Capitol Ideas Mar/Apr 2013

Schools Strive to FInd Efficiences, Ways to Improve Academic Output

Unlike other school districts across the country, Clark County, Nev., was bursting at the seams.

Over a 25-year period, the district saw an increase of 200,000 students with a rapidly changing set of demographics. Before school officials knew it, they found themselves operating the fifth-largest district in the United States. Each year, the district added as many as 16 new schools and hired thousands of new teachers and staff to meet the demands of their growing system.

States Shrank Workforces, but Future Employment Issues Loom

States took a wide variety of actions with their workforces to try to rein in costs after the Great Recession started gripping the country in late 2007.

As Leslie Scott, director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives said, “As we’ve heard often, never waste a crisis.”

States certainly didn’t waste this one.

Texas Sen. Jane Nelson has one word to describe what she saw as abuse of her state’s Medicaid system—infuriating.

An investigation in 2012 revealed that between 2008 and 2010, Texas spent $424 million on medically unnecessary orthodontic braces for Medicaid recipients, more than was spent on braces by all the other states combined. In total, the Texas inspector general identified more than $6 billion in fraud and waste in the program from 2004 to 2011.

More than 3,000 adolescents go through Rikers Island prison in New York City each year. Half of them will reoffend and end up back in prison within a year after their release.

That’s an expensive problem. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, each inmate cost New Yorkers an average of $60,000 in 2012.

As budgets remain strained, state leaders continue to look for new and better ways to allocate scarce resources. While performance-based budgeting is not a new strategy, some states are giving the concept a closer look.

“In recent years, there has been renewed interest in performance-focused strategies, largely because of frustrations from the recession. State leaders had to make painful cuts, and were often frustrated that they couldn’t determine what current programs were accomplishing and which ones produced the greatest returns on investment for citizens,” said Gary VanLandingham, director of Results First, an initiative the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation created to assist states with implementing a cost-benefit approach to policy decisions.