Minnesota has new privacy protections for students using school-issued tech devices

A new Minnesota law, the Student Data Privacy Act, bans schools and their technology providers from tracking students’ activities via school-issued laptops or software, as well as from selling, sharing or disseminating young people’s educational data. HF 2353 was passed unanimously by the House and Senate before being signed by Gov. Tim Walz in late May.

Neither schools nor their technology providers can surveil students via tools such as remote location tracking or web cameras, except for specific exceptions such as instances of a device being stolen or activities “necessary to respond to an imminent threat to life or safety.” Additionally, “student interactions” with a school-issued device — for example, his or her web-browsing activity — cannot be electronically accessed or monitored.

Public schools in Minnesota must now notify students and parents about any contracts with tech providers that grant these companies access to young people’s educational data. These school-provider agreements must include security safeguards, and once the contracts are up, the tech companies must destroy the data or return the information to the educational institutions.

Student data privacy laws are in place in all Midwestern states except Wisconsin, according to Student Privacy Compass, a website that tracks this activity. Another Minnesota bill from this year, HF 3724, would have barred social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram from using algorithms to drive user-generated content to those under age 18. It failed to advance.

Iowa, the nation’s leader in biofuels production, is pairing a first-of-its-kind E15 requirement with infrastructure grants for gas stations

Iowa is the nation’s No. 1 ethanol-producing state, yet it ranks 28th in ethanol consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“You can’t buy it if it isn’t sold,” says state Rep. Lee Hein, who has long lamented the limited opportunity that Iowans have to support a homegrown product. “Where it is sold, it is the low-cost fuel and people will try it and use it.”

He’s hopeful a new law will help expand ethanol’s use. Under HF 2128, signed by the governor in May, fuel retailers must sell 15 percent ethanol at the pump by 2026.

“It was a long haul,” Hein says about the path to the bill’s passage. “It took two legislative sessions and multiple meetings between legislators and a wide variety of stakeholders. “But by adding exemptions [for certain retailers] and infrastructure support, we got the majority of the industry to support the legislation. It will dramatically increase ethanol consumption while reducing fuel costs for Iowa drivers.”

The change is expected to more than double the number of gas stations in the state carrying E15. Iowa is the first U.S. state to have this blending standard; across the border in Canada, a 15 percent requirement will take effect in Ontario in 2030.

Negotiations, exemptions, grants lead to passage

Originally considered in 2021, Hein says, the measure encountered pushback from convenience stores and petroleum groups, as well as resistance from lawmakers generally opposed to state mandates.

Under the final-negotiated version of HF 2128, certain stations are exempt or can pursue waivers from the E15 requirement. For example, there is a carveout for stations that sold less than 300,000 gallons of gas in 2020 (so long as they have not previously sold E15), a recognition that smaller, single-station operations may not have the capital or resources to make the necessary modifications.

Additionally, a retailer can seek an exemption by: 1) submitting a waiver describing why equipment at the location can’t support the higher ethanol blend, or 2) hiring a qualified expert to inspect the facility and certify that it can’t meet the requirement. For example, stations with decades-old motor fuel storage tanks are eligible for the waiver.

According to Hein, less than 10 percent of the stations in Iowa will qualify for an opt-out.

HF 2128 also provides grants for gas stations to install the necessary E15 infrastructure, via a three-tiered system under Iowa’s Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program.

Tier I — Gas station has never sold E-15 blends and sells less than 140,000 gallons of gasoline annually. For this tier, state grants cover the lesser amount of 90 percent of the cost or $63,900.
Tier II — Gas station has never sold E-15 blends but sells more than 140,000 gallons of gasoline annually. For this tier, state grants cover the lesser of 75 percent of the infrastructure costs or $53,250.
Tier III — Stations not in tiers one or two fall into this category. For this tier, state grants cover the lesser of 70 percent of the costs or $50,000. Minnesota has a similar grant program for retailers to install the necessary E15 infrastructure.

In Iowa, even with the negotiated changes, some legislators still opposed the bill due to concerns about a state mandate, but the measure ultimately received widespread, bipartisan support. Under the law, stations selling diesel containing more than 20 percent biodiesel also will qualify for the infrastructure grant program.

