Improving Education Will Require Flexibility
By Pam Goins, Director, CSG's Center for Innovation and Transformation in Education
States continue to struggle with radical transformation of public education, which many believe is necessary to make U.S. students more competitive globally. Efforts are underway to effectively prepare teachers, evaluate student learning, develop innovative materials and hold schools accountable for student success.
“Implementing (innovative strategies) is the hardest part,” said Denise Link, chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District board. “We still have so much more to do, it’s almost scary.”
Link is a member of The Council of State Governments’ Deeper Learning Focus Group, which is calling for a more demanding and student-focused educational system.
No longer will traditional teaching methods survive in innovative classrooms. Learning is now personalized, research-driven rather than textbook-driven, where students master the art of self-directed learning, according to members of the Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Network, a set of school networks comprising more than 500 schools in 41 states.
The focus group believes state policymakers and local school district officials must be involved in the development of more rigorous and sophisticated standards, personalized learning, improved assessment systems and valuable teacher professional development surrounding new teaching delivery methods.
CSG’s Deeper Learning Focus Group recommended an emphasis on the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to prepare all students for college and a career. Although many states focus on college readiness, they need to increase efforts in career and technical education, the focus group believes.
“We aren’t measuring kids on technical skills and employability needs,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said. “There are a lot of kids who are college ready but woefully underprepared for the workforce.”
The focus group released a policy framework with a wide range of options that gives local school districts the flexibility to innovate so students graduate with the necessary skills to succeed. Members believe these policies will result in deeper learning outcomes that focus on critical thinking and complex problem-solving, effective communication, collaboration and self-directed learning. The focus group also recommended flexibility, or waivers, from state laws that in many cases prevent local school districts from being innovative.
That choice helps, as Daniele Massey, Department of Defense Education Authority 2013 Teacher of the Year, told the focus group in a meeting in November.
“What our kids learned in algebra was never going to help them in life,” she said. “There’s a bigger picture out there; it’s more about the process. I flipped my classroom into a mastery classroom where we embraced the focus of student learning. We have to give them voice and choice.”
Post MAP-21, States Seek Greater Transportation Funding Certainty
By Sean Slone, CSG Director of Transportation Policy
MAP-21, the hard-won federal surface transportation authorization bill approved by Congress in 2012, will expire at the end of September. Inaction by Congress on a successor would mean the federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in 2015 and bring to a halt many important transportation construction projects around the country.
“(MAP-21) was a wonderful six-year bill with only two years of funding,” said Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock.
As the 2014 president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, known as AASHTO, Hancock will help lead the charge to encourage Congress to pass the next bill on time and avoid the many short-term extensions that caused headaches for states the last time around.
“The uncertainty … constantly forces the states to roll the dice in the hopes that everything will come together for the following year’s program,” he said. “Many of the projects that we do are multi-year projects.”
The looming fiscal cliff for the trust fund, which had to be propped up by a general fund transfer as part of MAP-21, will make the task for Congress even more difficult. There appears to be little agreement regarding what to do about the fund’s principle revenue source—the federal gas tax. The tax has not been raised in more than 20 years and is not indexed to account for inflation. Increasing fuel efficiency, alternative fuel vehicles and declines in driving are expected to further erode gas tax revenues in the future.
“What we would love to see is a multi-year bill that includes long-term, sustainable highway funding from the federal government,” Hancock said.
Not everyone shares that perspective. Some in Congress have proposed reducing the gas tax and transferring authority over federal transportation programs to states. Hancock and others think that would be a mistake.
“We do want and need a vibrant role (for the federal government) in transportation funding in America,” he said. “There are too many things at a national level that simply require federal involvement. We need to have that consistency in the program as a hallmark of the program.”
Moreover, Hancock believes the federal program should maintain the principle of a user fee-based system. He doesn’t think transitioning to sales taxes—as some states have done or have proposed—or continuing to rely on general fund revenues would provide a sustainable, predictable, long-term solution. A transition to a mileage-based tax system appears inevitable but requires further incubation at the state level in places like Oregon, which has been experimenting with the concept for more than a dozen years.
Hancock said as the federal government and other state governments search for solutions in the near term, they might be wise to take a cue from his home state of Kentucky, which has an indexed gas tax.
