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01.24 What Online Ballots Did for Inclusion in Participatory Budgeting: San Francisco

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 | Megan Rose Donovan

Nearly every voter in San Francisco’s District 7 participatory budgeting (PB) process cast their vote online last year. In fact, in-person voting was limited to just 45 of 1,504 ballots.

Online voting is becoming more and more common in PB. Thirty-nine percent of cities and towns doing PB in North America allowed residents to cast a ballot online in 2015-16, a big increase from 9 percent in 2014-15. San Francisco’s District 7 is a bit of an outlier, having used online voting since it’s first PB cycle in 2013-14.

Erica Maybaum, a legislative aide to San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee, implements San Francisco’s PB process. She calls online voting “indispensable” for achieving their PB goals, which include expanding engagement, helping residents understand how governing works and how they can have a voice in government decisions, and reaching all communities across the district. She writes:

The biggest benefit of the online voting platform is that it is a tool that allows for widespread participation with less effort because it is easily distributed...In our experience, it has made the process particularly more accessible to schools and members of the business community

Erica acknowledges online voting and other digital tools have their downsides. As she explains in a case study included in our recent PB report, there were a lot of questions around accessibility and distribution that PB leaders had to consider before launching the process online.

She also acknowledges that online processes cannot supplement the dialogue and discussion that happen in face-to-face meetings, particularly as residents first start working with city representatives to envision and discuss potential projects. “This builds understanding of government processes and trust between residents and city staff,” she said. “We also recognize that online platforms may not be as accessible to those with less familiarity with or access to digital technologies.”

For those looking to use online voting in their PB processes, Erica offers a few suggestions:

  • Start small and simple and build up. Focus on the basics and essentials of voting first. More complex options, such as offering participants a way to rank projects, can be developed after initial unanticipated challenges have been addressed.
  • Get feedback on the platform. What works for each community may be different. Request feedback and constructive criticism along the way. Streamlining the process will be appreciated by all involved, and feedback is critical to creating an improved process.
  • Build partnerships with other organizations to help spread the word about online voting. An advantage of digital ballots and other online tools is that organizations and partners can share and outreach to their own communities and networks.

Read more stories about PB across the U.S. and Canada in our recent report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


01.20 Engaging Ideas - 1/20/2017

Friday, January 20th, 2017 | Public Agenda


Why America Is Self-Segregating (Data & Society)
What makes people willing to hear difference is knowing and trusting people whose worldview differs from their own. Exposure to content cannot make up for self-segregation. If we want to develop a healthy democracy, we need a diverse and highly connected social fabric. This requires creating contexts in which the American public voluntarily struggles with the challenges of diversity to build bonds that will last a lifetime. We have been systematically undoing this, and the public has used new technological advances to make their lives easier by self-segregating.

'Divisiveness' Drives Texas Mayor to Resign After Just 1 Month (Texas Tribune via Governing)
About a month after being sworn in, Corpus Christi Mayor Dan McQueen announced his resignation in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, asserting that he could "no longer deal with such differing views and divisiveness," according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.


How Technology Is Giving Town Hall Meetings a Modern Twist (Government Technology)
Municipalities are using the latest communications tools to make government meetings more available to the public. “In public meetings the person who walks up to that microphone is the one who thinks they have it right, the one who thinks they know the answer, and who therefore has the greatest bias,” said Martin Carcasson, a senior public engagement fellow at the nonprofit Public Agenda.


U.S. Ranks 23rd Out of 30 Developed Countries for Inequality (The Atlantic)
A comprehensive index from the World Economic Forum finds that for such a rich country, America isn't doing all that well at creating prosperity.

Republicans Say They’ve Experienced Less Inequality Than Democrats (The New York Times’s Upshot)
Those are some of the findings from the poll, by PerryUndem, a nonpartisan research and polling firm whose biggest clients are foundations. It surveyed 1,302 adults in December via the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak panel. Eighty-two percent of women said sexism was a problem in society today, and 41 percent of women said they had felt unequal because of their gender. Men underestimated the sexism felt by the women in their lives, the survey found. And while most respondents agreed it’s a better time to be a man than a woman in our society, only Republican men thought it was a better time to be a woman than a man. Side note: Check out the graphs on the share of people who say they have felt unequal in American society because of aspects of their identity.

K-12 Education

Key Federal Studies Face Hazy Future Under Trump (Education Week)
After fending off threats from congressional Republicans for years, some big federal studies that yield troves of data on education face an even more uncertain future.

What Betsy DeVos Did (and Didn't) Reveal About Her Education Priorities (The Atlantic)
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.

Maybe Teaching Special Ed Doesn't Have To Be So Hard (KUER 90.1)
Ask any special ed teacher and they will probably tell you that paperwork is the bane of their jobs. These three teachers at Renaissance Academy in Utah have figured out how to keep it under control.