In addition, Hein says HF 2128 doubles the biodiesel tax credit rate to 4 cents per gallon and extends it through 2027. And Iowa is the first U.S. state to extend the credit to include higher biodiesel blends (B20 and B30).

Permanent repeal of E15 summer ban under discussion

Coincidentally, the legislation was under discussion this year at the same time President Joe Biden visited an Iowa ethanol plant. He was there to announce a national emergency waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designed to reduce consumer fuel costs by allowing E15 to be sold year-round.

Without such a waiver, the Clean Air Act prohibits sales of E15 in the summer because, when compared to regular blended gasoline, the greater volatility of this higher ethanol blend can lead to more ground-level ozone, or smog. The federal waiver was only for summer 2022; discussions continue over whether to allow for permanent, year-round sales of E15. Proponents of such a federal change say that the emissions produced by E15 are less than E10 or straight gasoline.

E10 has become a key part of the economy across the Midwest, a region that is home to nearly all of the top ethanol-producing state. Ethanol is used for more than one-third of the nation’s corn supply, provides jobs in many rural communities, and increases the farm-level corn price in the area of an ethanol plant by about 45 cents.

With all this supply, though, the Midwestern states use less than 20 percent of the nation’s ethanol.

Examples of how states support biofuels

√  Require certain blends of biofuels to be sold at the pump

√  Provide grants to retailers to install higher-blend infrastructure

√  Offer tax credits and incentives to producers or retailers

√  Provide exemptions to sales or motor fuels tax

√  Establish grants for research and development of advanced biofuels

√  Create and track statewide goals for annual renewable fuels sales

√  Offer tax credits for purchase of vehicles that run on higher blends

√  Reimburse local governments/school for bus retrofits

√  Require state’s vehicle fleet to run on higher blends

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center




Another Midwestern state has a ‘sanctuary city’ law on the books; Illinois, Indiana and Kansas show how varied the approaches can be

Lawmakers in Kansas this year passed a bill preempting local jurisdictions from enacting so-called “sanctuary” protections — policies that, in part, restrict cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

HB 2717 became law only a few months after a sanctuary ordinance was adopted by officials in Wyandotte County, one of Kansas’ most populated counties.

That ordinance included language instructing police not to ask about the immigration status of individuals seeking help.

It also directed local law enforcement not to respond to calls “for assistance for federal immigration enforcement authorities to enforce immigration law” (unless to mitigate a public safety threat).

For example: a “federal immigration detainer,” in which the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asks for information about the impending release of an undocumented person in custody, and requests that the person be held an extra 48 hours after his or her scheduled release from jail or prison in order to give agents time to collect the individual.

HB 2717 bans local policies preventing law enforcement from fully exchanging information and working with federal immigration authorities.

It also specifies that identification cards issued by municipalities “shall not be used to satisfy any requirement of state law for proof of identity.”

That language is a direct response to another part of the Wyandotte County ordinance authorizing the issuance of municipal ID cards for undocumented individuals to use in order to access local services (for example, attending doctor visits or opening bank accounts).

“We can’t have a patchwork of laws across the state of Kansas, and we can’t have incentives for individuals to risk their lives making the trip to the United States illegally,” says Rep. Patrick Penn, who supported HB 2717.

Following Indiana’s lead

In written legislative testimony, HB 2717 architect Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wrote, “It seems to me an affront to basic rule-of-law principles for local politics to dictate non-cooperation with federal authorities who are attempting to enforce laws that Congress unquestionably had the constitutional authority (and duty) to enact.”

Opponents of such preemption, however, contend sanctuary policies can prevent undocumented residents from exploitation while promoting greater dialogue between community members and police.

In 2012, University of Illinois-Chicago researchers surveyed more than 2,000 Latinos living in and around four major U.S. cities; about 70 percent of undocumented respondents indicated they were less likely to contact police with information about a crime, even if they were a victim, due to concerns about being asked about their immigration status.

During a committee hearing on HB 2717, a man testified about his mother, who had two children kidnapped by an abusive ex-husband and taken to Mexico. Because the mother was undocumented, she was unwilling to contact law enforcement and didn’t see her children for two decades.

According to Schmidt’s testimony, at least 12 states have enacted statewide bans on local sanctuary policies, including Indiana, whose 2011 bill (SB 590) served as a model for Kansas.

