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In the span of just two years (during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions), every Midwestern state adopted laws to better protect young people from concussion-related injuries. These so-called “return-to-play” laws had three key components:
• educating parents, coaches and players on the signs and symptoms of concussions;
• removing a player from a game or practice who may have a concussion, and not allowing him or her to return that day; and
• requiring sign-off from a medical professional before the player returns to action.
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Four decades ago, only about one-quarter of the U.S. students attending kindergarten went for the full day. Today, the numbers are essentially reversed — only one-quarter of kindergartners attend a half day, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center.
And another change is beginning to occur as well — how states fund kindergarten.
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In the decades-long legal battles over school funding, different states have taken turns in the national spotlight. All eyes were on Ohio in the late 1990s, for example, after its state Supreme Court ruled on multiple occasions that the K-12 funding system was unconstitutional — due to an overreliance on local property taxes and a failure to deliver a “thorough and efficient system of common schools.”

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the 2014 president of The Council of State Governments, sees education as a key to developing a workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. But he believes states also can do other things to attract jobs.

The Farm to School program seeks to improve the health of children by bringing locally produced foods into school cafeterias and providing educationally enriching experiences such as farm field trips, school gardens and nutrition classes.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a survey of school district participation in the program, and estimates as of the 2012-2013 school year, over 3,800 school districts representing over 21 million students are buying local products.  These school districts collectively purchased more than $350 million of locally produced foods. 

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In North Dakota, the parents of many soon-to-be kindergarten students in the state are getting some early education of their own — up to 16 weeks of programming on child development and the importance of school readiness.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, nearly 113,000 children and their families took part last school year in the state’s Early Childhood Family Education program, which offers everything from local parent-discussion groups and learning activities for children, to home visits and health and child-development screenings.
And this year, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn highlighted a new Birth-to-5 Initiative for his state, an early-childhood program that focuses in part on improving families’ access to community services and training opportunities.
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Two years ago, a class of college students at Portland State University in Oregon came up with an alternative way of paying for college — an idea they called “Pay it Forward.” It has quickly attracted nationwide attention, including in some of the Midwest’s state legislatures.

A 2011 study by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute found that American manufacturing companies could not fill as many as 600,000 positions—or 5 percent of manufacturing jobs—due to a lack of qualified candidates, and 56 percent of manufacturers anticipate that shortage will increase in the next three to five years. Technological advancements, particularly in the manufacturing area, mean that workers need more specialized skills to both get and keep jobs. States are stepping forward to help solve these issues, creating or expanding programs aimed at helping the private sector get the skilled labor force they need to be competitive.

When policymakers think about economic development, it usually involves things like tax exemptions, matching funds or infrastructure development. What happens in classrooms, however, rarely enters into the equation. Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who is serving as The Council of State Governments’ 2014 chair, believes it’s time to change that.

Children continue to be the poorest age group in America. Child poverty remained at record high levels in 2012, with more than 1 in 5 children identified as poor. This poverty leads to student achievement gaps, reductions in readiness for school, increased absenteeism, and developmental delays. Poor children also are less likely to complete high school - limiting potential employability and economic success in the future, and leading to poverty as an adult.

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