This guest post comes from Shaun Libby, an intern with the Center for Justice & Economic Advancement at Jobs for the Future. All views in guest posts are those of the author.


As someone who works closely with people reentering society, and as someone who is looking ahead to his own approaching release from incarceration, I’ve seen firsthand the need to ensure that people heading home from incarceration have a real chance at successful reentry.  

Too many Americans leaving incarceration are unable to successfully reintegrate due to barriers arising from current policies and practices. Policymakers and employers have the opportunity to support successful reentry by making changes and additions to education and workforce policies.  

What Does the Data Say? 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that of those released, around “68% ... were [rearrested] within three years, 79% within six years, and 83% within nine years.”  This low rate of success is demoralizing for those returning and for their loved ones. I have been incarcerated for nearly 26 consecutive years at the same facility. During that time, I have seen countless men come and go. When I ask why they’ve returned, the most common reason they share is that they weren’t prepared or set up for success — especially when it came to securing sustainable employment after their release. 

This is a far too common scenario for people being released. The Prison Policy Initiative found that formerly incarcerated people face an over 27% unemployment rate. This rate doesn’t reflect the high levels of underemployment or occupational segregation driven by licensure barriers and other collateral consequences. A report from the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute demonstrates that having a job reduces recidivism, and that individuals are less likely to reoffend when they have stable, full-time employment.    

The data also tells us that education is the greatest tool to improve post-release employment outcomes and reduce recidivism. A meta-analysis from the RAND Corporation shows that the average 70%-80% recidivism rate drops to 50% when a person finishes some high school while incarcerated, and that number plummets to 13.7% for an associate degree, 5.6% for a bachelor’s degree, and down to 0% for individuals who earn a master’s degree.    

How Could Policy Changes Reduce Recidivism? 

The July 2023 reinstatement of Pell Grants for incarcerated students removed one critical barrier and has the potential to seed more opportunities for incarcerated people to pursue postsecondary education as colleges and universities work to gain approval to offer Prison Education Programs. But the barriers to offering high-quality postsecondary education pathways in correctional settings remain daunting.  

In 2023, Jobs for the Future’s Center for Justice & Economic Advancement released the Normalizing Opportunity Policy Framework, which outlines actionable steps for policymakers to create sustainable economic advancement for the 70 million people with records. As Lucretia Murphy, a vice president at JFF and director of the center, said, “Normalizing opportunity means that all people — despite their involvement in the carceral and legal systems — have access to an array of opportunities and support structures that drive upward mobility just like any other American.”  

One important step toward normalization is to ensure that people who are incarcerated have access to the tools and technology they need to pursue education and training and catalyze employment opportunities.    

It was possible for me to pursue graduate study and to launch a career with JFF while still incarcerated because of recent investment in technology. Investing in technology can drastically increase access to high-quality online learning opportunities from colleges and career and technical education providers.  

Technology can also open doors to sustainable employment — particularly in the age of remote work. To support access to remote internships, fellowships and quality work opportunities, policymakers could identify and remove policy barriers that prevent individuals who are currently incarcerated from accessing these opportunities.  

Given that employers are equally critical stakeholders in normalizing these opportunities, policy change can also be a productive avenue for incentivizing employers to extend opportunities to those who are currently incarcerated.  

JFF’s framework identified four key areas policymakers can use to address barriers to economic advancement:  

Normalizing opportunity and upward mobility for people with records won’t be easy. As the U.S. prison system, a massive, publicly funded industry, continues to operate with the same outdated policies and practices, individuals are negatively impacted by the lack of preparation for economic stability and a successful return to their communities.  

But hope can be found in the pockets of incredible work to modernize outdated policies and provide more opportunities for success, creating a more rehabilitative and fair criminal legal system. Policy solutions are a critical component of the effort to address the system that fails to enable successful reintegration and to make opportunities for people with records the norm rather than the exception.  

Updated Sept. 25, 2023

A state policymaker asked our policy team for information on how states fund special education services and equitable funding approaches for these services. Our response provides an overview of two state approaches and a discussion of policy considerations for equitably funding these services.

