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Federal Urban Policy (General)

White House Directs Agencies to Cut Budgets, But Reaffirms Commitment to Place-based Strategies

In a front page story published this morning (June 8), the Washington Post is reporting that the Obama administration is directing federal agencies to cut spending by at least 5 percent by "identifying programs that do little to advance their missions or President Obama's agenda." The cuts would apply prospectively to the FY 2012 budget, which will be submitted to Congress next February. According to the Post article, the cuts would be used to help meet the president's pledge to freeze all non-national security spending, which was made during the State of the Union address earlier this year.

Promise Neighborhoods is not a "program that does little to advance President Obama's agenda" and would thus appear to be immune to the administration's planned cuts. Indeed, according to the Post story, the administration plans to ask Congress for authority to reallocate half of the generated savings to priority programs, presumably including programs like Promise Neighborhoods, if not necessarily Promise Neighborhoods itself (that remains to be seen).

One of two June 8 memos (the other is here) clearly underlines the continued importance of the place-based agenda to the administration:

Place-Based Policies. The place-based policy objective for the FY 2012 Budget is to build on the interagency work that has been done last year and advance the Administration’s policy priorities in the most effective ways, whether by improving place-based strategies already operating or by adopting such strategies where there is significant potential for impact on a problem. The Administration’s priority is to continue to broadly apply place policy principles to Federal programs, with a particular focus for the FY 2012 Budget to strengthen target areas’ economic competitiveness and achieve greater cost effectiveness in proposed and existing policies and programs. Further guidance and details will be issued this summer.

While this guidance would seem to hold place-based programs harmless, Congress may have different ideas when presented with a budget that includes significant cuts. Moreover, it is questionable whether Congress will allow the administration the power to reallocate savings. Many in Congress have been unwilling, for example, to grant the president the line-item veto, constitutional questions not withstanding.

On the other hand, the political dynamics in Washington do suggest that cuts are coming one way or another.  Congress, which is registering record low levels of popularity heading into this fall's elections, may prefer that the administration made the hard budgetary decisions. According to a separate Washington Post story, also published today:

[A Washington Post-ABC News] survey shows that 29 percent of Americans now say they are inclined to support their House representative in November, even lower than in 1994, when voters swept the Democrats out of power in the that chamber after 40 years in the majority.

Meanwhile:

Obama's overall approval ratings have remained fairly steady. More than half of those surveyed, 52 percent, say they approve of the way he is handling his job, and for the first time since last fall, half approve of how he is dealing with the economy.

There are new vulnerabilities in public perceptions of the president, however, that may provide fresh openings for Republicans to reframe the debate. Nearly half, 48 percent, now say that Obama does not understand the problems of people like them, the highest of his presidency. For the first time, a slim majority of independents say Obama is out of touch with their problems. Most Americans continue to view the president as a strong leader, but the proportion has declined.

We are admittedly biased here at Building Neighborhoods, but we see the president's support for Promise Neighborhoods and its broader place-based agenda as a political goldmine waiting to be tapped. American Express saw the value in associating itself with our movement in a Super Bowl ad featuring HCZ's Geoff Canada. American Express knows a winner when it sees one. I have a feeling the administration is going to find us soon, too.

Rise of the Reformers

I recently closed out a post with the following, intentionally provocative statement:

As I wrote back in March, there are revolutionary, transformational things happening here. Perhaps just as interesting, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are some revolutionaries in the education community hard at work behind the scenes that we have not previously written about. Dots are connecting and our little world does fit into a bigger picture.

It is time to revisit that statement. In my spare time (ha!) I have been doing a little poking around to see who might be calling the shots behind the scenes on some of the reformist themes we have seen coming from this administration. It turns out the bigger picture is much bigger than I first thought. This is much more than about education. As I noted in Tipping Neighborhoods To Success:

Promise Neighborhoods seems to be the crest of an emerging ‘third wave’ of social policy that may bring real and enduring change not just to our nation’s urban neighborhoods, but to American social and education policy as a whole.

I still believe that, but it is obvious that Promise Neighborhoods is not alone on that crest. Promise Neighborhoods is just one of several programs that reflect a recurring set of underlying reformist themes. Some of these reformist themes include:

  • Innovation: This administration clearly values innovation in government. The i3 program and Social Innovation Fund are clear examples in the nonprofit space.
  • Private Sector Funding: This administration has, to a greater extent than any other, fully engaged the philanthropic community. That has included engaging the traditional big foundations, but also the newer generation of philanthropists who are often more willing to be daring and experimental (those are people after our own hearts right here at BN).
  • Competition and Prizes: The administration’s new initiatives utilize grant competitions rather than formula funding to much greater extent than in the past. Promise Neighborhoods is clearly part of that larger trend. So too is NASA with its Centennial Challenge, which offers cash prizes to individuals and groups that find innovative solutions to assorted technical challenges. That may have little directly to do with Promise Neighborhoods, other than I also think it is cool, but it does appear to be part of this larger administration theme.
  • Data and Evidence: The importance of such things as evidence-based practices, data, communities of practice, performance measurement, and results are evident throughout the Promise Neighborhoods application, but also many other new administration programs.
  • Transparency / Open Government: The administration’s support of open government does not appear to be lip service. The White House Open Government Initiative seems to be central to its commitment to transparency and accountability, both of which will play out in its place-based agenda.