What Do Americans Think of School Choice? Depends on How You Ask the Question (The 74)
Attitudes about education are increasingly colored by partisan rancor. Support for choice varies depending on how it is described. The only poll conducted so far on the plan was released last week by the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group founded by DeVos that trumpets itself as “the nation’s voice for educational choice.” By a 51–35 margin, the survey sample backed the idea of “shifting twenty billion dollars in funding from other programs to school choice.”  Note the diction: the word “choice” tends to poll well, and the generic “other programs” displaces costs into the ether. That’s a fairly good illustration of where we are in determining American attitudes on both traditional schools and reform alternatives.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Tough Questions for DeVos  (Inside Higher Ed)
For Democrats looking to find out more about DeVos’s views -- especially regarding higher education issues -- it was a frustrating hearing. DeVos's prepared remarks didn't offer much insight into the approach she would take toward higher ed. She acknowledged the problem of high volumes of student loan debt but did not propose a solution. DeVos also added that career education programs should not be viewed as a "fallback" for students who don't succeed in college but should instead be viewed as one of a number of "pathways" to postsecondary education.

Three Questions Higher Education Must Consider (Inside Higher Ed)
We in higher education need to engage in a serious dialogue about our role in exacerbating the opportunity gap and our obligation going forward to close it, argues Dan Greenstein.

America’s Great Working-Class Colleges (The New York Times)
The most comprehensive study of college graduates yet conducted, based on millions of anonymous tax filings and financial-aid records. Published Wednesday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus. The paper is the latest in a burst of economic research made possible by the availability of huge data sets and powerful computers.

Key things to know about Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondos’ free college plan (WPRI)
Beginning with students in the high school graduating class of 2017, Rhode Island will cover the cost of tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island for two years – which basically means a free associate degree. If students choose to attend Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island, the state would pick up the cost of tuition and fees – but not room and board – for their junior and senior years of college. The governor’s top aides are quick to say they don’t expect every young person to attend college, but they want every kid to at least have the chance to attend college with significantly less concern over how they’re going to pay for it. They’re pointing to surveys of high school seniors in Rhode Island that show 90% of students want to attend college but only 65% of them are actually attending a higher education institution directly after graduating high school.

Health Care

Pointed Questions Await Trump's Pick For Health Secretary (AP)
With coverage for millions of people at stake, Rep. Tom Price is facing pointed questions about President-elect Donald Trump's health policies — and his own investments in health care companies — from senators considering his selection as health secretary. While Price, an orthopedic surgeon-turned-lawmaker, is largely a known quantity on Capitol Hill, Trump's bottom line on health care remains a mystery for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Why the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare is so extraordinary (Wonkblog)
There have been only a few other occasions in the history of modern countries when something like this has happened.

POLITICO-Harvard poll: Trump voters want to repeal Obamacare immediately (Politico)
When it comes to Obamacare, Americans who voted for Donald Trump have one clear priority: Get rid of it. Fast. But that’s not how the rest of the country looks at it, according to the latest POLITICO-Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health poll on priorities for the first 100 days of the new administration.

Do high-deductible plans make the health care system better? (Marketplace)
Those high-deductible or “catastrophic” plans work like this: you pay most of your own medical bills up to a specific amount — usually thousands of dollars — before your insurance kicks in. Price, and congressional Republicans say they’re a big part of what should replace Obamacare. And it’s not just the GOP who likes them; Democrats and employers have also embraced these plans. But here’s a complication: researchers do not know if high-deductible plans actually lead to good health care.


01.19 Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

Post-election, we've heard a lot about the economic woes and anxieties of rural Americans, often in a manner that contrasts these viewpoints with urban residents. Based on our latest research, such framing creates an unnecessary and, in fact, harmful dichotomy.

In a series of focus groups, we spent the past year talking with folks from small and large cities, including San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro of New York and numerous points in between. Americans talked about the American economy, their opportunities for getting ahead in life, and their feelings about inequality and the American Dream.

It turns out these urban and large-metro-area focus group participants expressed a lot of concerns and anxieties shared by the rural Americans we've heard from since the election. People talked about running harder and harder just to stay in place in today's economy. Most agreed that the primary cause for their anxiety was a political system unresponsive to their needs, over-responsive to wealthy special interests, and impervious to their efforts to create change.

Despite the dominant narrative of two Americas, we witnessed common ground across political parties, demographic groups and regions of the country. Perhaps most importantly, the common ground was not limited to how people experience the problems facing the country. There was also a good deal of agreement on solutions. And in the course of our research, we discovered important clues about how to help people engage these large and difficult topics in productive ways.

We have significant divides in our country, by race, class and other distinctions, and we ignore these at our peril. But the narrative that has emerged post-election about two Americas exacerbates our differences and helps make the common ground insignificant, also to our peril.

We'll release findings from our research in early February. In that report, we'll dive into implications for public policy, public engagement and the possibilities of a common agenda for greater economic opportunity and political equity. As a subscriber to our email list, you'll be among the first to receive the report -- we look forward to your responses.


01.19 Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

Post-election, we've heard a lot about the economic woes and anxieties of rural Americans, often in a manner that contrasts these viewpoints with urban residents. Based on our latest research, such framing creates an unnecessary and, in fact, harmful dichotomy.