To provide timely assistance to our constituents, State Information Requests are typically completed in 48 hours. They reflect an issue scan versus a comprehensive analysis.

This post has been adapted from a post by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center, Johns Hopkins University. All views expressed in this post are those of the authors. 

Chronic absenteeism has risen drastically in our country — increasing from 16% of students before the COVID-19 pandemic to nearly 30% by the 2021-22 school year. During the 2021-22 school year, 14.7 million students missed so much school they were at academic risk. When schools experience such high levels of chronic absence, the education experience of all students — not just those frequently missing school — is adversely affected. 

A close look at 2021-22 school year data reveals that every state in the country experienced a substantial increase in the number of schools and districts with high and extreme levels of chronic absenteeism.  

States play a critical role in advancing effective approaches to improve attendance in schools because current levels of chronic absence can easily overwhelm a district’s capacity to respond.  

To assist states, our team used available 2021-22 school year data to produce charts for every state showing levels of high and extreme chronic absence. A short data highlight report is available for each state. You can also view the data on this interactive map. If possible, states may benefit most from conducting their own analysis with 2022-23 school year data since it is not yet available at the federal level. 

States can consider adopting a tiered approach. They can offer basic resources to help all schools and districts, particularly those with limited experience addressing chronic absence, and offer more intensive support to the districts facing the most significant attendance challenges. In a tiered approach, state actions may include:  

Publishing comparable, timely and accurate data. Publicly available data helps everyone — educators, families, policymakers and potential community partners — understand where action is needed. States can ensure comparable data among districts by providing a common definition for a day of attendance and ensuring all absences (i.e., excused, unexcused and suspensions) are included in their chronic absence data calculations. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island publish chronic absence data frequently so action can be taken throughout the year. 

Creating and promoting messaging about the importance of attendance every day for student success and well-being. Long periods of virtual learning may have led some to think in-person attendance no longer matters. However, state leaders (e.g., governors, state chief school officers, public health agency directors, policymakers and agency leaders) can collaborate on messaging that can be tailored locally to reinforce the importance of attendance. Excellent examples of state campaigns include New Mexico, Massachusetts and Rhode Island 

Building capacity to address chronic absence. For example, Ohio offers an Attendance Guide that explains state law and offers early intervention practices. At the same time, with support from Attendance Works, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce is strengthening the capacity of its staff and regional intermediaries to offer high quality technical assistance.  

Rather than creating a separate set of supports, Ohio is building on statewide investments in positive behavior intervention and supports so attendance improvement efforts augment existing resources. 

Integrating attention to chronic absence into existing initiatives. Existing programs and initiatives such as family engagement, expanded learning, intensive tutoring, community schools and science of reading efforts can incorporate efforts designed to increase engagement and attendance. Connecticut, for example, integrated attendance into family engagement strategies. Virginia’s campaign, ALL In VA, combines a dual focus on attendance and intensive tutoring. 

Creating a tailored action plan based on current data and existing resources. To determine where additional capacity is most needed, states can take stock of existing resources and combine that analysis with data examining how much particular schools, districts and student groups are affected by chronic absence.  

Re-establishing regular student attendance will require thoughtful and sustained planning and action. While national data for 2022-23 has not been released, available state data shows chronic absence is starting to decline from its peak in 2021-22 but remains high.   

When all is said and done, we know that efforts to support student’s academic recovery — and improve learning and well-being outcomes for all students — are unlikely to have the desired results unless students are present in school to benefit. If you are interested in learning more, listen in to this recent webinar on Comprehensive State Strategies to Reduce Chronic Absence.  

This guest post comes to us from Jill Bowdon, Ph.D., principal researcher with the American Institutes of Research. All views in guest posts are those of the author.

Teaching students to read proficiently is one of the main goals of K-12 education systems.  

By the end of third grade, students need foundational literacy skills to meet the academic demands in subsequent grades. Starting in fourth grade, there is less emphasis on learning how to read and more emphasis on reading to learn. Students in upper elementary and middle school who cannot read and comprehend texts miss out on gaining key academic knowledge across all subjects needed for success in future grades and are at higher risk for dropping out of high school. According to data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, about two thirds of fourth and eighth grade students are not proficient readers.  

