OMB Memo Signals Possible Elimination of Social Innovation Fund

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is circulating a memo that targets nine federal programs for elimination by the Trump administration, one of which is the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that houses the Social Innovation Fund.

According to The New York Times, which broke the story on Friday, the list represents an opening salvo in a larger effort to reduce federal spending. The Senate confirmed President Trump’s OMB director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), on Thursday.

The programs cited in the memo are:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Legal Services Corporation
  • White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
  • Export-Import Bank
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • Appalachian Regional Commission

According to the story:

While the total amount of annual savings of roughly $2.5 billion would be comparatively small, administration officials want to highlight the agencies in their coming budget proposal as examples of misuse of taxpayer dollars. An internal memo circulated within the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, and obtained by The New York Times, notes that the list could change. Proposals for more extensive cuts in cabinet-level agencies are expected to follow.

The chosen agencies have been asked to respond by Friday, February 24. The list is expected to be finalized by March 13.

The Social Innovation Fund does not appear to have been mentioned by name, but it has been targeted for elimination by congressional Republicans in previous years.  The program was always restored after negotiations with the Obama administration.  The Senate may play a similar role in this year’s expected budget battles.  While Republicans control both the House and the Senate, appropriations bills can be filibustered in the Senate.

Many of the programs on the list have also been highlighted for reductions or elimination by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been influential with the new administration. According to the New York Times story:

Stephen Moore, another Heritage Foundation economist who advised Mr. Trump during his campaign, acknowledged that powerful constituencies were behind many of the programs that are on the chopping block. But he said now that Republicans are finally in control of the government, they must make a valiant effort to fulfill the promises they have been making to voters for years.

“I think it’s an important endeavor to try to get rid of things that are unnecessary,” Mr. Moore said. “The American public has a lot of contempt for how government is run in Washington, in no small part because there is so much waste.”

Results for America is currently circulating a sign-on letter among interested organizations on the Social Innovation Fund and other evidence-based programs. For more information, contact Jeremy Ayers at jeremy(at)results4america.org.

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Posted in Evidence, Social Innovation Fund

School Improvement Grant Program’s Failure Points to Evidence-based Policy as an Answer

Last month Mathematica Policy Research released a tough report on the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The conclusion? After $7 billion spent, the program had no effect on student achievement in some of the nation’s most poorly performing schools.

The study’s results spurred a round of “I told you so” responses from some analysts, including Andrew Smarick of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who suggested that SIG might be the “greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education.” According to Smarick:

The results are almost too much to believe. How in the world do you spend billions and billions of dollars and get no results—especially after Secretary Duncan promised it would turn around 5,000 failing schools and hailed it as the biggest bet of his tenure?

Probably the only thing more remarkable than the scope of this program’s failure is that this outcome was absolutely, positively, unavoidably predictable.

Smarick had previously argued that the answer was to close poorly-performing schools (which was one of the options under SIG, although it was rarely used) and start from scratch. Smarick pointed to successful charter school networks like KIPP as a more promising alternative.

Is Smarick right?  Are turnaround efforts a complete waste of time and money?

Probably not.  There are plenty of reasons to think that this conclusion is premature. First, the Mathematica study’s conclusions do not quite paint the definitive picture of failure among school turnarounds that has been widely reported.  Second, there have been other examples of success in the turnaround space that are not associated with SIG.

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Posted in Education

Trump OMB Nominee May Support Reworked Evidence-based Budget Tool

President Trump’s nominee to head OMB, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, indicated at two different Senate hearings on January 24 that he will consider reviving the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which the Bush administration used to examine the effectiveness of federal programs. The prior Bush effort substantially incorporated evidence into its reviews.

According to Government Executive:

[Senator] Portman praised George W. Bush’s Program Assessment Rating for measuring the performance of federal initiatives and tying the results to spending, saying PART was “an enormous undertaking that some thought too time-consuming. But the result was that some programs had their budgets increased, some decreased, and some were eliminated.”

Mulvaney said he admired the quantitative data that PART supplied, adding that “ending PART denied us a tool, and I’m looking forward to adding management tools.”

Reviving PART is a priority for the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been working closely with the incoming Trump administration.

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Posted in Evidence

Reading the Evidence Tea Leaves: Trump Inaugural Address Cites Welfare, Education

What role will evidence play in the new administration?  While that is not yet clear, in his inaugural address President Trump called out two issues where evidence-based policy has been playing an increasingly important role: education and welfare.

