THE BLOG
03/04/2013 04:44 pm ET Updated May 04, 2013

Invest in Innovative Solutions That Work for Children and Families

With the implementation of sequestration, harmful across-the-board cuts to solutions that address the needs of children and their families will further highlight the critical need for our policy makers to make funding decisions based on results.

"Let's do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind."

Though President Obama said this in his latest State of the Union address, it sounds like something President George W. Bush might have said when signing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law to improve student performance and close achievement gaps, or when he was signing the reauthorization of Head Start in 2007 to require all Head Start providers to meet new, higher standards for serving children. It's a simple premise that lawmakers in both parties should agree on: Let's make sure that the federal government is supporting those solutions that we know work to ensure that every child has an equal shot at attaining the kind of education that will help them compete on a global level.

The sequestration cuts are doing just the opposite: The cuts are being made to programs regardless of their impact.

Over the next decade America will face enormous social and economic shifts driven by budget constraints at all levels of government, an increasingly globally competitive workforce and growing demand for services from a larger, older and more diverse population than ever before. Young people will be especially vulnerable in the face of these macro trends, just at a time when they need to be getting the education and skills needed for lifelong success.

Today we have a better sense than ever before of "what works" for young people and their families. Across the country, individual programs and communities are making real progress in improving lives. For example, Communities in Schools provides resources to high-risk students within the public school system to improve school attendance and increase graduation rates. Of the students Communities in Schools served in the 2010/11 school year, 97 percent of potential dropouts remained in school, and 88 percent of high school seniors graduated on time, 10-percent higher than the national average of 78 percent.

Youth Villages offers programs that help families keep troubled children at home, out of the hands of the state, saving government tens of millions of dollars and saving children and parents the pain of unnecessary separation. Their programs include intensive in-home services, specialized crisis services and mentoring. After participating in Youth Villages programs, over 80 percent of youth report no trouble with the law. Almost 90 percent of youth are in school, have graduated from high school or are in GED classes, despite the high risk of placement into state custody at the time of admission into Youth Villages programs.

Year Up provides low-income young adults with the hands-on skill development, college credits and corporate internships needed to achieve success in the classroom and the modern workplace. Since 2000 Year Up has placed 100 percent of its 6,000 young adults in internships that provide training for long-term careers. Some 84 percent of graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program. Those who are employed earn an average of $15 per hour, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

These are only three examples of high-performing organizations using data and evidence to inform and improve their work, changing lives and improving outcomes for children across the country. The list also includes Harlem Children's Zone, Reading Partners, New Leaders and hundreds of pockets of success that demonstrate an understanding of "what works" for kids. Building on this, community-wide collaborations like the Strive Network are demonstrating how to knit together multiple results-oriented solutions to create needle-moving change across entire communities.

Given these successes, there is more that our nation's leaders can do to invest public dollars in innovative solutions that are demonstrating impact: Establish a common evidence framework to incentivize programs to build more rigorous evidence and create more predictability about what is expected; set aside 1 percent of federal funds so that agencies can use evidence, data and information about program performance to inform policy and drive continuous improvement; target investments to those programs with the strongest evidence of effectiveness, as well as supporting promising, innovative interventions; and break down silos so that communities can set targets that they want to meet for young people from cradle to career, and align government resources to meet those targets. These are critical steps that government can take to "do what works" for children and their families.

"Let's do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind," President Obama said, proposing to work with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. But this approach applies to more than just preschool. Investing in what works is a long-term economic growth strategy designed to strengthen our future workforce, as opposed to across-the-board cuts that will leave our nation weaker in the long run. Investing in what works is neither a Democratic idea nor a Republican idea. It just makes sense, particularly as we look to find cost-effective ways to ensure that our nation's children receive the education and training that they require to compete globally.

Because we know more about what works than ever before, Congress and the Obama administration should work together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that our children can get access to those solutions.

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