Friday, November 30, 2007

Public Policy Forum names new president

The executive committee of the Public Policy Forum’s board of trustees has selected Rob Henken, the top administrative official in Milwaukee County government, as its next president. He will succeed Jeff Browne at the Forum’s annual meeting in early March.

Henken has served in several high-level research and administrative positions in Milwaukee County government and has extensive experience in policy research. Since early 2007, he has been director of the Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services. Before that, he was director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department for almost three years. He also has been research director and budget analyst for the county board.

“Rob’s background, experience, and standing in the community will serve the Forum well,” says F. William Haberman, Forum chairman and a member of the search committee that selected Henken. “His work in the public policy and nonprofit sectors will enhance the Forum’s almost 100-year tradition of solid, nonpartisan research on issues affecting all of southeastern Wisconsin.”

Before joining the county in 1998, Henken was executive director of the Milwaukee Jobs Initiative and the Alliance for Future Transit, both nonprofits. Prior to that, he worked in Washington, D.C., as staff director for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, and as a legislative aide for two U.S. Congressmen. Henken has a bachelor’s degree in history from Brown University (Providence, R.I.) and a master’s in journalism and public affairs from The American University (Washington, D.C.).

How green is my alley?

This summer the City of Milwaukee Comptroller's office found that the replacement cycle for the city's streets and alleys was several years longer than their predicted useful life. For alleys, the replacement cycle was found to be 272 years, or 4.5 times the useful life of an alley. The response from the Mayor was to hasten the replacement cycle, which garnered general agreement and support.

Interestingly, the New York Times reported this week that the City of Chicago is also focused on replacing alleys:
Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative, something experts say is among the most ambitious public street makeover plans in the country. In a larger sense, the city is rethinking the way it paves things.
This initiative was prompted by the fact that its hundreds of miles of aging alleys needed replacement. Says Janet Attarian, the project's director, “The question is, if you have to resurface an alley anyway, can you make it do more for you?”

Chicago has found that the answer is yes. They will now pave all alleys in such a way as to filter rainwater, reduce run-off, and recharge groundwater, while reducing heat retention in the summer and reflecting heat in the winter. The cost? About the same as traditional paving, divided between materials (porous concrete) and labor (creating a stone filtration layer).

Milwaukee would be smart to consider making a similar investment in its alley infrastructure. Things to investigate: Would the cost of porous paving be more than traditional paving? Would the maintenance costs differ significantly? Would the useful life spans differ significantly? If the answers to all these questions are "no," green alleys could be a feasible option for our city, as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holding the presidential candidates accountable

The Brookings Institution is on an election-year push to hold the presidential candidates accountable for a more competitive metropolitan America. In a recent op-ed article in The Plain Dealer, Bruce Katz and Alan Berube of Brookings wrote:

The United States has yet to recognize and leverage the ever-intensifying primacy of metropolitan regions as the building blocks of global competition, productivity and competitive advantage. And it has yet to take the necessary steps to ensure that metros grow in inclusive and sustainable ways that enhance national prosperity.
In the same article, Katz and Berube outline specific policy areas where they would like to see more assertiveness from the federal government:
  1. Clean up of the Great Lakes - there is a cleanup plan, but no federal funding thus far
  2. Clean up land - accelerate brownfield remediation to fuel economic development
  3. Increase federal funding for sustainable transportation improvements
  4. Expand the EITC for workers
  5. Encourage interstate partnerships between metro areas (Chicago/Milwaukee, Cleveland/Pittsburgh)
Earlier this year, the Public Policy Forum hosted a presentation by John Austin of Brookings on The Great Lakes Economic Initiative (GLEI), which is a multi-year campaign to leverage the voting power of the Great Lakes into federal and state support of the region's powerful, yet struggling metro economies. There is particular interest in bolstering the profile of the Great Lakes region in the eyes of the presidential candidates.

Although federal government's leadership on metro issues has waned in recent decades with the devolution of power from Washington to the states, a more assertive federal government could have a profound impact on Milwaukee's revitalization efforts.

