Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Just released - Early childhood education reseach

The Public Policy Forum has embarked on a ground-breaking project to establish the costs and benefits of high quality early childhood education in southeast Wisconsin. As part of the project's first phase, the Forum has produced a map of existing research on early childhood education. The information is presented in matrix format so that outcomes can be easily compared across studies.

Overall, existing research largely supports the connection between higher quality early childhood programs and long-term benefits including improved school-readiness, improved social skills, higher IQ scores, higher standardized test scores, decreased crime and delinquency, and greater earning capacity. Parents of children in high quality child care also benefit as they are better able to find and keep work. Societal benefits from higher quality child care include reduced crime costs and reduced welfare use. Further, increased earnings by early childhood program participants once they reach adulthood will result in increased income tax revenue.

Given the benefits of early childhood care and the size of the industry, region-wide economic development is a likely result of greater public investment in high quality care.

The Public Policy Forum intends to change the way policymakers view early childhood programs by clearly showing that the benefits of quality early childhood education reach beyond the program participants to benefit all of society through economic development. Future project activities will include: surveys of parents and care providers designed to assess current child care use and quality of care, a cost-benefit analysis of an optimum early childhood education system in southeast Wisconsin, and measurement of regional benefits of the current early childhood education system in three components: (1) economic, (2) educational, and (3) societal.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wisconsin's new boomtown?

After years of employment losses, the city of Milwaukee is growing again. Milwaukee added 2,039 net new jobs in the last 12 months and 4,057 jobs since May 2005. While Milwaukee still has plenty of ground to make up, the city now shows signs of headed in the right direction in terms of employment gains.

In fact, for the most recent month of available data, Milwaukee's employment base expanded at a 0.83% growth rate (May 2006 to May 2007). During the same period, Wisconsin employment grew 0.81% and the M7 region grew at a pace of 0.72%. In other words, employment gains in Milwaukee are now out-pacing both the region and the state.

The following two charts show how Milwaukee has been gaining ground on the region and the state in employment growth. The first chart displays the percentage difference between the employment growth rates in Milwaukee and the state. In other words, if the chart shows a negative (red bar), then the city grew at a slower pace than the state. If the chart show a positive percentage figure (black bar) then the city grew a a faster clip than the state. With this understanding, the chart shows a recovery trend in city of Milwaukee employment growth as it relates to the state. The turnaround began somewhere around 2004 and has continued to this day where the city is now growing faster than the state.

The same trend can also be noted when comparing the city's growth rate to that of its 7-county southeastern Wisconsin region. In this case the trend is even more noticeable with Milwaukee job growth out-growing the region from 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, 0.04% and 0.11% respectively.

So much for Milwaukee being an employment drag on the rest of the region and the state. Then again, out-growing a slow-growth state and a slow-growth region is not much to brag about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Christmas in July, budget style

'Tis the season for local government agencies to submit their budget requests. In most places, agencies act as if it were Christmas, submitting a long wish list with hopes of many big, shiny gifts under the tree. These hopes are dashed when it is explained that times are tough and only a few presents can be given. So it goes in the City of Milwaukee, where agencies' requests, if granted, would increase the tax levy by 22% next year but Mayor Barrett has enunciated a goal of no more than a 3% increase.

In contrast, the County executive asks agencies in Milwaukee County to act as if the Grinch himself were budget director, submitting requests for less than was spent the previous year and recommending drastic cuts to services. But, like most of us, they also know that in the end, the Grinch is reformed (with a little help from the County Board) and Christmas is saved...and many of those drastic cuts will be reversed before the final budget is passed.

But there is one way in which neither the City nor the County leaders act like Santa Claus...they never check their list, much less twice, to see who's been bad or good. Goals of performance-based budgeting have been abandoned or are merely given lip service. The budget documents, the main source of policy for both the City and County, routinely fail to tie strategic goals to measurable outcomes so as to prioritize resources. Why don't they? Because performance-based budgeting, while good policy, is difficult to do. It can be difficult to accurately project expected outcomes or set realistic goals, but it is even more difficult politically...which is why, for example, we've seen the Police Department budget swell despite missing goals for establishing a crime tracking data system.

