Policy Area

Until now, the focus of states on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been on compliance. States first struggled to figure out what was required by the legislation, and then concentrated on getting the state plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Now that this initial stage has past, states are turning their attention to implementation. They are now trying to understand how to incorporate NCLB into the state’s framework of educational governance, and how the legislation can be used to help the state meet its own goals for education performance.

An effective system of interstate cooperation is essential to the operation of U. S. federalism. The research reported here shows that, on average, a state belongs to 25.4 interstate compacts and, during the 1990s, joined other states in 25 legal actions and enacted 7.7 uniform laws. However, the variation both across and within states as to the degree and type of cooperation reflects the tension between cooperation and competition.

The rapid pace of technological change and innovation that transformed government service delivery in the 1990s has been slowed in recent years by the bleak fiscal realities facing most states. Although the demand for online services and 24/7 access to information remains strong, information technology (IT) initiatives must now demonstrate a clear return on investment with an emphasis on system integration and infrastructure consolidation. States are also recognizing the importance of centralized IT oversight, common standards and shared solutions to save money and deliver more effective services to citizens and businesses.

States’ welfare challenges are becoming more complex. As the economy weakened, caseload decline either diminished or reversed. Employment rates declined for both welfare recipients  and those who recently left welfare. More who left welfare either have returned to it or are disconnected, living without a job, welfare, or someone else who can support them. Fortunately, more who left welfare are staying connected to other government safety net supports. States’ welfare offices must combine the message of work and assessment of work barriers with a complex array of services that remediate barriers, track families after they leave welfare, and support working poor families.

A survey of municipal leagues and county associations in 41 states reveals several state legislatures initiated actions to assist general purpose local governments by broadening their discretionary authority and establishing special assistance programs. Nevertheless, more than one-half of the respondents reported the legislatures had imposed additional mandates since  1990 and one-third reported the imposition of additional restraints. Only two respondents indicated court decisions generally favored local governments, six reported narrow interpretation of local powers and the remaining respondents reported mixed decisions.

By almost any metric, the performance of state workers’ compensation systems varies greatly, with large swings in claims, costs and disputes over just a few years. As a result of this  dynamic environment, a handful of states “reform” their workers’ compensation statutes almost annually.

Crime is down, but prison populations continue to rise. As state officials struggle with budget shortfalls, it is increasingly important to understand the changing nature of state corrections, both from a demographic perspective and a programmatic one. If state officials are to ever solve the “revolving-door-of-corrections,” they must provide effective programming and planning whose ultimate goal is the reentry of offenders into society.

Coercive regulatory trends have displayed considerable continuity since the late 1960s, including a shift of federal aid from places to persons, increased policy conditions attached to federal aid, rising preemptions, federalization of criminal law, encroachments on state tax systems, hollowed intergovernmental institutions, and reduced cooperation within major intergovernmental programs. Two other trends—unfunded federal mandates and federal court orders—have become less significant. A newer trend has been the state-friendly federalism jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991, although the Court’s 2002–2003 term did not advance this trend. State activism in forging new policies and bucking federal policies continues as well, and is likely to intensify in response to rising partisan polarization.

Privatization continues to be a controversial management issue in state governments. In the past five years, 1997-2002, the extent of privatization activities in the states has largely remained the same as in the previous five years or slightly increased. The main reasons for privatization are a lack of personnel or expertise and cost savings. In most cases, privatized services account for less than 5 percent of agency services, while reported costs savings range from none to less than 5 percent. But many state agency directors surveyed seem to have no clear ideas as to how much has been actually saved from privatization. Nevertheless, privatization is likely to continue in the states in the next few years as in the past decade.

“After a year of study, and after reviewing research and testimony, the Commission finds that recovery from mental illness is now a real possibility. The promise of the New Freedom Initiative—a life in the community for everyone—can be realized. Yet, for too many Americans with mental illnesses, the mental health services and supports they need remain fragmented, disconnected and often inadequate, frustrating the opportunity for recovery.”1 - President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. July 2003.