar to talk with employees about seasonal health issues such as staying in shape in the winter and safety for outdoor summer activities.
  • Promote free external resources — Websites such as Colonial Life’s WorkLife have a wealth of information on benefits and health. Or check out Colonial Life’s interactive Benefits Learning Center, which can be customized with your benefits.
  • Bring in experts — Invite your benefits providers to hold open hours or brown-bag lunch-and-learns to explain different benefits throughout the year and answer employees’ questions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep the benefits conversation going with your employees all year, call or email us. They say talk is cheap – but in our opinion, it’s sometimes priceless.

About the author: Johnny Castro is assistant vice president of public sector at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. He can be reached at JCastro@ColonialLife.com or (803) 678-6746. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million American workers and their families.

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.

(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

(Getty Images)

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