The good news is that it is not too late for students beyond third grade to become better readers. With the right instruction and evidence-based interventions, students in upper elementary and middle school can improve their reading skills.

State Level Strides in Improving Literacy

States recognize the need to improve curricula, human capital and systems that support reading proficiency. Since 2019, 45 states have passed legislation to improve literacy assessment, instruction and intervention. And, in 42 states, this legislation includes language about serving students beyond third grade.  

Here is a look at policies states are enacting to bring evidence-based practices into use in K-3 and considerations for how to expand these evidence-based practices to better serve students beyond third grade.   

Evidence-Based Interventions Delivered by Highly Trained Educators  

Students in upper elementary and middle school who need help in reading can benefit from supplemental reading interventions that occur in addition to reading instruction in their English language arts classes. To identify students for supplemental reading interventions, states are mandating the use of universal screeners, or tests administered to all students at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. This assessment schedule allows educators to identify students who are at risk in reading for supplemental reading interventions at multiple times during the school year — not just after a spring state standardized test.  

Once identified, students need supplementary reading interventions that are evidence-based. Many states — like Arizona, Colorado and Mississippi — use a vetting process to produce lists of approved reading interventions that meet evidence requirements.

While these approved lists can be helpful, they are not always tailored to the needs of students beyond third grade. These students require interventions that are aligned with their unique needs, developmentally appropriate and engaging. Additionally, these students may require a more intensive dosage and smaller group sizes to catch up to peers. Students can also benefit when the intervention’s pace matches their progress. Some students may need a slower pace to master foundational skills. Other students may proceed at a more rapid pace that allows them to make more than one year’s worth of academic growth in a single school year. 

These decisions about content, dosage, group size and pacing require highly effective educators who have sufficient training and coaching on the science of reading and can use progress monitoring data to inform instructional decisions. States — like Michigan and North Carolina — are investing in training for educators offering reading instruction and intervention.  

Policy Considerations  

Literacy legislation in many states is primarily focused on K-3 students. However, some states — like Virginia and Indiana — are creating policies that mandate universal assessments or provide guidance on selection of evidence-based interventions appropriate for students in upper elementary or middle school. Because of the prevalence of older students who were not performing proficiently in reading post pandemic in Virginia, legislators expanded requirements in the Virginia Literacy Act so that districts now must provide reading supports for students in grades four through eight in addition to those in K-3. Similarly, Indiana currently has a Senate bill that would require the identification of students in grades 4-8 who are at risk in reading and the provision of support for those students. States can consider following Virginia and Indiana’s examples to better meet the needs of upper elementary and middle school students.  

Likewise, states can consider funding for intervention delivery beyond third grade. Many schools used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to purchase intervention programs, staff reading interventions and support reading coaches. Districts may scramble to support the implementation of reading interventions in upper elementary and middle school grades when this funding disappears this year.

This post is the first of two focused on literacy development, the next will look at the elementary grades and beyond, authored by the American Institutes for Research.

State policymakers have been actively introducing legislation to address literacy development, building on the momentum of the science of reading push in recent years. Despite limited research on the impact of these policies, the orientation toward leveraging best practices and research is promising.

Since 2023 legislative sessions began, ECS has tagged nearly 200 bills focused on literacy development across 41 states. Additionally, at least 13 governors discussed this issue in their 2024 State of the State addresses.

While much of the policy attention is geared toward elementary grades, we want to briefly unpack what’s going on in pre-K settings as pre-literacy skills are crucial for academic success.

What Are Pre-Literacy Skills?

Emergent, early- or pre-literacy skills begin at birth and continue through the pre-K years. It’s important to note that pre-literacy includes both reading and writing. Oral language is foundational and comprises six areas: phonology, vocabulary, grammar, morphology, pragmatics and discourse. These areas can all be supported through developmentally appropriate instruction in various skills in education settings as well as throughout the daily lives of young children by their caregiver(s).

How Do States Address Pre-Literacy Skills in Science of Reading Reforms?