Whether or not you agree with The Brookings Institution's many recommendations is up to you, but, in this election year, placing each presidential candidate on the proverbial "hot-seat" when it comes to articulating a vision for strengthening the Great Lakes region does seem to make a great deal of strategic sense.

Monday, November 26, 2007

PPF Pearl: Growth in school choice program not what it seems

Alan Borsuk's article in today's Journal Sentinel could lead one to believe that growth in the voucher program necessarily comes at the expense of MPS enrollment. However, our research shows the recent growth in voucher use comes mostly from existing private school students, not public school students switching to private schools. The lifting of the program's enrollment cap was accompanied by some changes in eligibility, which made more private school students able to take advantage of the publicly-funded voucher program.

When we analyzed the voucher use and enrollment data last year as part of our annual census of choice schools, we found that while voucher use in private schools had grown by 2,516 students, enrollment had grown by only 620 students. For example, the Lutheran schools as a whole had 467 more voucher users, but total enrollment grew by only 1 student. The only Jewish school in the program actually had 2 fewer students, but 31 more voucher users.

These findings help explain why, as Borsuk's article states, "[MPS] test scores and other indicators continue to lag behind the state and have not changed dramatically." The program is not exerting competitive pressure on MPS. In 2006, 80% of voucher users were enrolled in religious schools. Are these schools truly competitors with MPS? The data indicate that parents are making choices based on religion, not on the availability of a voucher. From our report:

How can MPS be expected to compete with a program consisting mainly of religious schools that attract students who most likely would never have been public school students?
Growth in voucher use is certainly growth in publicly-funded education, as the article explains. Unfortunately, simply making the public education pie bigger doesn't seem to be encouraging MPS to get better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Baby steps in L.A. lead to big leaps toward better child care

Quality rating systems for child care are all the rage in the states. Hailed as systemic approaches to improving the quality of care, 14 states have some version of a rating program. Wisconsin is one of the states that does not have a rating system, as both attempts to initiate one via our state's budgeting process have failed. Unlike in California, which also lacks a statewide system, no local governments in Wisconsin have decided to address the problem on their own.

Last year Los Angeles County decided not to wait for California to act and established a Policy Roundtable for Child Care, which developed a local quality rating system. The Steps to Excellence Project, or STEP, was launched on July 1, 2007, funded by $200,000 per year from the county, plus tobacco tax revenue and revenue from child-care related state contracts. The county decided that because the state was not moving fast enough and because California's child care licensing system reduced the frequency of on-site reviews from annually to every five years, something had to be done locally to provide an incentive for quality improvements.

STEP is being characterized as taking baby steps toward higher quality by providing small incentives for incremental improvements to close the gap between minimum licensing standards and accreditation. Less than 10% of the 3,000 licensed child care centers in L.A. County are accredited.

Nine communities in the county are piloting the project for the next three years and the hopes are it will become county-wide after that. It is a voluntary program for child care providers, aimed at both child care centers and family providers. It focuses on research-based standards and best practices and is aligned with state regulations and national accrediting bodies' requirements. Most importantly, training, technical assistance, and fiscal support are available.

The child care providers are rated on various standards, which are grouped into the following categories: regulatory compliance, teacher-child relationships, the learning environment, identification and inclusion of children with special needs, staff qualifications and working conditions, and family and community connections. There are five steps within each standard, ranging from step 1--meeting state licensing requirements, to step 3--meeting state educational codes, to step 5--meeting national accreditation standards.

During the first year the county will provide grants up to $5,000 to fund quality improvements directly related to STEP standards. The nine participating local municipalities have the option of supplementing this effort and the City of Santa Monica has taken up the challenge.