In a series of focus groups, we spent the past year talking with folks from small and large cities, including San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro of New York and numerous points in between. Americans talked about the American economy, their opportunities for getting ahead in life, and their feelings about inequality and the American Dream.

It turns out these urban and large-metro-area focus group participants expressed a lot of concerns and anxieties shared by the rural Americans we've heard from since the election. People talked about running harder and harder just to stay in place in today's economy. Most agreed that the primary cause for their anxiety was a political system unresponsive to their needs, over-responsive to wealthy special interests, and impervious to their efforts to create change.

Despite the dominant narrative of two Americas, we witnessed common ground across political parties, demographic groups and regions of the country. Perhaps most importantly, the common ground was not limited to how people experience the problems facing the country. There was also a good deal of agreement on solutions. And in the course of our research, we discovered important clues about how to help people engage these large and difficult topics in productive ways.

We have significant divides in our country, by race, class and other distinctions, and we ignore these at our peril. But the narrative that has emerged post-election about two Americas exacerbates our differences and helps make the common ground insignificant, also to our peril.

We'll release findings from our research in early February. In that report, we'll dive into implications for public policy, public engagement and the possibilities of a common agenda for greater economic opportunity and political equity. As a subscriber to our email list, you'll be among the first to receive the report -- we look forward to your responses.


01.19 Six Lessons for the New Administration About Higher Education

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 | Allison Rizzolo

The new Secretary of Education will start their job at a dynamic moment for higher education. The “traditional college experience” is disappearing as more and more students are older, attending part time, commuting, caring for children or other family, and working one or more jobs.

College costs are becoming prohibitive for many students and families, and state higher education systems are struggling with decreased funding.

At the same time, colleges and universities are exploring new ways to deliver education that better meet the needs and schedules of students. They’re also offering more information about graduation and job placement rates, in an effort to help prospective students make better college choices.

And awareness about these and other issues facing our higher education and workforce development systems is high, sparking an active public dialogue about the role and responsibility of higher education in society, and of government in higher ed.

We regularly speak with the public, faculty members, college administrators and students about their needs and concerns regarding higher ed. We work with other researchers and organizations to improve our higher education system. And we coordinate the efforts of colleges and institutions to help more students get a meaningful degree.

Based on this work, below we offer the new administration six lessons we’ve learned about higher education:

Public confidence in higher education is waning

For the first time in a decade, a minority of Americans say that a college education is necessary for success in the workforce. Americans are also pessimistic about the motivation of our higher education system, with many saying that most colleges operate like a business, putting their bottom line before the education of students. Many also question whether a college education is a good investment, and they don’t believe that the majority of students qualified for college have the opportunity to attend.

Our workforce needs are shifting, and leaders and experts overwhelmingly agree that college credentials are critical for attaining a good job. The Obama administration made increased college attainment a central education goal. It remains to be seen if the Trump administration will continue to work toward that goal. But if they do, they will have some work to do to get the public on the same page.

Support for free college is high – but cost is not the only challenge for students

If you’ve ever found yourself in a heated conversation about the problem with higher education in the U.S., it probably revolved around college costs. And a lot of the public conversation about solutions for higher ed entails some form of free college – maybe for four years, maybe for two; maybe for all students, maybe for middle- and low-income students.

Most Americans support free college for low- and middle-income individuals, according to our survey results from 2016. And it’s true that costs represent a large barrier for students: 71 percent of students who dropped out of college said they did so because they had to work to make money.

However, many students end up stalled on their way to a degree due to faulty processes and practices on the part of a school. These faulty processes include things like unclear program pathways and poor advising. Perhaps the most acute problem, though, are the hurdles encountered by students looking to earn their bachelor’s by transferring to a four-year school from a community college.

One of the greatest obstacles for students is actually transferring between a community college and a four-year school

Every year, millions of students enroll at community colleges because of their affordability and accessibility. The vast majority plan to one day earn a bachelor’s degree. Most of these students will not realize their goals: only 14 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s achieve that goal within six years. The odds are worse for low-income students, first-generation college students, and students of color—those most likely to start at a community college. In general, the causes of broken transfer stem from policies and practices at the school level or within a state’s higher education system. They don’t stem from the habits, actions or behavior of students.

If we increased the transfer rate among all new students at community colleges by 10 percentage points, there could be about 70,000 more students earning bachelor’s degrees every year. If the new administration hopes to boost the number of Americans with college credentials, focusing on improving transfer would be a good place to focus their energy.

Students lack knowledge about for-profit colleges

about 7.4 percent of all college attendees. You’ve probably heard about for-profit colleges – they’re controversial and have been in the news a fair bit. The Obama administration cracked down on some for-profits for predatory behavior, and one of the biggest for-profit systems went bankrupt in 2015.