While both issues received only short references, their inclusion in a speech that was relatively short overall suggests how important they may be to the new administration.

On poverty, the president cited “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” as a pressing problem and that “we will get our people off of welfare and back to work.” On education, he criticized “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The poverty reference reinforces the expectation that Congress will revisit welfare reform later this year. House Republicans have already laid out an anti-poverty plan that places evidence at the center of its reform efforts.

On education, the administration’s plans with respect to evidence are less clear. The president has previously criticized Common Core and endorsed school choice.

But the president’s inaugural address suggests that ineffectiveness is a central concern, which may elevate the importance of evidence. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind, includes several evidence-based provisions.

Update: Trump was even more explicit in his support for welfare reform in a speech to congressional Republicans on January 26. According to Roll Call:

Trump also touted his interest in overhauling welfare, another key plank of Ryan’s “A Better Way” agenda. “We want to get our people off welfare and back to work,” the president said.

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Posted in Evidence, Politics

Investing in Innovation (i3): Strong Start on Evaluation and Scale, But Greater Focus Needed on Innovation

The Social Innovation Research Center has today released a report examining the early progress of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program. The executive summary follows below.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report is an evaluation of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, a tiered-evidence grantmaking initiative at the U.S. Department of Education.    The program’s primary purpose is to support the development, testing, and scaling of field-initiated programs for high-need students in K-12 education.

Created in 2009, it has provided over $1.4 billion in grants for education projects, including those focused on kindergarten readiness, student achievement, decreasing dropout rates, and turning around low-performing schools. In late 2015, the program was changed as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  However, the renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program has retained most of i3’s original features.

This report reviews the program’s early progress. Its findings are based on a review of publicly available final project evaluations, internal performance reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with current and former officials from the U.S. Department of Education, i3 project directors, and several national experts in education.

The report includes an assessment of the program’s overall results, its contributions to the knowledge base, and lessons learned from launching, implementing, evaluating, and scaling i3-funded projects. The remainder of this executive summary provides highlights from the full report.

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Posted in Education

Building Evidence in Education: i3’s Past and Future

The following is an excerpt from SIRC’s report on the i3 program. In it, national experts and former Obama administration officials weigh in on lessons learned and the program’s possible future.


EPILOGUE

Viewed in isolation, the i3 program – while imperfect – appears to have been generally effective.  But the newly-renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program does not exist in a silo.

The program exists in a larger policy context – one that includes other federal programs, state and local education agencies, and perhaps most importantly, a political context that has become very different in the aftermath of the 2016 elections.

How does EIR fit into this larger context?  As one administration exits the stage, what fate awaits it in the next one?  If the new Republican administration and GOP Congress choose to keep it, how might it change?


New Administration, New Priorities

In late 2015, Congress reworked i3 as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, bipartisan legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind. The new EIR program now bears a bipartisan imprint.

Still, as a program originally associated with the Obama administration, its fate under the incoming administration is uncertain.  The Trump administration may decide to eliminate it, but it may also see it as useful tool for furthering its school choice and accountability agendas.  Moreover, support for evidence-based policy and tiered evidence initiatives (like EIR) more generally has been growing among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

When asked, Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, began by making the pessimistic case.  “I don’t know what will be done in the new administration,” he said, “but I assume the new administration and Congress will take a hard look at the full array of Obama initiatives, including this one.”

“If i3 had happened outside the context of Race to the Top and had not been locked arm-in-arm with foundations on Common Core, I think I would have looked upon it differently, because historically the idea of public-private partnerships has a lot of appeal.”

“On the other hand, there are folks who are interested in school choice.  They might see it as a vehicle for encouraging more choice programs and expanding efforts to study their impact,” he said.

The president-elect has pledged $20 billion for school choice.  His Education Secretary-designee, Betsy DeVos, is a strong school choice and accountability advocate.   Federal support for charter schools is overseen by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the same division that runs EIR.   As a program that provided support for charter school initiatives like KIPP and New Schools for New Orleans, EIR could be useful to the incoming administration.

Others point to potential support in Congress. “Betsy DeVos will be extremely important, but there is also more appetite on the congressional side than there used to be,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, a former director of the Institute of Education Sciences under President George W. Bush.