Indiana’s law included provisions that prohibited law enforcement from verifying a person’s citizenship or immigration status if the person had contacted law enforcement to either report a crime or be a witness to one.

Kansas’ law, however, does not include such language.

Illinois’ different path

Illinois, meanwhile, has taken a very different approach. Over the last five years, the General Assembly passed multiple bills changing the relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies, including:

The TRUST Act (SB 31 of 2017), which instructs law enforcement to not honor federal immigration detainers in the absence of a judicial warrant. Local police also cannot stop, search or arrest individuals based solely on their immigration or citizenship status. The bill received bipartisan support between the legislature and governor, and from law enforcement groups.
The VOICES Act (SB 34 of 2018) established new state certification requirements for federal T and U visas, which provide temporary immigration protections for undocumented individuals who are victims of human trafficking or certain other crimes. Victims who obtain these visas agree to assist with prosecutions and investigations of the case.
SB 667, the Illinois Way Forward Act, passed last year. It bars law enforcement from assisting in federal immigration investigations and from transferring undocumented persons to immigration detention centers (the bill outlawed such facilities statewide beginning in 2022) in cases where the only alleged offense is the civil violation of illegal immigration. The law still permits local authorities to inquire about citizenship status when trying to contact foreign consular offices or when vetting individuals for concealed-carry licenses.

“It’s not the job of local law enforcement to essentially be ICE,” says Illinois Sen. Omar Aquino, who sponsored each of those bills.

“It’s not in their jurisdiction [or] their role to enforce immigration policy, and especially a policy on the federal level, which is one that is certainly outdated and in need of comprehensive immigration reform.”

According to Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, federal authorities such as ICE’s division of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) may also be interested in deprioritizing arrests of civil violators.

“There’s actually a common joke among immigration advocates regarding HSI that ICE wants to be out of ICE,” says Tsao, who asserts those authorities would rather put their time and effort toward combatting criminal offenses — including smuggling operations, human trafficking, customs violations and international counterfeiting.

Tsao adds that when a city or state passes sanctuary policies, undocumented individuals do not become immune to federal seizure.

“If ICE were to somehow find out that someone is getting released from a county jail or from a state prison, and they’re waiting outside the jail or prison door, nothing is to stop those ICE agents from immediately apprehending that person,” Tsao says.

In Kansas, both Schmidt and Gov. Laura Kelly, who signed HB 2717 into law, agreed immigration concerns should be the prerogative of the federal government and not states. (Schmidt and Kelly are opponents in this year’s race for governor.)

HB 2717 opponent Rep. Louis Ruiz says local governments should have the authority to deal with immigration and law enforcement issues on the ground level, as they see fit, until federal reform is achieved.

Although Wyandotte County’s ordinance may have differed from other Kansas communities that passed sanctuary policies in that it also distributed municipal IDs, Ruiz says these cards allowed undocumented residents “to move around the city without fear of retribution.”

With the new law in place, Ruiz fears those residents will be forced to move back into the “shadows.”

Two other recent examples of recent laws, proposals in the Midwest


Passed in 2018, Iowa’s SF 481 orders local law enforcement to fully comply with federal immigration detainer requests, and it bars municipalities from adopting policies that restrict cooperation with immigration authorities. Violation of the law can result in a loss of state funding. Also under SF 481, the state prohibits local ordinances that discourage police from asking about the immigration status of a person who has been detained or arrested. However, officers cannot inquire about the immigration status of a person who is reporting a crime.



Bills introduced last year (HF 1919 and SF 2118) sought to make Minnesota a “sanctuary state.” State and local government employees would have been prohibited from honoring immigration detainers, making arrests solely for immigration purposes, sharing government database information with immigration authorities, or assisting in civil immigration enforcement operations. The measures included exceptions to allow communication with federal immigration authorities about a person’s criminal record.

Just in time for football, Sports gambling goes live in Kansas; Ohio to begin betting on Jan. 1

Legalized sports betting spread to an eighth Midwestern state in September, when four casinos in Kansas began accepting online and in-person bets. The state has a unique regulatory structure on gambling due to constitutional language that makes most forms of gambling illegal. One of the exceptions: casino-style wagering owned and regulated by the state.