At least six states include pre-K as part of their literacy initiatives although only some of the policy elements may apply to the pre-K space. Other states may enact pre-K literacy policies separately from their early elementary policies, which requires alignment across agencies in governance structures where the state education agency does not have direct oversight of public pre-K. Some states that align pre-literacy prior to kindergarten entry with elementary literacy instruction include:

Connecting the Dots

Despite efforts to support pre-literacy skill development, states may also want to consider creating connective tissue between pre-K settings and K-12 systems. One approach may be kindergarten entry assessments. As of June 2023, KEAs are in statute in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, and ten additional states provide optional KEAs that districts can implement. These developmentally appropriate assessments capture rising kindergarteners’ skills across several subject areas. Specifically, 27 states plus the District of Columbia assess pre-literacy skills in their assessments, eight states allow districts to assess pre-literacy if an assessment is given and three provide literacy screeners to newcomer students, including kindergarteners. Leveraging this outcome data may prove useful for aligning curriculum, instruction, interventions and teacher training within states’ literacy frameworks.

As states continue to build out their early literacy initiatives focused on the science of reading, it may be important to consider how these systems address pre-literacy skill development as well as how alignment is ensured between pre-K and K-12 settings. To learn more about states’ approaches to supporting literacy development, with a focus on implementation, read this K-3 policy scan and this trends brief that were recently released by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

This post comes to us from Emily Laidlaw, Deputy Director of Early Education with the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP). All views expressed in this post are those of the author.

Every family deserves access to quality early learning and care — regardless of their zip code, economic status or their children’s ages. But, in Michigan (like nearly every state across the country), far too many families struggle to find care that meets their needs.  

Michigan is making real progress to lower costs and expand access to safe, reliable, high-quality child care options for families.  

Lowering Costs  

Today, nearly 40,000 families have access to low- or no-cost child care through the state’s child care subsidy program called the Child Development and Care program. The program currently serves 15,000 more children than it did in January 2021. 

Michigan is expanding access to high-quality PreK programming and working toward the governor’s PreK for All goal.  

We’re also proud to be home to the first-in-the-nation Tri-Share program, which splits child care costs between employees, employers and the state. Over 175 employers from different industries and regions are already signed up.   

Expanding Access  

We know that affordability doesn’t matter if there aren’t child care options that meet families’ needs. This is why Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set a goal to open 1,000 new child care programs within two years. With a $100 million investment, we created an ambitious strategy called Caring for MI Future to recruit new and expanding child care businesses.  

Together with partners across Michigan, we achieved this goal a full year ahead of schedule. Our strategy stands out because it focuses on:  

  1. Ramping Up Funding and Flexibility for Start-Ups.
    The cost of opening or expanding a facility can be prohibitive for small business owners. To offset these costs, Caring for MI Future launched three grant programs to support child care entrepreneurs in starting the licensing process, purchasing materials and curriculum, and making facility updates. Opportunities for entrepreneurs to refine business skills through training, technical assistance and one-on-one business coaching support are embedded in these programs.The programs deployed dedicated licensing navigators to assist providers through the licensing process, resolve technical questions, and reduce inspection and permitting barriers with local governments. The effort resulted in greatly expanded access to capital and a streamlined, more user-friendly licensing process.
  2. Recruiting and Training Staff for New and Expanding Sites.
    One of the biggest challenges prospective entrepreneurs raised was staffing. Caring for MI Future invested in workforce strategies to recruit and retain talent in the child care sector. Collaborations between the state, higher education institutes and TEACH expanded Child Development Associate (CDA) scholarships and certifications. These collaborations also helped regional workforce development partners start up, scale and sustain registered apprenticeship models.These regional partners engaged licensing officials in variance requests to licensing rules and resolution to fill staffing vacancies immediately while working toward professional development goals. To grow the pipeline into the future, high school students enrolled in a career and technical education program pursuing their CDA are eligible for scholarships and every community college in the state now offers a CDA program.
  3. Building and Sustaining Local Efforts to Identify and Respond to Child Care Needs.
    Understanding that Michigan’s racial, ethnic and geographic diversity requires a local approach to growth and sustainability, regional planning coalitions accelerated community-level efforts around business attraction and retention with ongoing support from partners at the Innovation Fund. Collaborations between economic development organizations and early childhood leaders strengthened awareness of the importance of local investment and strategy and served as incubators for networks of family child care providers.