Yet for all the attention for-profits receive, the population they affect the most – students – seem mainly in the dark about what they are. In fact, in research we completed in 2013, many students who were considering, attending or who graduated from a for-profit school said "nothing comes to mind" when they hear the term “for-profit college.” Furthermore, a full 65 percent of current for-profit students and 63 percent of for-profit alumni are unsure whether their school is for-profit or not. Legislators including Sen. Dick Durbin find this news alarming, worrying that students may fall victim to fraud and abuse among some bad actors in this sector.

Many students looking for colleges are not using available information

Policymakers, private foundations and school leaders have spent money and resources researching and publicizing data to help students make better college decisions, including graduation rates, job placement rates and average salaries earned by alumni. While the data is not necessarily a proxy for quality, they see it as important information for consumers. Yet these efforts are falling short for many students. We witnessed this first-hand among a growing and important population of students: adults who don’t currently have a college degree but who are looking to go back to school.

These adult prospective students aren’t using college quality information. They don’t know it exists, don’t know how to find it or don’t view it as relevant to their own experiences and decisions. For example, less than half (47 percent) of adult prospective students say knowing a college’s graduation rate is important information to know when deciding to enroll at that school or not. The Obama administration placed a lot of emphasis on data and transparency for prospective students, developing the College Scorecard website, for example. If the Trump administration hopes to help prospective students become better education consumers and make more informed college choices, they must do a better job connecting students with informational resources and demonstrating their value.

Colleges and universities are making great strides in innovative approaches to education

We’ve worked for the past few years with the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), a group of colleges and universities across the country working together on competency-based education (CBE). CBE is an education model that enables students to progress at their own pace, measuring their progress against a set of skills, or competencies. Often, students can apply previously-acquired knowledge to progress more quickly. CBE can be a great option for students that have spent some time on the job before completing a degree, and who may already possess a number of job skills, or for veterans who have spent years developing leadership and team management skills. Have a free minute? Come here and enjoy some fun games!

While CBE has been around for a while, some students attending CBE programs now qualify for federal financial aid (in the past, they had to pay their own way through CBE programs). This opens up CBE to a whole new group of students. But schools setting up a new CBE program have a lot of work to do when it comes to designing a curriculum, determining competencies, deciding how to measure progress and ensuring their program meets federal standards for financial aid. Moreover, it’s important to make sure students and taxpayers are protected from waste, fraud and abuse on the part of irresponsible or predatory actors that may be looking to profit from federal aid money or that don’t have students’ interest as a top priority. The federal government can provide guidelines and regulation, as well as support and boundaries for responsible experimentation and innovation – for example, a space for associations like C-BEN, which provides opportunities for collaboration and shared learning.

The specific priorities of the new administration regarding higher education remain unstated. However, if their goal is to help more people gain the skills they need for a reliable job with sustainable wages, the lessons above will be critical for deciding the best actions to take.

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01.17 Turnout and Diversity in Participatory Budgeting: Long Beach, California

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 | Allison Rizzolo

Attracting large numbers of people to vote is important to all participatory budgeting (PB) processes. In doing so, it’s also important to attract residents who represent the demographics of a community.

However, voting is not the only participatory part of PB. When a diverse spectrum of residents participates in other parts of the (PB) process – when they show up for brainstorming sessions, when they volunteer to be budget delegates and develop project proposals – funded projects are more likely to meet the broad needs of the community, rather than the interests of a select few.

District 9 in Long Beach, California, introduced PB in 2014–15. In their first year, the district achieved a relatively high turnout compared with other communities in the U.S. and Canada. But organizers wanted to see greater participation throughout the PB process, not just in voting. They also wanted to boost participation from communities that were underrepresented in 2014-15, including Latino and low-income community members.

Organizers adjusted their outreach strategies, inviting members and leaders from these communities to serve on their district’s PB committee. New committee members helped identify locations for advertising about PB, including churches, grocery stores, restaurants and other community businesses.

Gary Hytrek, professor of geography at California State University Long Beach, has been the evaluator of the Long Beach PB process since its inception with graduate student Andres Temblador. He told us “these new outreach strategies worked to broaden overall participation.”

While voter turnout for Latino and low-income residents remained consistent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, participation across other stages of the PB process was higher. For example, there were more Latino budget delegates and low-income delegates and assembly participants in 2015-16.

In our recent report on PB, Gary reflects on the outcomes of a diverse PB process with broad participation:

We feel that this broader participation…is leading to a more diverse group of community members learning leadership skills, building connections with other participants and gaining trust in government. We’ve seen PB connecting community members with one another within District 9 and helping community members in the district build connections with residents of other parts of Long Beach. These types of outcomes are difficult to measure and take time to develop, but we feel confident that our focus on diversity in participation throughout the process is helping to build community in District 9.

Based on his team’s experience, Gary offers suggestions for other communities seeking to increase diversity and broaden participation in PB processes:

  • PB organizers should prioritize getting leaders from a diverse set of communities to join their processes’ steering committees. Leaders who work with traditionally marginalized communities, who are often underrepresented in political activities, can have insights into where and how to reach people—as well as into how to mobilize them.
  • PB processes must partner with organizations and businesses in the community. Community-based organizations and neighborhood associations are key collaborators in outreach and implementation. Processes can also benefit from reaching out to and partnering with local businesses for outreach, especially small businesses such as local restaurants.
  • Outreach should be guided by research. PB evaluation that includes collecting demographic information on who participates in PB throughout the process and how they heard about the process is critical to helping inform and improve outreach strategies.