If programs that aren't successful are rewarded with sugarplums instead of lumps of coal, and vice versa, policymakers cannot expect taxpayers to continue to believe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Public Policy Forum begins search for new president

The Public Policy Forum is accepting applications for the position of President. The President serves as Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer of this Milwaukee, WI based nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization. Qualified candidates will be well versed in policy research and have the ability to manage a nonprofit organization and conduct development activities. The forum currently has a full-time professional staff of 6.

Click here for responsibilities and challenges of the new Public Policy Forum President.
Click here for the formal job description.
Click here for the Public Policy Forum's strategic plan.

Interested candidates should submit a resume and a cover letter outlining their qualifications and interest to Bill Haberman, chairman of the Public Policy Forum Board of Trustees. Application materials should be submitted to the search committee via e-mail at president@publicpolicyforum.org. Applications will be accepted through September 4th. The search committee will interview selected candidates and make a recommendation to the full board by the end of the year. The new president will assume the office on or about April 1, 2008 upon the departure of current president Jeff Browne.

The Public Policy Forum is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Compensation will include a salary based on background and experience and includes a generous benefit package.

Founded in 1913, the Public Policy Forum was established as a local good government watchdog. The Forum prides itself on producing nonpartisan, credible and accurate information on public policy issues that impact the local community, the state, and nation. The Forum does not advocate on behalf of specific policies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

PPF Pearls: Parks budget mowed again

(click image to enlarge)

The Forum's 2002 comprehensive analysis of the Milwaukee County Parks system's condition and financial stability found that by 2000, spending on the parks had declined to two-thirds of what it was in the 1970's. Today's news that the parks department budget may be cut by $4.3 million begs the question: At what point is property tax support for park system no longer sustainable?

At this point, the proposed 2008 tax levy support for the parks department is $21.3 million, an almost 10% decline since 2000, when adjusted for inflation. In fact, the proposed $21.3 million, when adjusted for inflation, is exactly in line with the decline projected in our 2002 report: if the trend is not interrupted, we anticipate tax levy support for parks in 2016 to be $13.1 million. This decline in property tax levy support is an indicator that the county budget puts the parks department ever lower on the priority list.

Milwaukee citizens and policymakers wanting to revisit the notion of dedicated, independent funding for the parks are encouraged to read our 2002 report for an analysis of the options.

NOTE: PPF Pearls are regular blog posts highlighting findings from past PPF reports.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Justice and the racial divide

In a recently released study, the Milwaukee County Audit Department analyzed the jury selection process in the wake of last year’s Frank Jude case, in which an all-white jury acquitted three white defendants in the beating of a biracial man.

The audit finds that people of color are under-represented in the county’s jury trials. Of the 3,856 jurors empanelled in 2006, the study found, 79% were white whereas 66% of the general adult population in the county is white. In contrast, 24% of the county’s voting-age citizens are African American, but just 16% of the jurors are. The audit acknowledges that any changes in the process of drawing the jury pools would require statutory changes and would certainly be challenged in court. Thus, more representative juries will not likely come from broad policy changes, but from tinkering with the incentives to serve. The auditors suggested several ideas for improving the racial balance on juries by increasing the portion of people who report for duty of all those who receive summons. Increasing the jurors’ daily pay or moving to a “one day or one trial” system are just two ideas.

If successful, those tinkerings may have as big an effect as would broad policy changes; the citizens of our region report very different views of the justice system depending on their race. The Public Policy Forum’s comprehensive race relations survey, released late in 2006, interviewed 1,000 citizens of the seven-county Milwaukee region, who suggested that creating a sense of fairness in our justice system is the greatest single challenge to racial harmony in our region. For example, the vast majority of African Americans felt “police brutality…is way out of hand,” but only 18% of whites felt that way. Also, 28% of African Americans -- but just 4% of whites -- reported someone in the family was in prison, on probation or on parole. Ensuring juries are representative could be a big step toward improving the perceptions of our justice system, for all those who encounter it…plaintiffs, defendants, and the jurors themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Keeping up with the Brahmins

Quick...what region does this quote refer to?

...[T]his small region with its extraordinary innovative capacity and still untapped potential can make a real difference in determining which road we go down.

Sounds like Milwaukee, but this was spoken at a recent citizen seminar at Boston College to release the latest Boston Indicators report. According to syndicated columnist and regionalism booster Neal Pierce,

[T]he Boston Indicators, spearheaded by the Boston Foundation's Charlotte Kahn, have become the gold standard for U.S. regions. They're not just boatloads of raw data; rather they're framed, topic by topic, with readable, updated analysis and available online at http://www.bostonindicators.org/. Any leader or citizen can get a clear, quick view of just where the region is progressing, where it's stalled, and potential cures.