Each of these themes is a key element in a broader reformist movement. Like it or not, we are part of it, and the best local efforts will be those that feed into and play off it.

As this blog rolls forward and covers the various aspects of the place-based movement, we will occasionally write about these themes in a series we will call "Rise of the Reformers." Credit for the phrase belongs to Steven Brill, who penned an interesting article about the current crop of education reformers in a recent issue of NYT magazine. In it, Brill wrote about:

... the rise of the reformers who seem to be in daily communication through e-mail and blogs. The standard profile is someone who went to a prestige college, joined Teach for America for a two-year stint and found the work and the challenges so compelling that he or she decided education should be more than a layover before a real career. So they did more teaching or became involved running a charter school or a reform group, then kept moving up the ladder as sympathetic political leaders, including Democrats (most in this network also seem to be Democrats), took over cities or states and looked for people to overhaul school systems.

Brill is onto something. The profile fits, but it is not limited to education. Increasingly, these reformers and their ideas are spilling over into other areas, including mixed social welfare-education programs like Promise Neighborhoods. They are significantly influencing philanthropy, not least those philanthropic institutions that trace their roots to Silicon Valley. Their influence is being felt at the highest levels of the administration.

This series will explore this burgeoning movement and its impact on ours. Time permitting, the series will include the following articles:

Rise of the Reformers: The Racers
Rise of the Reformers: The Transformers
Rise of the Reformers: The Venture Philanthropists
Rise of the Reformers: The Charters
Rise of the Reformers: The Housers
Rise of the Reformers: The Data Geeks
Rise of the Reformers: The Pre-K Crowd
Rise of the Reformers: The Goo Goos

Postscript: I will close this article on a personal note. I worked in the Clinton administration as a junior staffer and actually spent time working in the West Wing. This is a lot like Al Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative from that period – or, more accurately, like Reinventing Government on steroids.

Perhaps uncomfortably, I think we at Building Neighborhoods may have a few things in common with this bunch, which suggests a bias in favor of the reformers (evident from this post) that we will try to control. In some cases the reformers face opposing arguments, some quite valid. We will try to air all sides fairly.

Still, as anyone who has read our mission statement knows (see Method to Our Madness: Social Media, Community and Social Change), Building Neighborhoods itself is intended to be an innovation. It was intended to challenge and shake up the status quo -- in education, social services, and philanthropy – and thereby become part of a larger transformative movement aimed at making government work. The fate of our own experiment is as yet undetermined, but we will make the most of it.  Stay tuned.

Washington Update

Whew!  Quite a week here in Washington, DC. As promised, Hayling and I have been hard at work on the funding situation. Here's an update.

Congress

Not surprisingly, as a community we have a lot of friends in Washington. They have heard us and are doing what they can. We will report more if and when we are able. I appreciate your reports from the field. It is good for us to know when you have made those contacts.

What's next? Congress is currently on recess, but when they return most of the action will take place in the House and Senate appropriations committees. As we previously reported, there is a strong possibility that the appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over Promise Neighborhoods will be charged with cutting President Obama's proposed budget. Also, as we previously reported, under normal circumstances that would mean that much of the cuts would be imposed on new spending programs -- i.e., on programs like Promise Neighborhoods.

It's our job -- as a community -- to make sure that doesn't happen by making our case that this is a program that deserves support. We think a similar case should be made for Choice Neighborhoods, though we will need help from some in the HOPE VI community to make that happen. The Choice Neighborhoods supporters among you are encouraged to reach out and connect to me so we can coordinate properly. I do not have the connections in the housing community that some of you have.

While the final spending decisions are not likely to be made until after the elections in November, the broad outlines of these decisions are likely to be made in the appropriations committees in June and July. So time is not our friend.

Letter

We set an original date of today (Friday, June 4) to get signers on our letter because we felt we needed a strong initial list of supporters to show to our friends on Capitol Hill. However, we are now extending the deadline to encourage additional signers. The new deadline is two weeks from today -- Friday, June 18. To sign on, contact me at plester@unca.org. [If your email bounces, please call me at 202-429-0400, x15. I have gotten a few reports of that, which is worrisome because our IT people report no problems.]