Read more stories about PB across the U.S. and Canada in our recent report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


01.13 Engaging Ideas - 1/13/2017

Friday, January 13th, 2017 | Public Agenda


The Progress Our States and Communities Are Making (Governing)
On their own and in partnership with the White House, they have been giving us hope for the future, a top presidential adviser writes.

Obama used his farewell address to issue 5 warnings about US democracy (Vox)
The president named five specific threats he said he felt American democracy was currently facing: economic inequality, racial tensions, polarization, foreign threats, and decaying democratic institutions. “How we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland,” Obama said.

Promoting democracy is bipartisan (The Hill)
The tremendous challenges that the United States and the world face can only be confronted through a mixture of vigorous democratic debate, as well as relearning the art of bipartisan cooperation and compromise. It was in this spirit that the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) came together last month to host a bipartisan celebration of our common quest to help build the architecture of democracy worldwide.


Omarosa Manigault joining Trump's White House staff to focus on public engagement (AP)
A memorable contestant in the first season of "The Apprentice," Manigault is expected to join President-elect Donald Trump's White House staff, according to two people familiar with the decision. Her job is expected to focus on public engagement.

Fortifying Civic Participation Worldwide (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
How civil society organizations can come together in the defense of civic space.

3 Steps to Digestible Citizen Engagement (Bouldin Labs, via Medium)
The goal is not to make these decisions seem uncomplicated and obvious. It is important that citizens see that there are many factors in play and that supporting one area may mean making a painful cut someplace else. Part of building public trust is displaying complexity so that there is a shared understanding when cuts do need to be made. Presenting this complexity in a simple way will help citizens understand the tradeoffs and give actionable feedback about their preferences.


Let the great wage experiment begin (Crain's New York)
Economists are smiling at the minimum-wage increases that have just swept across the country. It's not because they favor the measures, though most do. It's because they will now be able to settle one of the most contentious issues in their field: Do minimum-wage increases cost jobs or not? New York will play a key role in answering that question. The numbers are eye-opening. Nineteen states increased their minimum wages around Jan. 1—seven because they adjust their wage floors based on inflation; the rest because of new legislation or ballot measures. It is the largest number of increases ever when the federal minimum remained unchanged.

K-12 Education

Education Research Needs a Policy Makeover (Education Week)
Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, a professor at Seton Hall University, writes: Education researchers must engage in debates across the political spectrum. The recent emphasis in higher education on interdisciplinary, multi-method research has not included a similar push for the inclusion of multiple ideological perspectives. The tendency to work with scholars who concur on political and policy-related questions contradicts evidence about the value of diverse perspectives for improved decision making.

Ideological Diversity Is Needed for Ed. Scholars' Work to Be Relevant (Education Week)
On the cusp of Donald Trump's inauguration, Frederick M. Hess warns that policymakers could sideline education scholarship because of its left-leaning bias.

School Graduation Rates Are Deceiving. Here Are 7 Things That Would Help (NPR)
High school graduation rates are improving, but an investigation into the numbers shows some of that is due to quick fixes. Policy experts respond with their suggestions for real progress.

Five Cabinet Nominees Who Could Affect Education (The Atlantic)
The U.S. Department of Education is not the only office with power over student-related policy.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

The Gaps in New York's Free-College Plan (The Atlantic)
Critics worry that the students who need the most help might be among the least likely to receive it.

More Transparency in Higher Education Will Help Improve Student Outcomes (U.S. Department of Education)
The Department announced a roadmap to support researchers in accessing appropriately protected student aid data for these kinds of studies. That includes partnering with the Federal Reserve Board through an “Advancing Insights through Data” pilot project to study student loan repayment plan selection and the relationships between income-driven repayment plans and outcomes like student loan defaults. They’re also working with researchers to better understand their needs and inform the creation of a privacy-protected, public-use microdata file from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) that can facilitate valuable research and other studies of higher education. The Department plans to have conducted researcher engagement and announced the outcome of those discussions by October.

Community Colleges Rethink Remedial Education (
The California Acceleration Project is working with about two-thirds of the state’s 113 community colleges to create more accelerated remedial math and English programs, and shorten the amount of time students spend taking classes that don’t count for college credit.

Infrastructure Plan Would Create Many Jobs That Require Some College (Community College Daily)
Almost a quarter of the new jobs would go to people with postsecondary vocational certificates, industry-based certificates or some college but no formal degree, according to the analysis. More than a fifth (21 percent) of them would go to managerial positions for highly educated workers with two-year, four-year or graduate degrees. More than half would go to high school graduates or dropouts, but many of those jobs would require some formal or informal on-the-job training.