In 1980 the City of Santa Monica established an independent child care task force and in 1991 they issued a child care master plan. Since then the city has annually funded $700,000 in child care subsidies for low and moderate income families, plus some additional subsidies to colleges and non-profits who operate child care facilities. This subsidy program had been paying the full costs of tuition for eligible families, but rising child care costs meant fewer families could partake. Once STEP was created, the city saw an opportunity to tie reimbursement rates to quality, with families choosing higher quality care eligible for larger subsidies. In addition, the city makes small grants directly to centers to help them make improvements to meet STEP standards.

These quality rating systems are not inexpensive; even if they are voluntary and the incentive merely a mini-grant, performing the reviews is costly and time-intensive. It is a difficult balance to perform the reviews as affordably as possible while still being effective. Achieving this balance is what delays many states that are pondering a quality rating system. The experience of L.A. County tells us that taking local baby steps is one way to get beyond the inertia preventing a new statewide program. In the case of Santa Monica, those small steps allowed the municipality to leap beyond their current practices and expand their impact.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More immigration, less crime

Could Milwaukee's relatively low immigration rate (7.7% foreign-born) be partially responsible for its stubbornly high crime rate? That is a new theory being tested by scholars and criminologists throughout the U.S.

One study, was conducted by Harvard University sociology professor Robert J. Sampson, and followed 3,000 youths (aged 18-25) in 180 Chicago neighborhoods from 1995 to 2002. The findings revealed that Latinos perpetrated violence 10% less than their white counterparts. The researcher also found the odds of perpetrating violence were 85% higher for blacks compared with whites. Surprisingly, the reasons behind these disparities were largely not economic.

"That's not to say that the socioeconomic context you grow up in doesn't help explain the gap," says Sampson, "but in terms of family structure and characteristics, what matters instead of poverty are a family's years of residence in the neighborhood, having married parents, and living in an immigrant neighborhood, all of which reduce a youth's risk of engaging in violence." For instance, the study attributes the low rate of violence among Mexican Americans to a combination of factors: that group's high proportion of married-couple families, residence in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants, and individual's first- or second-generation immigrant status. PRB
The relationship of high-immigration and relatively low violent crime rates seems to explain trends in cities including New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. Conversely, "low-immigration" cities with relatively high crime rates include Milwaukee, Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Of course, some cities don't fit this model at all - Boston has seen an up-tick in crime since 1999 despite high levels of immigration. Some skeptics also point to the fact that many of these immigrant neighborhoods have benefited from "community policing" tactics, which could also be the reason why these neighborhoods are showing reductions in crime.

Successfully reducing violent crime rates is a complex and multi-faceted proposition, no doubt. But experts seem to be suggesting that one such tool to reduce crime rates would be to encourage more immigration, not less.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Just released - Income migration report

Income drain highlights Chicago’s value to M7
Milwaukee region loses $1.3 billion

A new Public Policy Forum study has found that households moving out of the Milwaukee region from 2001-2006 took with them $1.3 billion more in personal income than newcomers to the region brought in.

The report estimates the income drain has resulted in $105 million in lost tax revenue and thus a greater tax burden on those who remain in the region. But it also shows that the region is a big beneficiary of income moving from the Chicago area. In fact, southeastern Wisconsin’s only income gain comes from northern Illinois. Plus, Chicagoans brought with them higher average annual incomes ($47,880) than Wisconsinites who moved into southeastern Wisconsin ($34,124).

Sources of net personal income gain to the region include Lake, Cook, McHenry, DuPage, Will, and Kane counties in northern Illinois. Those six counties represented almost $400 million in income coming to the region during the period, 2001-2006.

Only Kenosha and Walworth counties in southeastern Wisconsin experienced net personal income gains last year. Kenosha attracted more than $30 million and Walworth was far behind at a little more than $3.2 million.

The primary beneficiary of the region’s income loss has been the rest of Wisconsin ($491 million), particularly the counties immediately ringing southeastern Wisconsin ($211 million), including Rock, Jefferson, Dodge, Fond du Lac, and Sheboygan counties. Other top beneficiaries of the region’s income drain include Florida ($328 million), Arizona ($132 million), and Minnesota ($62 million).