“That indexing provision really helps us keep pace (with inflation) when other forms of taxation may not be,” he said. “It’s really kept us afloat and I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned.”
Energy & Environment
Uncertainty Abounds about Impact of New Greenhouse Gas Emission Rules
By Brydon Ross, CSG Director of Energy and Environmental Policy
Many states—especially those that rely on coal-fired power plants—will be paying close attention to an expected Environmental Protection Agency rule on greenhouse gas emissions.
The rule, part of the president’s climate action plan, will require states to set performance standards and develop implementation plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, from existing power plants. The EPA is expected to release the rule in June 2014; the plans fall under section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act.
One concern states have is the potential for increases in energy costs for manufacturers that rely on coal-fired power for electricity.
“There is no known cost-effective control technique for carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants,” said Bob Hodanbosi, Air Pollution Control division chief at Ohio EPA. “In order for industrial plants in our state to remain competitive in a global marketplace it is necessary for factories to have reliable and inexpensive electricity.”
State air agencies typically need several years to develop implementation plans for existing sources of air pollution like particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The new plans must be completed and submitted to EPA in less than two years.
The size and scope of the regulatory universe for existing emissions of criteria pollutants versus carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases vastly differs. According to 2012 EPA emissions data, currently regulated air pollutants like carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds totaled roughly 83 million tons of emissions, while total 2011 carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. were more than 6.7 billion tons.
Hodanbosi said many states have been working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use through their own initiatives. It’s not clear whether existing state efficiency and renewable energy standards would be incorporated in the agency’s rulemaking.
Now, he said, “agencies currently do not know whether these state programs, that were tailored to meet the unique needs of each state, will be sufficient to meet the guidelines that will be issued by U.S. EPA.”
Hodanbosi said state environmental agencies and public utility commissions must to work in tandem to evaluate the potential effects these new federal requirements may have because of high carbon dioxide abatement costs and subsequent impacts on electricity prices and reliability.
“The final rules should recognize the state programs that are in place and the practical differences in electricity production among the various states,” he said.
States Explore Genetically Modified Food Label Laws
By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
Although most of the discussion in states about agriculture centered on the farm bill in 2013, food-labeling laws are becoming one of the next hotly debated topics.
Genetically modified organisms include crops that have been modified to resist disease or withstand certain herbicides. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 94 percent of cotton, 93 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of corn planted in the U.S. in 2012 was genetically modified.
State leaders are increasingly pushing for laws requiring products using genetically modified organisms—or GMOs—to be labeled. Benjamin Senauer, professor of applied economics in the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources, said more than half the states are considering labeling laws.
There’s a good reason for that.
“There’s no chance of federal action on this,” Senauer said. “There is no indication that the Food and Drug Administration has any intention of changing their existing regulations, which treat GMOs as substantially equivalent to the conventional counterparts and therefore do not require any special regulations or special labeling.”
When labeling issues do get on a state ballot, big money has been following. California’s Proposition 37 campaign brought in donations of more than $50 million in 2012. Oregon’s Initiative 522 campaign brought in $30 million in 2013. Both measures were defeated.
But some states took action in 2013. Connecticut and Maine passed mandatory labeling laws, but both of them contain triggers requiring nearby states with at least a total population of 20 million to also pass labeling legislation for their laws to take effect.
Senauer said the potential threat of industry lawsuits is making states cautious. Industry leaders probably would challenge the state laws by alleging they are pre-empting FDA regulations, he said.
“With this pre-emption principle, there is the basis for a lawsuit,” Senauer said. “This would not be frivolous. It would be taken seriously by a court. How a court would rule, … that’s to be determined.”
Senauer believes consumers and the grocery stores eventually will settle GMO labeling outside of state capitols. One national chain already has announced it will require all GMO goods to be labeled by 2018.
“We’re seeing more and more products showing up on their (grocery store) shelves indicating they’re GMO free,” he said. “ I just think a lot of companies are very, very sensitive, trying to figure out what it is their customer, their consumer, wants and are responding to it.”
States do About-Face on Immigration Legislation
By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
What a difference two years and an election can make.