Is it time to shake up traditional learning, employment pathways? (eCampus News)
Traditional learning-to-employment pathways are becoming a thing of the past, and educators and employers should instead focus on supporting competency-based approaches to education, training and hiring. The case for a different focus comes from Innovate+Educate, a national nonprofit that works to create new employment pathways. The nonprofit released a new paper that makes the case for competency-based education.

Health Care

Health Care’s Bipartisan Problem: The Sick Are Expensive And Someone Has To Pay (The Wall Street Journal)
Congress has begun the work of replacing the Affordable Care Act, and that means lawmakers will soon face the thorny dilemma that confronts every effort to overhaul health insurance: Sick people are expensive to cover, and someone has to pay. ... If policyholders don’t pick up the tab, who will? Letting insurers refuse to sell to individuals with what the industry calls a “pre-existing condition”—in essence, forcing some of the sick to pay for themselves—is something both parties appear to have ruled out. Insurers could charge those patients more or taxpayers could pick up the extra costs, two ideas that are politically fraught.

We Asked People What They Know About Obamacare. See If You Know The Answers. (NPR)
But many of those surveyed in a new NPR/Ipsos poll got it wrong. About half believed that the number of people without insurance had increased or stayed the same, or they said they didn't know what the law's effect has been on insurance coverage. That was a failure of communication on the part of the Obama Administration, says Bill Pierce, a senior director at APCO Worldwide, who advises health care companies on strategic communications. "They needed to use the president more," said Pierce. "If this was his number one achievement, and something he was proud of doing, it was the kind of thing that he needed to be out there and talking about all the time."

David Chan on the ‘black box’ of rising costs, inconsistent care (Stanford Medicine News Center)
A physician and economist, Chan aims to shed light on why costs and patient outcomes can vary widely, even from one hospital to the next in the same city.

It’s Hard To Be A Small-Time Family Doctor These Days, New Data Shows (The Washington Post)
The price of health insurance just keeps going up. Until recently, though, a crucial part of how those prices are set was invisible to the public: the negotiations between doctors and insurance companies that determine how much patients are charged. The story of that contest, carried on fiercely behind closed doors for decades, is now partially in public view, and the new data contains tantalizing clues about where prices for health care really come from.

A Failed Cure for Health Care Costs (Slate)
Online price-comparison tools were supposed to cut our medical bills. Here’s why they’ve failed.


01.12 Bringing Community College Faculty to the Table

Thursday, January 12th, 2017 | NICOLE CABRAL

Community college faculty have a number of conventional ways to take part in campus decision-making, including faculty senates, committees and councils. But too often, those conventional mechanisms for input or consultation still leave faculty feeling “out of the loop” and frustrated that the most important decisions seem to be made from above or outside. Faculty would like more productive, meaningful opportunities to engage with each other, administration and students.

Regardless of the changes college administration are seeking, it is now widely recognized that not even the best ideas will live long enough to thrive without the active engagement of faculty. Higher education reform work is ripe for more deliberative, dialogue-based forms of faculty engagement. The broader public engagement field offers some ideas and models that colleges may draw upon as they seek to bring faculty, and even the broader community, into decision making.

For the last three years, Public Agenda has partnered with the League for Innovation in the Community College’s (“the League”) on their Faculty Voices project. We have asked ourselves at each step of the way: What would it look like for faculty to explore and co-create more sustained, deliberative forms of participation?

We worked directly with community college faculty to hold conversations on increasing student success. We also created a set of resources, including the Choicework discussion guide “Expanding Opportunity for All: How Can We Increase Community College Student Completion?” and a facilitation toolkit called “Facilitation Challenges and Interventions: Video-Based Training for Facilitators”. All of these trainings, resources and tools are designed to enhance the ability of colleges to tap the insight, expertise and commitment of faculty as genuine partners in innovation on behalf of helping more students succeed.

We have also sought to bring in our engagement expertise from outside of higher education, itself anchored in deep experience with community problem solving.

Based on that experience, together with what we’ve learned in our partnership with the League, we believe that there are two approaches to broad-based public engagement that could be of particular value to community colleges committed to innovation: Participatory Budgeting and the Study Circle.

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a democratic process that started in Brazil in the 1980s in which ordinary residents decide how to spend part of a public budget. Over thirty years later, PB has proliferated in several countries, including the United States. In the U.S., PB is among the fastest growing forms of public engagement in local governance. The process is not complicated, but it is intensive for both participants and for elected officials and their staff. Participants in PB meet to brainstorm ideas for projects to fund and develop project proposals. A broader group of participants then vote for projects. PB funds are then awarded to winning projects.

The process has been adapted for different contexts, including college campuses. For example, Brooklyn College and Queens College, both part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, have recently implemented PB processes on their campuses. Brooklyn College has allocated $25,000 for the process and Queens College has set aside $5,000.

Our intern Janice, a Queens College student, participated in the PB process on her campus. She wrote of her experience, “Though this was only the first cycle, participatory budgeting as a tool for civic engagement at Queens College noticeably brought the community together. PB has the potential to build real student power and radically change the way CUNY allocates funds.”