“There is still bipartisan momentum to increase evidence use within federal policy,” agreed Martin West, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former senior education policy advisor to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “I think the status of programs like EIR hinges on that broader momentum.”

Support for evidence-based policy has been growing among Republicans in recent years. In the summer of 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of the House Republican leadership made evidence a central component of a policy plan that it ran on in the fall, called A Better Way.   Although the plan did not mention EIR specifically, it endorsed tiered-evidence initiatives in general.

The broader focus on evidence has also drawn cautious support from analysts at conservative organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, and Heritage Foundation.   In November, the Heritage Foundation endorsed the increased use of evidence in the federal budget process.

Given these varied sources of potential support, EIR’s fate is unclear.  If it were to be kept in place, however, how might it be changed?

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Posted in Education

Trump Selects Ryan Ally as White House Budget Director

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) as his nominee for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The OMB director oversees the development of the proposed presidential budget, various performance and management functions, and the regulatory process. OMB has also been an important driver of evidence-based policy during the Obama years.

Mulvaney is known as a strong fiscal conservative and was a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. If the new administration were to incorporate evidence more tightly into its budget process, as has been recommended by the conservative Heritage Foundation, it would do so under Mulvaney’s leadership.

Mulvaney’s selection is also the latest example of close ties between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been a strong supporter of evidence-based policy, albeit with a conservative bent. According to The Washington Post:

Mulvaney has had largely friendly relations with Boehner’s successor, Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). He was among three members who offered nominating speeches for Ryan in a closed-door House GOP leadership election last month.

Ryan and Mulvaney have a record of working together on budget issues.

Ryan, who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2011 to 2015, said Mulvaney is “someone I have come to greatly respect and rely on, going back to our time serving together on the Budget Committee.”

And according to CNN:

[Mulvaney] didn’t initially support Trump for president — he first endorsed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during the primaries. But he endorsed Trump a few hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan did in June, saying at a candidates’ forum in Gaffney, South Carolina, that Trump could advance the Republican agenda.

Ryan praised the nomination shortly after it was announced.

“Mick Mulvaney is the absolute right choice,” Ryan said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Mick in his new role, and I commend President-elect Trump on this excellent selection.”

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Posted in Politics

ED Announces First Round of Grants Under i3’s Replacement

The Department of Education today announced the availability of new grants under the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, an updated version of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

As was the case with i3, EIR has three tiers of grants, with higher levels of funding provided to projects with higher levels of incoming evidence. The three types of grants are linked to each other, each “with the expectation that projects that build this evidence will advance through EIR’s grant tiers.” According to ED:

Applicants proposing innovative practices (as defined in this notice) that are supported by limited evidence can receive relatively small grants to support the development, iteration, and initial evaluation of the practices; applicants proposing practices supported by evidence from rigorous evaluations, such as large randomized controlled trials (as defined in this notice), can receive larger grant awards to support expansion across the country.

Congress authorized this reworked version of i3 in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind.

Final funding for the program has yet to be resolved by Congress, which passed a continuing resolution before leaving for Christmas. It funded all federal discretionary programs (including this one) at current levels until April 28.  The temporary funding extension will give the incoming Trump administration a chance to influence funding for the rest of the year when it comes up for full consideration in April.

Until then, EIR/i3 remains level-funded at $120 million. The program was also funded at that level in the Senate version of the full-year spending bill (S.3040), but it was defunded in the House version (H.R.5926). Assuming she is confirmed, the president-elect’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, may have some say on the final spending figure.

Meanwhile, ED is proceeding with the new roll out.  Descriptions of the three types of grants (and links to their associated applications) follow below. Application deadlines for all three are the same: February 13 for the notice of intent to apply and April 13 for the application itself.

Note: SIRC is anticipating release of a major report on lessons learned from the i3 program in January. The report is based on interviews with over 60 i3 grantees, outside experts, and former and current Education Department officials. This report was developed with the generous financial support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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Posted in Education

Social Innovation Directory Updated

SIRC’s directory has been updated!  The directory includes over 1,000 links to reports and other resources on social innovation and performance issues.  The directory is accessible below and also through links above and to the right.


Issues


Cross-cutting Topics

The directory is updated a few times per year.  For the latest news and resources, consider subscribing to SIRC’s email list (see the top right of this page).

Posted in Uncategorized