Of the regions studied for the report, only the Phoenix area had a net income gain, of 1.6%, last year. Arizona’s Maricopa County (in which Phoenix is located) was the biggest recipient of southeastern Wisconsin income, at $107 million.

The Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul areas lost 1.0% ($2 billion) and 0.7% ($518 million), respectively, of their total personal incomes. The Madison area almost broke even, but still lost 0.1% in personal income. Southeastern Wisconsin’s loss was 0.9%.

Income data for the study came from the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Charitable Giving Increases in Milwaukee

For the 11th annual Report Card on Charitable Giving, the Forum provides greater detail on contributions to Greater Milwaukee bellwether nonprofits over a longer period than in the past. Instead of looking at changes in six sectors from year to year, the printed report focuses on three sectors - education, health, and arts & culture - since 2001. We believe this comprehensive look offers donors and organizations more helpful information.

(The other three sectors - environment, funding organizations, and human services - still are covered, but in the Web version only, which can be accessed through the link above.)

Contributions to the 59 bellwethers in 2006 totaled $284.9 million, an increase of 8% over 2005. Since 1992, the first year of Forum data, total contributions increased 143%. Contributions grew by about $65 million since 2001.

Other key findings:
  • Corporate giving has been a major factor in the growth, increasing over 68% since 2001.

  • Individual giving has increased more than 27% since 2001.

  • Foundation contributions totaled $41.6 million in 2006, a slight decrease from 2005. Since 2001, foundation giving has decreased 18.7%.

  • The education sector had the largest one-year increase in total giving among all sectors,
    increasing $15.5 million, or 42.3%, to $52.1 million in 2006.

  • Contributions to bellwether organizations in the environment sector continue to decline. From 2005 to 2006, gifts were down almost 11%, to $1.4 million. Since 2001, contributions have fallen 65.5%.

  • Thirty-five of the 59 bellwether organizations saw an increase in contributions from 2005 to 2006. Since 2001, 37 organizations saw increases.

The 11th Annual Report Card on Charitable Giving is published by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, with sponsorships by Donors Forum of Wisconsin, The Faye McBeath Foundation, and United Way of Greater Milwaukee. Research for the report is completed by the Public Policy Forum.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Shotgun regionalism

Revenue-sharing agreements among local counties are usually developed to benefit both jurisdictions and are usually true agreements, one would hope.

Not in Ohio. Weighted representation on Northeast Ohio's metropolitan planning organization (the Ohio version of SEWRPC), has led to Cleveland being able to throw it's weight around, perhaps a bit too much.

A highway interchange improvement located in a suburban county would not have been approved by Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, which has more votes than any other county due to having the largest population, unless the town housing the interchange agreed to a unique revenue-sharing arrangement. The other suburban counties went along, because their votes did not have enough weight to stop the plan. The result is that the City of Avon must send half of the income tax money collected from a business with an annual payroll of $750, 000 or more that relocates to the area around the interchange back to the community the business moved from for five years. Those terms will remain in effect for 30 years after the interchange’s construction.

The heavy-handed tactics have angered all the suburban counties, including Medina, which is now planning to leave the regional planning organization. “Avon had a gun to its head,” said a Medina county commissioner. "We don't want to be in that boat."

Imagine if Ozaukee or Racine County pulled out of SEWRPC because Milwaukee County forced Oconomowoc to share revenue from the Pabst Farms development. Milwaukee, of course, doesn't have that kind of power within SEWRPC, as votes aren't proportional to population. In fact, many complain that SEWRPC over-represents the suburbs. But it isn't unheard of for a central county to be in a different planning area than its suburbs. Dane County is in just that situation, for example.

Observes an Ohio county commissioner, "This is a dead end to regionalism." The next time we complain about the lack of regional cooperation in southeastern Wisconsin, let's note that we at least have all our counties sitting at the same table when it comes to planning, which is more than they can say in Northeast Ohio or Southwest Wisconsin.