Currently, at both Brooklyn College and Queens College, only students participate in the process. However, it would be would be groundbreaking to create a truly democratic process where everyone in the campus community could participate in making these budget decisions.

Another democratic process that would be a great fit for any college is the study circle process. Portsmouth Listens is an example of a study circle that can serve as a model. Portsmouth Listens is a deliberative engagement process that brings together citizens of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to collaborate on issues affecting residents, including reducing bullying in schools and discussing the city budget with elected officials.

A core group of 8-12 people are responsible for deliberating like a jury or policy board on the issues at hand. These dialogues are facilitated by a neutral moderator. The group then conveys its insights to local legislators. This process works because legislators honor their resulting conclusions. Portsmouth Listens organizes citywide dialogues in which anywhere from seven to 30 such groups have worked with the same question.

The keys to success for these engagement processes have been that they are ongoing and sustained, and include a diverse group of people that are able to participate in different ways. In both examples, community building is at the core, which allows participants to gain trust in the process as well as each other. Most of all they are fun and interesting.

Leaders and officials support and value these forms of participation because they offer opportunities for “ordinary” people to be involved in real decision making. They are not just some throw-away effort from leaders to pacify the hopelessly disenfranchised and to create the illusion of public involvement kept at a safe distance from real decision making.

Both of these models of deliberative engagement can easily be adapted to college campuses. They would be particularly useful community colleges, offering faculty, administration and students more productive and meaningful opportunities to engage with each other and contribute to the decisions that affect their lives.

Comment (1)

01.10 A Broad Engagement Strategy in a Small Town: Dieppe, New Brunswick

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 | Allison Rizzolo

Last year, the number of communities in the U.S. and Canada using participatory budgeting (PB) swelled from 46 to 61, with 24 communities launching a brand-new PB process.

Much of the growth in PB in 2015-16 occurred in small cities and towns. Nine of the 24 new PB processes (38 percent) occurred in communities with populations under 50,000. In contrast, only 10 out of all 46 processes (22 percent) in the 2014–15 cycle took place in communities of that size.

Dieppe, New Brunswick, with a population of around 23,000 people, was one of these small towns launching a new PB process in 2015–16. While Dieppe has always had a relatively high rate of public participation in governance, like most communities, it tended to see the same people participating again and again.

In 2014, many candidates for local office ran on a platform calling for better public engagement. In response, a team of citizens led by Luc Richard, the town’s director of organizational performance, and Christine C. Paulin, a professor at the Université de Moncton, worked together with elected officials to implement PB. Christine, who also took on the evaluation of PB in Dieppe, told us “We saw the implementation of a PB process as a real, direct way to pilot these [candidate] commitments to public engagement.”

The effort to improve public participation through PB seems to have worked: three-quarters of PB voters who filled out surveys said that they had not worked with others on a community issue in the past 12 months. Dieppe also saw significant participation from young people. Christine said, “It seemed to us that PB helped young people realize that they could really make a difference in their community; it opened doors.”

In our recent report on PB, Christine offered some tips for other small towns interested in developing new civic engagement strategies or who are interested in experimenting with PB as part of those strategies:

  • Use the prospect of a new engagement policy or law as a way to instigate a conversation about what more productive public engagement would look like and how to achieve it.
  • City agencies should be engaged in the PB project development phase to help residents understand which project ideas are technically and financially feasible and which are not.
  • When recruiting people to participate in PB or other engagement opportunities, supplement face-to-face appeals with broad media coverage, including ads and interviews on TV, radio and in newspapers—which may be less expensive in small towns than in big cities —as well as through social media.
  • Involve citizens in legitimate governance roles to help sustain and improve PB.

Read more stories about PB across the U.S. and Canada in our recent report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


01.06 Engaging Ideas - 1/06/2017

Friday, January 6th, 2017 | Public Agenda


Obama Leaves the Constitution Weaker Than He Found It (The Atlantic)
Even for those who admire the 44th president, the constitutional record is disturbingly mixed.

The U.S. might be better off without Congress — and a president (Wonkblog)
How we would redesign the U.S. government if we could start from scratch.


Paper: Pathways to Participation: Class Disparities in Youth Civic Engagement (City & Community)
Research finds that there is a growing class gap in levels of civic engagement among young whites in the United States. Our evidence suggests that a withdrawal of institutional investments in working class neighborhoods (and relative to middle class neighborhoods), along with an increase in population turnover and racial and ethnic heterogeneity, which has disproportionately impacted working class neighborhoods as well, may be important factors in understanding the growing class gap in civic engagement among white youth.

Participatory budgeting as a form of citizen involvement (The Daily Progress)
This is a two-way street. Officials must support ways for deep citizen engagement, making sure that they hear all voices — from the most privileged to the most needy. At the same time, we as residents must be present and educate ourselves in order to effectively advocate for what is needed in our neighborhoods. So, how can we effectively create a system that ensures that democracy is effective?