As of today, 221 organizations and public officials have endorsed the letter. They include the following national organizations.

Afterschool Alliance
Alliance for Children and Families
America’s Promise Alliance
American Camp Association
Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church
Boys Town
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Children’s Defense Fund
Clinical Social Work Association
Coalition for Community Schools
Coalition for Juvenile Justice
Institute for Community Peace
First Focus Campaign for Children
Forum for Youth Investment
Foster Family-Based Treatment Association
Lutheran Services in America
MENTOR
National Human Services Assembly
National Organization of State Associations for Children
National Parent Teacher Association
Public Allies
Social Solutions
United Neighborhood Centers of America
United Way Worldwide

The list of public official supporters includes such notables as Mayor Buddy Dyer (Orlando, FL), Mayor R.T. Rybak (Minneapolis, MN), and Mayor Wayne J. Hall (Hempstead, NY). Hempstead deserves special commendation because five Hempstead public officials signed on.

State-wise, Minnesota remains the leader, with 40 signers so far. If all 50 states did that well, we would have 2,000 organizations and public officials already, so the rest of you have some catching up to do!

I hope I didn't embarrass my Minnesota friends by spotlighting their national leadership. They have proven Garrison Keillor right when he said Minnesotans were above average (apparently it's not just those in Lake Wobegon). Regardless, I have a feeling "log sawing for neighborhoods" just might become one of my new favorite phrases. (smile)  Have a wonderful weekend!

Congressional Black Caucus Addresses Youth Unemployment

Title:  Congressional Black Caucus Addresses Youth Unemployment
The Congressional Black Caucus hosted a hearing entitled "Out of Work But Not Out of Hope: Addressing the Crisis of the Chronically Unemployed."
The panel brought together local and national leaders along with policy experts and practitioners to address the widespread unemployment that has been brought on by the recession. Participants included National Urban League CEO Marc H Morial, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, and Reverend Jesse Jackson.
The third of the event's four panels addressed "Strengthening the Next Generation of Workers - Summer Youth Jobs, Training and Long Term Employment." Mala Thakur of the National Youth Employment Coalition discussed the importance of summer employment in addition to year-round opportunities for youth. She emphasized the need for a focus on investments in both short-term and sustainable long-term employment prospects. Thakur also expressed support for the reauthorization and strengthening of the Workforce Investment Act in addition to more funding for a House Education & Labor Committee jobs bill. Proposed expansions in these bills would change eligibility requirements and extend support to more youth, including those out of school.
Melissa Boteach of the Half in Ten Coalition added that these initiatives are critical for increasing the long-term employment prospects of youth, as early job opportunities can foster the development of critical "soft skills." Gaining a sense of work responsibility, punctuality, and professionalism are some of the intangible, yet invaluable experiences that these programs can provide for youth.
Largely targeting communities living in urban poverty, youth employment policy is an important component of the wraparound services that Promise Neighborhoods should provide. Integrated with other social services and
educational opportunities, this piece should play an important role throughout the "cradle-to-career" pipeline in place-based efforts across the country. As Promise Neighborhoods moves forward, UNCA will work with the administration and CBC to help make sure this important piece is included.
Today the Congressional Black Caucus hosted a hearing entitled "Out of Work But Not Out of Hope: Addressing the Crisis of the Chronically Unemployed."

The panel brought together local and national leaders along with policy experts and practitioners to address the widespread unemployment that has been brought on by the recession. Participants included National Urban League CEO Marc H Morial, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

The third of the event's four panels addressed "Strengthening the Next Generation of Workers - Summer Youth Jobs, Training and Long Term Employment." Mala Thakur of the National Youth Employment Coalition discussed the importance of summer employment in addition to year-round opportunities for youth. She emphasized the need for a focus on investments in both short-term and sustainable long-term employment prospects. Thakur also expressed support for the reauthorization and strengthening of the Workforce Investment Act in addition to more funding for a House Education & Labor Committee jobs bill. Proposed expansions in these bills would change eligibility requirements and extend support to more youth, including those out of school.

Melissa Boteach of the Half in Ten Coalition added that these initiatives are critical for increasing the long-term employment prospects of youth, as early job opportunities can foster the development of critical "soft skills." Gaining a sense of work responsibility, punctuality, and professionalism are some of the intangible, yet invaluable experiences that these programs can provide for youth.

Largely targeting communities living in urban poverty, youth employment policy is an important component of the wraparound services that Promise Neighborhoods should provide. Integrated with other social services and educational opportunities, this piece should play an important role throughout the "cradle-to-career" pipeline in place-based efforts across the country. As Promise Neighborhoods moves forward, UNCA will work with the administration and CBC to help make sure this important piece is included.