Four state-owned commercial casinos operate via a partnership with private companies, and this year’s SB 84 authorized each casino (operated by the Kansas Lottery) to engage up to three online platforms or apps in addition to taking in-person bets. The new law also permits sports betting in restaurants and venues operated by nonprofit fraternal or veterans’ organizations, as well as allows new compacts to be negotiated with tribal nations to offer sports betting at tribal casinos.

Another unique aspect of sports gambling in Kansas is where the money will go. Much of the state revenue is earmarked for two funds, one to investigate and prosecute white-collar crimes and a second to attract professional sports teams (for example, to help with the construction of a new stadium).

All Midwestern states except Minnesota have legalized online and/or in-person sports betting. Nebraska and Ohio each legalized it in 2021, with LB 561 and HB 29, respectively, but sportsbooks are not yet operational in those states. The Ohio Casino Control Commission in August announced that in-person sports betting will begin on Jan. 1.

Where does the new state revenue go?

Examples include a fund for school-based sports and extracurricular activities in Ohio, property tax relief in Nebraska, infrastructure projects in Illinois, school aid in Michigan, and state general funds in Indiana and Iowa, the American Gaming Association notes.

According to Legal Sports Report, U.S. states have collected more than $1.6 billion in revenue from sports betting since June 2018, the year a U.S. Supreme Court decision gave states the authority to legalize this activity.

Canada began allowing single-game sports betting in August 2021, but leaves regulation to the provinces. Ontario in April became the first province to announce an “open” or competitive sports book market, while Alberta released a “request for proposals” for two retail sportsbooks.

In June, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority announced a vendor agreement with the British Columbia Lottery Corporation to develop an online gambling site that will include single-event sports betting. The portal is scheduled to be available to provincial residents before the end of the year, the authority said.

Legislators learn how states, provinces can help small- and medium-sized businesses enter export markets

International trade and supply chains are often considered the domains of federal governments and multinational corporations.

After all, notable trade deals, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA in Canada), were negotiated largely at the national level, and often included input from large corporations in the automobile, technology and pharmaceutical industries.

However, there is space for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — as well as states and provinces — to get involved.

Policymakers learned how at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference, during a session held by the MLC Midwest-Canada Relations Committee and led by two expert speakers: Corinne Pohlmann of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and April Chiang of the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Pohlmann, whose nonprofit, nonpartisan association counts 95,000 small businesses as members, says a boost from export activity would be a much-needed antidote for some firms reeling from the effects of COVID-19.

According to a recent federation survey, 62 percent of small- and medium-sized firms in Canada reported pandemic debt, 78 percent still had not recovered form pandemic-related stress, and 54 percent has less-than-normal revenues.

Exporting is not for all businesses, Pohlmann said, but some that could expand to foreign markets report being hampered by a “lack of resources or expertise” or a “lack of appropriate contacts.”

State and provincial interventions can help overcome these obstacles, including getting SMEs engaged in the vast (and potentially lucrative) Canada-U.S. supply chain.

One example of this kind of assistance: the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership.

Funded by the province but run as a nonprofit with businesses themselves on the board, the program provides funding to Saskatchewan firms looking to access foreign markets. It also offers education, training, trade missions and customized advice.

Chiang said the Kansas Department of Commerce’s International Division (where she works) has three main export-assistance functions: educate, promote and recognize Kansas enterprises.

The education component is done through webinars, company visits and customizes counseling. Promotion may be of most interest to SMEs, and that is done through state grant programs.

The State Trade Expansion Program (funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, administered by the state Department of Commerce) offers export-focused training, assistance with market entry, and trade missions and shows. Other grants reimburse business for participation in trade shows or export-related marketing.

The state also administers a Kansas Governor’s Exporter of the Year Award.

For policymakers on both sides of the border, Pohlmann had these ideas to help open markets for SMEs:

improve and clarify the rules on labor mobility;
expand the role of sub-national governments in U.S.-Canada trade and regulatory discussions;
provide more guidance to SMEs on how “rules of origin” regulations work under the USMCA, and make these rules easier to understand;
reduce non-tariff administrative burdens; and
improve how government agencies interact with businesses and distribute information on issues related to international trade.