The Milwaukee region has yet to develop a set of similar indicators, which means we may be missing out on insights such as this:

The Indicators show that spending on health care in Massachusetts soared 44 percent from 2001 to 2006, even in the face of stagnant population levels. State health outlays are crowding such other priorities as local and higher education, human services and needed public-transportation projects. Yet obesity and hypertension, risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, continued to rise.
"There's something wrong with this picture," notes Kahn: "We aren't aligning health spending with the actual determinants of health — 50 percent of which are all about lifestyles and another 20 percent the environment, including exposure to toxins — and only 10 percent access to doctors, clinics and hospitals."

The Milwaukee 7's strategic framework will help the region coalesce around common priorities, but we will also need a robust set of indicators to tell us whether we are making any progress toward achieving those priorities. Boston is serious about being competitive in the global economy, is Milwaukee?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Time for Milwaukee to emulate Madison?

The city of Madison and Dane County recently announced an agreement to pursue the creation of a regional transit authority (RTA) in an attempt to improve the Madison region's transit infrastructure. This announcement came after a rather bitter disagreement between Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and County Executive Kathleen Falk over the kind of transit needed. The Mayor opted for a city-focused trolley; the county executive wanted a county-wide commuter train.

Sound familiar? The Falk/Cieslewicz battle is similar to the disagreement between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Scott Walker over how transit should look in Milwaukee.

The debate in Madison ended with a signed regional cooperation agreement that calls for the creation of an RTA and the implementation of a multi-phased plan to improve the regions transit infrastructure. The proposal seeks to up the sales tax in Dane county by .5% - not an insignificant figure. The funding mechanism would tie buses, trolleys, trains and roads into one integrated, multimodal transportation system.

The Madison newspaper, Wisconsin State Journal, endorsed the proposed agreement this week in an editorial, which read, in part:

"In addition to keeping alive the plan to develop a commuter rail line, the agreement:

  • Merges Cieslewicz's plan for Downtown streetcars with the commuter rail proposal to create one transportation system that could be developed in phases.
  • Offers a new way to finance the operation and expansion of Metro Transit bus service, relieving pressure on property taxpayers.
  • Provides a new way to pay for improvements to roads in Dane County's villages and towns.

Consequently, the agreement offers aid to a variety of transportation options throughout the county.

Madison and Dane County need more information before deciding whether commuter rail, streetcars, expanded bus service or an added sales tax are the right transportation answers. But by holding the options open, Wednesday's agreement keeps Madison and Dane County on track toward regional solutions."

Is the Milwaukee area ready for such an agreement? This is a difficult question to answer, but a 2006 Public Policy Forum opinion survey did find strong support for transit improvement projects throughout the Milwaukee region, with transit options having higher approval rates then "more highway capacity." The Public Policy Forum will continue to track public opinion and monitor progress on transit planning in the Milwaukee community.

Monday, July 2, 2007

PPF Pearls: The Constitutionality of Chapter 220

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated voluntary school integration programs in Seattle and Louisville, obviously has implications for the Milwaukee area's own voluntary integration effort, the Chapter 220 program. What implications, exactly, are unclear--Justice Kennedy, while joining in the outcome, declined to join the majority opinion, which found that racial classifications cannot be used to assign students to schools. Justice's Kennedy's opinion leaves open the possibility that racial classifications could be appropriate when used among other factors. Expect further litigation to tease out exactly what weight, if any, school districts can place on race.

The Chapter 220 program uses race as the only criterion for participation, allowing minority students from Milwaukee to enroll in schools in the suburbs, as well as white students from the suburbs to enroll in schools in Milwaukee. The program's only goal, according to the legislative history, was integration. In fact, in signing the bill, Governor Lucey emphasized that it would achieve its intended results immediately. (See the Forum report, "Interdistrict Chapter 200: Changing Goals and Perspectives.")

For a discussion of the legal issues of Chapter 220, including many relevant cases from the federal appellate courts, see the Forum's publication, "Publicly Funded School Choice Options in Milwaukee: An Examination of the Legal Issues." (Link to executive summary only. The full report is available from the Forum offices: 414-276-8240.)

NOTE: PPF Pearls are regular blog entries highlighting findings from past PPF reports.