In 2023, Gov. Whitmer created the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential, or MiLEAP, to lead our statewide work to expand opportunities for Michiganders from preschool to postsecondary. Michigan’s full child care team is now at this new department, and we are setting our next goals to continue making Michigan a great state to raise a family.

Performance-based funding is a funding approach where state appropriations are allocated based on how a postsecondary institution performs on a defined set of measures. These formulas are designed to incentivize institutions to prioritize student success over enrollment numbers through increased retention and completion efforts.

Some common metrics include course or program completion, workforce participation and transfer. A growing number of states also include metrics that track the number of degrees completed in specific fields. In most instances, performance-based funding is used in conjunction with one or more additional funding approaches.

States regularly fine tune their performance-based funding formulas. Policymakers and system leaders can use the latest trends and information on performance-based funding below to assess their current policies.

What Does the Research Say?

According to a 2022 report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, at least 32 states use a performance-based funding approach for institutions in at least one sector. The amount of performance-based funding varies across states. The national average of the percentage of operating funds allocated through performance-based funding is 7.9%. SHEEO reports a high of 90.4% in North Dakota and a low of 0% in Illinois.

Research has shown that performance-based funding models have produced modest or no impact on institutional outcomes. In some instances, performance-based funding pushed institutions to be more selective in their admissions by prioritizing students who are more likely to complete degrees.

Research has also shown that performance-based funding can disadvantage minority-serving institutions. MSIs in states with performance-based funding lose funding relative to MSIs in states without performance-based funding. Case studies on performance-based funding implementation in the states tend to focus on best practices such as stakeholder engagement, formulas that account for mission differentiation, identifying appropriate guardrails and evaluation.

Equity Metrics in Performance-Based Funding

A 2021 report from The Education Trust examined the extent to which funding models prioritize the enrollment and success of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. In doing so, they examined if state performance-based funding models included enrollment, student success and campus climate metrics for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Student Success. According to the same report, metrics related to outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds are the most commonly used. Twenty-six states with performance-based funding measure and reward institutions for success metrics among this student group. Nineteen states include success metrics for students of color.

Enrollment. The Education Trust found that 10 states include enrollment metrics. Among those states, six have an enrollment metric for students of color. In some instances, enrollment metrics are limited by institution type. For example, Wisconsin’s enrollment metric for students of color is mandatory for four-year institutions but not two-year institutions. In Rhode Island, the enrollment metric for students of color is only for the University of Rhode Island.

Campus Climate. Campus climate surveys are the rarest among these metrics. Only four state policies include or allow a measure of campus racial climate (Kansas, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee). Rhode Island requires the use of campus climate surveys at four-year institutions. Climate surveys are optional for Pennsylvania’s four-year institutions and not addressed for two-year institutions.

Workforce Metrics in Performance-Based Funding

According to our 2020 50-State Comparison on postsecondary education funding, at least 15 states award state performance-based appropriations to institutions based on workforce development incentives. Popular metrics include students’ wage earnings after graduation and the number of degrees/certificates awarded in state-defined critical needs areas.

Research indicates these policies confer mixed results in student outcomes, but recent studies highlight a growing trend to include equity-based components such as rewarding institutions for awarding a certain number of STEM degrees to students from low-income backgrounds.

States often differentiate performance metrics by sector like rewarding four-year and two-year institutions for workforce-related student achievements.

State Examples of Workforce Incentives

For the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and public universities, 35% of an institution’s state appropriation (or half of the total performance-based funds) is awarded based on student success outcomes, which can be measured by:

Per statute, the Louisiana Board of Regents develops and implements a performance-based funding formula applicable to all public institutions. The formula must align with economic development and workforce needs. The current workforce metric is based on the number of students who complete programs leading to four and five star jobs as determined by the Workforce Investment Council.

The Texas Legislature recently overhauled the state’s community college funding formula. H.B. 8 introduces changes that will primarily fund community colleges based on the number of:

We track legislation related to postsecondary finance on our State Education Policy tracking map. Make sure to visit the resource regularly thorough the 2024 legislative session to learn more.

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