Capitol Comments

CSG Webinar: The State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program
Sponsored by CSG's Capitol Ideas magazine
Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2 p.m. EDT
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The State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program, signed into law by President Barack Obama on September 27, 2010, establishes a 3-year trade and export promotion pilot program to make grants to states to enhance export promotion. The law appropriates $30 million per year for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013.

One could easily wonder if we might be seeing the beginning of the end of public schools as we know them. A Tennessee law that went into effect July 1 has led to the creation of 'virtual schools' in that state. With implementation of the law, Tennessee joins 28 other states plus the District of Columbia to offer public school students a free online stay-at-home education operated by the for-profit vendor, K12 Inc.

Today, Secretary Sebelius announced awards to 13 states and the District of Columbia of over $185 million in health insurance exchange establishment grants. These jurisdictions join three other states who received establishment grants on May 23, 2011 and seven “early innovator” grants in February 2011. These grants follow the exchange planning grants that 49 states and D.C. received in 2010.

Some states, however, have had second thoughts about accepting federal funds to establish health insurance exchanges, required by the Affordable Care Act to be in place by Jan. 1, 2014.

A new report from the bipartisan Building America’s Future Educational Fund says the United States needs to invest at least $200 billion a year in infrastructure, including transportation, energy, water and broadband internet. But that could be difficult, especially if some who want to get rid of the federal gas tax get their way. Also this week: Kentucky follows in Missouri’s footsteps in installing a new traffic interchange designed to decrease congestion and crashes in less time and for less money than other kinds of interchanges. Plus, items of note on tolling, public-private partnerships, mileage-based user fees in Europe and bridge work in Massachusetts and Missouri.

The Atlantic has a great piece on how social media is changing the way governments interact with the public they serve.  The author explores some examples specifically of how social media is working for state government, including connecting the public with e-services and assisting with state elections.  Even the insights for federal and foreign governments could prove inspirational to innovative state leaders.  Check out "How Governments Deal with Social Media" here.

A Florida-based group devoted to warning the public of extremist ideologies has filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Education over the state’s new textbook adoption law. Citizens for National Security contends the law, which changes Florida's method for selecting textbooks, does not leave enough time for a three-person expert committee to adequately review textbooks.

In published reports, the organization’s chairman says he is particularly concerned about parts of history and geography textbooks that discuss world religions.  William Saxton complains about “a lot of unbalance in the discussion of Islam in comparison to Christianity and Judaism (in textbooks).”

As parents and students get ready for a new school year after summer vacation, states are offering a different kind of holiday: a tax holiday. 

Consumers and health policy experts have all known about the differences in health insurance premiums across states. There have been plenty of anecdotal stories, but real data have been hard to come by.

Not now. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found the state-by-state variation was substantial, ranging from a high of $400 per member per month in Vermont and Massachusetts to a low of $136 in Alabama. The data came directly from filings with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) by insurers.

The National Research Council (NRC) recently released a revised approach to K-12 science education focused on “key scientific ideas and practices” important for all students prior to the end of high school.

When a student is paying college costs out of his or her pocket, or borrowing money to pay tuition, fees, books and living expenses, there’s a pretty good incentive to take as few courses as needed and finish the degree as quickly as possible. What happens, however, when the student is receiving a full merit scholarship from the state? Some students might take advantage of the financial aid to earn degrees in multiple subjects, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Texas has enacted a law this year “to facilitate the timely completion of degrees.” H.B. 3025, signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on June 17, requires all students to submit a plan detailing how they intend to achieve their degrees. Most students would be required to submit their graduation plans no later than semester after they have earned 45 credit hours. Students entering an institution with 45 credits would be given until the end of the second semester at the institution to file the graduation plan. If students later have a change of heart, and consequently want to change their majors, they will be required to obtain permission in order to continue to receive financial aid.