House Panel Holds Hearing on Charter Schools

The House Education and Labor Committee held a full committee hearing on H.R. 4330, the All Students Achieving through Reform Act of 2009. This bill would expand access to quality charter schools nationwide and may be included in the upcoming ESEA reauthorization. The event began with supportive remarks from committee chairman George Miller that were largely echoed by Republican members present. Bipartisanship reigned through most of the event, although a few Democrats expressed reservations at times.
While Promise Neighborhoods were not specifically referenced, charter schools are an important part of the Harlem Children’s Zone model. Promise Neighborhoods are also likely to be incorporated into ESEA reauthorization, of which this is part, and will probably be discussed more explicitly in upcoming hearings.
Chairman Miller opened the hearing with praise for high-performing charter schools that he said “are proving that the low-income and minority students can succeed when given the right tools, challenges and learning environments.” However, he noted that charters are not a “silver bullet” for fixing schools and that there are several programs that need to be shut down.
Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voiced support from the Republican side, sharing how successful charter schools helped underserved students in his home state of Louisiana. Other committee members said there was a need to expand charter school programs, noting that there are currently 365,000 students nationwide on character school waiting lists, a population that could fill over 1,000 schools.
A few Democrats pushed back, however, including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who cited a UCLA report (insert link) that we recently shared showing evidence of segregation in charter schools. Panelists explained that in some states, charters in “majority minority” communities are required to mirror the populations of their neighborhoods. Therefore, they did not consider the lack of integration a civil rights issue but rather compliance with state regulations intended to close achievement gaps. Proponents of this current system explained that forced racial integration of these schools would defeat their intended purpose of serving underprivileged communities. One panelist added that an influx of privileged students in successful inner-city charters could actually limit the ability of programs to serve their target populations.
Providing more details on their research and operations, panelists attributed the success of high-performing charter schools to the flexibility they have for innovation and reform. This was emphasized by Harlem Success Academies (unaffiliated with the HCZ) founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz:
[T]he federal government must protect the single greatest ingredient of success: autonomy. The whole concept of charters is that it is a compact between the state and the operator to deliver student achievement results in exchange for freedom.
However, when probed about systemic concerns and conclusions regarding charters, panelists explained that there is not enough data available to make any strong assessments. This is due to a lack of comprehensive research across the forty one states that each has unique charter school regulations.
On February 24, the House Education and Labor Committee held a full committee hearing on H.R. 4330, the All Students Achieving through Reform Act of 2009. This bill would expand access to quality charter schools nationwide and may be included in the upcoming ESEA reauthorization. The event began with supportive remarks from committee chairman George Miller that were largely echoed by Republican members present. Bipartisanship reigned through most of the event, although a few Democrats expressed reservations at times.

While Promise Neighborhoods were not specifically referenced, charter schools are an important part of the Harlem Children’s Zone model. Promise Neighborhoods are also likely to be incorporated into ESEA reauthorization, of which this is part, and will probably be discussed more explicitly in upcoming hearings.

Chairman Miller opened the hearing with praise for high-performing charter schools that he said “are proving that the low-income and minority students can succeed when given the right tools, challenges and learning environments.” However, he noted that charters are not a “silver bullet” for fixing schools and that there are several programs that need to be shut down.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voiced support from the Republican side, sharing how successful charter schools helped underserved students in his home state of Louisiana. Other committee members said there was a need to expand charter school programs, noting that there are currently 365,000 students nationwide on character school waiting lists, a population that could fill over 1,000 schools.

A few Democrats pushed back, however, including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who cited a UCLA report that we recently shared showing evidence of segregation in charter schools. Panelists explained that in some states, charters in “majority minority” communities are required to mirror the populations of their neighborhoods. Therefore, they did not consider the lack of integration a civil rights issue but rather compliance with state regulations intended to close achievement gaps. Proponents of this current system argued that forced racial integration of these schools would defeat their intended purpose of serving underprivileged communities. One panelist added that an influx of privileged students in successful inner-city charters could actually limit the ability of programs to serve their target populations.

Providing more details on their research and operations, panelists attributed the success of high-performing charter schools to the flexibility they have for innovation and reform. This was emphasized by Harlem Success Academies (unaffiliated with the HCZ) founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz:

[T]he federal government must protect the single greatest ingredient of success: autonomy. The whole concept of charters is that it is a compact between the state and the operator to deliver student achievement results in exchange for freedom.

However, when probed about systemic concerns and conclusions regarding charters, panelists explained that there is not enough data available to make any strong assessments. This is due to a lack of comprehensive research across the forty one states that each has unique charter school regulations.

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by Dr. Radut