Participatory Budgeting in Action: An Interview With Filmmaker Ines Sommer (Truth Out)
Count Me In is a documentary that follows the first PB process in the city of Chicago. The film follows residents across different wards, including the 49th Ward that was the first to adopt PB. Brandon Jordan spoke with Ines Sommer, the director of the film, about what interested her in PB, Chicago's processes and what lessons PB offers for the US.


Growth, Not Forced Equality, Saves the Poor (The New York Times)
Eliminate poverty, but don’t worry so much about inequality. Enforcing the Voting Rights Act matters; equalizing possession of Rolexes does not. By Deirdre N. McCloskey, a professor emerita of economics, history, English and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Prosperity, Not Upward Mobility, Is What Matters (The Atlantic)
There’s too much focus on whether Americans can move up the economic ladder, and not enough on the basic question of their quality of life.

The Rise of a Bipartisan Tax Break for the Working Poor (Governing)
The earned income tax credit is a rare antipoverty program that has enjoyed a long history of bipartisan support among state and federal policymakers.

WSJ’s Daily Shot: The Financial State of America in Six Charts (The Wall Street Journal)
Rising rent and health-care costs are creating challenges for many Americans as wage growth fails to keep pace.

K-12 Education

Quality Counts 2017: State Report Cards Map (Education Week)
Find state-by-state grades and summary data reflecting K-12 achievement, finance, and other indicators in this interactive map.

‘School choice’ or ‘privatization’? A guide to loaded education lingo in the Trump era (Washington Post)
We’re used to the politically charged language of the abortion wars. Education has its own version.

The New World of School Accountability (Governing)
As states craft new systems to identify low-performing schools, they should include a broader range of indicators.

9 Questions For The Nation's Top School Counselor (NPR)
Today, first lady Michelle Obama honored the 2017 school counselor of the year, Terri Tchorzynski of the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Mich.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

The In-and-Out List (Inside Higher Ed)
A look at what happened in 2016 and what's to come in 2017 with Inside Higher Ed's fifth annual in-and-out list.

Infographic: For-Profit Colleges by the Numbers (Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment)
For-profit colleges were the fastest growing sector of higher education in the 1990s and 2000s, but their share of enrollment has since declined.

The Transfer Experience: a Student Perspective (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Viewed one way, Andy Hedrick’s story is a positive one. He is one of the few students to start at a community college, transfer to a four-year institution and earn his bachelor’s. But Mr. Hedrick faced several obstacles on his path.

Colleges Must Prepare Students Better for Post-Graduation Jobs, Gallup Report Says (Los Angeles Times)
Career services needs to be more than just an office students visit their senior year, said Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup. It needs to reach students when they're freshmen and incorporate mentors, internships and work experience.

New York takes a stab at debt-free college, covering tuition for families earning less than $125,000 (The Washington Post)
Any New Yorker accepted to one of the state’s community colleges or four-year universities will be eligible for free tuition provided their family earns less than $125,000 a year. The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019. It would be a last-dollar program, meaning the state would cover any tuition left over after factoring in federal Pell Grants and New York’s Tuition Assistance Program.

Health Care

Only 20 Percent Of Americans Support Health Law Repeal Without Replacement Plan (Kaiser Health News)
KHN reporter Jordan Rau writes: "The Republican strategy of repealing the Affordable Health Care Act before devising a replacement plan has the support of only one in five Americans, a poll released Friday finds. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey also disclosed that shrinking the federal government’s involvement and spending in health care — the long-sought goal of House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican lawmakers — is less important to most Americans than is ensuring medical care is affordable and available."

Repealing Obamacare affects everyone (CNN)
CNN's Tami Luhby traces how Obamacare repeal would affect disparate corners of health care, from Medicare beneficiaries to Americans who get their health care through their employers.

The Health Care Plan Trump Voters Really Want (The New York Times)
After listening to working-class supporters of Donald J. Trump — people who are enrolled in the very health care marketplaces created by the law — one comes away feeling that the Washington debate is sadly disconnected from the concerns of working people. Those voters have been disappointed by Obamacare, but they could be even more disappointed by Republican alternatives to replace it. They have no strong ideological views about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or future directions for health policy. What they want are pragmatic solutions to their insurance problems. The very last thing they want is higher out-of-pocket costs.

Patients don't trust health information technology (Fierce Healthcare)
More than 50% of consumers are skeptical about the benefits of healthcare information technologies, including patient portals, mobile apps and electronic health records. And fully 70% of Americans distrust health technology, up sharply from just 10% in 2014.

If we knew what things cost, they might cost less (Bloomberg View)
Unfortunately, transparency just isn’t working at the consumer level. There have been a flurry of state laws to mandate price disclosure to patients, and a blizzard of new apps and websites that let buyers compare prices. But they aren’t doing it. Study after study says that patients just don’t shop around based on price, like consumers usually do. That might be because services are so expensive that most patients will reach their deductible, and patients don’t believe purchasing cheaper services will lead to lower premiums in the future. Or it might be because of lock-in effects, in which people are loath to ditch their existing providers. But elsewhere in the industry, transparency seems to have a much bigger effect.


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