In the first half of 2011, more than 1,500 immigration bills and resolutions were introduced in statehouses across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of them were based on Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, passed in 2010, which greatly expanded the traditional role states have played in immigration enforcement.
Flash-forward to the first half of 2013, which saw lawmakers enact almost 400 laws and resolutions related to immigration. Many of those new laws expanded the rights of unauthorized immigrants by granting them driving privileges, in-state tuition at colleges and universities or by refusing to detain unauthorized immigrants for federal officials.
“We have never frankly seen such a quick turnaround from the anti-immigrant mode of 2010-2012 to suddenly in the opposite direction of wanting to pass measures that would be in favor of immigrants or advancing immigrant rights,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law.
Chishti said the about-face is due to two main reasons: the 2012 election and the June 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down most parts of the Arizona law.
“It was a strong statement by a reasonably conservative court, including Chief Justice John Roberts, ruling that essentially, enough is enough,” he said. “The legal landscape completely changed. All the other laws, which were cast in the mold of SB 1070, were suddenly suspect. All these laws, one by one, have either been revisited or settled.
“The election of 2012 changed the political dynamic. … What the election of 2012 ushered in was a new kind of recognition that the power of the Latino vote had to be reckoned with. You could argue that the president won the election because of the Latino vote.”
Chishti said what happens during the new legislative session regarding immigration depends on whether Congress can finally pass comprehensive immigration reform and what happens to the economy. If either or both of them fail, states’ pro-immigrant stances may change.
“If Congress fails to act on immigration reform again and states once again get quite frustrated with Congress’ ability to work towards controlling illegal immigration,” he said, “then they (states) may become more assertive than they have in the past year. The Congressional stance on this may make a lot of difference.
“If the economy picks up a little, whenever we feel optimistic about ourselves, we feel more welcoming toward immigrants. When we feel pessimistic about ourselves, we tend to be less hospitable.”
Expanding Medicaid to Cover More … or Not
By Debra Miller, CSG Director of Health Policy
Rep. Tom Sherman had one final argument to expand Medicaid eligibility on the final day of the New Hampshire special legislative session in November 2013: “It IS rocket science,” he said. “You have to put in the time to fully understand Medicaid and the question of expansion.”
In the end, his argument was not successful. The Democratic-controlled House passed its bill. The Senate rejected the bill proposed by the majority Republican caucus, another Senate bill put up by the Democratic minority and the House bill.
“Expansion is dead. I am in mourning,” said Sherman. “There was a huge effort by a ton of people.”
Sherman, a physician and a freshman legislator, was a member of New Hampshire’s Commission to Study the Expansion of Medicaid.
Commission members unanimously adopted the final report, but split over the recommendation to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty as allowed by the Affordable Care Act and capture the federal funding that begins to flow Jan. 1, 2014. The commission was comprised of three senators and three representatives, equally balanced between Republicans and Democrats, and three citizen members.
“There is no Plan B. We will have to face the consequences of not expanding,” Sherman said. “We won’t be able to afford the uninsured.” As a physician, he said, “I can picture my uninsured patients who could be helped with low-cost medicines, but they can’t even afford that.”
For the time being, New Hampshire will remain in the half of states opting not to expand Medicaid and forgoing the federal funding. Many of these states likely will revisit these decisions in 2014.
Health care providers in many states are pressuring legislators and governors to accept Medicaid expansion. Additional pressure may come from uninsured people who seek insurance through the health insurance exchanges, but learn they are not eligible for federal tax subsidies to make premiums affordable if their incomes are below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated 5 million people fall in this insurance coverage gap in the 25 states without Medicaid expansion.
Virginia has never stopped visiting the expansion issue, said Rep. John O’Bannon, who sits on the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission created by the General Assembly.
“If we can get some degree of reform done, then we can look to expansion,” he said. “Our timeline runs well into next year.”
Among the issues Virginia is moving to fix before expanding eligibility are standardizing Medicaid waivers and moving long-term care and mental health patients into managed care. As for the pressure to expand to capture the maximum federal funding, “we have a list of things (to reform) so we can be comfortable and go ahead and expand,” O’Bannon said. Terry McAuliffe, the new Virginia governor, has come out publicly in support of expansion, “so there will be a dynamic in that regard.”