Leadership, including from legislators, is needed to launch mental health courts — and make them work

For many justice-involved people struggling with their mental health, incarceration is not conducive for recovery.

“[It] disconnects [offenders] from whatever care they did have in the community, their Medicaid might be terminated, and we see rates of homelessness among people who’ve been incarcerated are seven times [higher than] the rate of people who have not,” Megan Quattlebaum, director of The Council of State Governments Justice Center, said during a session at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting.

Often at the local level, a lack of resources limits the availability of mental health services in county jails. In state prisons, much of the programming works best for offenders with long sentences.

And the number of people in need of treatment is notable.

According to a study released in 2021 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics: 43 percent of state prisoners had some history of a mental health problem.

One option for states: Invest in and expand the reach of mental health courts.

In lieu of incarceration, these dockets allow judges to compel offenders to attend psychiatric therapy, develop behavioral change plans with case workers, or pursue other treatments.

Along with Quattlebaum, four other experts took part in the MLC session’s panel discussion, sharing their experiences with mental health alternatives and answering questions from legislators.

For these mental health courts to work, former Ohio Supreme Court justice Evelyn Stratton said, they need a “champion” — whether it be a legislator, a judge, a medical professional or someone else who rallies stakeholders and identifies funding resources.

During her tenure on the bench, Stratton helped create the Ohio Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Mental Illness & the Courts (now a task force run by the attorney general).

“The [CSG Justice Center] helped us get some grant monies that we [used to get] 10 states to do a statewide supreme court committee to push mental health courts,” Stratton told lawmakers.

That was one recurring message to legislators during the session: Outside resources are available to local communities and states looking to expand the reach of criminal justice-based mental health services.

“There are so many free resources and so much free support out there. You do not have to struggle in the dark,” Quattlebaum said. (The CSG Justice Center is among the groups available to help.)

At the federal level, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration administers the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation. Through these centers, state and community leaders are able to access training, launch peer-support services (matching offenders with former patients), and learn how best to connect individuals with local mental health resources.

“You can gather at any municipality level and meet with other municipalities that are working toward establishing mental health courts, or drug courts, or trauma-informed courts,” Kim Nelson, a SAMHSA regional administrator and session panelist, said.

As to the role of state lawmakers in advancing mental health courts, Quattlebaum emphasized the importance of establishing statewide structures — not only securing sufficient appropriations and staff supports, but also establishing standards that are unique from other specialized dockets in a state’s court system.

In Georgia, for example, the Council of Accountability Court Judges sets criteria and best practices for the state’s mental health court operations.

Each of the panelists also stressed that mental health courts are only one piece of the puzzle, and that lawmakers should also prioritize early-intervention strategies that occur long before a person goes before a judge. For example:

investing in co-responder models that pair behavioral health specialists with law enforcement;
securing operators for the new national 988 suicide and mental health crisis hotline; and
supporting local intervention groups and mental health community centers such as the Wichita-based, county-run COMCARE program.

MLC Chair’s Initiative | 2022 | State Water Policy

On a recent visit to the western Kansas town of Garden City, Burke Griggs asked local leaders a question that may have first sounded like a joke. “Where do you plan on moving Garden City in 50 years?” asked Griggs, a leading expert on water law.

He was deadly serious, though, about a problem that the Washburn School of Law professor says a growing number of communities will face in the coming years and decades without shifts in how a state manages, allocates and conserves its resources, particularly groundwater.

“You can’t think about a hundred years of urban planning on 40 years of water,” he said. “And it’s a problem that’s facing the Great Plains as a whole. If we don’t start refocusing our water policy around our public, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”

Kansas Rep. Ron Highland, who joined Griggs as a panelist in July at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, echoed those concerns.

He said one county in his state is on pace to lose its groundwater in as little as seven years. In other areas, estimates show that a continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer means a total loss in 10, 14 or 50 years.

“All of this started with over-allocation [of water resources] back in the days when we didn’t know that this was a limited supply,” Highland said. “Nobody’s to blame. It happened.

“Now we’ve got to deal with it.”

‘Generational test of our democracy’

Addressing the problem of limited, and dwindling, groundwater resources was the focus of the recent MLC session.

Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who chose water policy to be the subject of her 2022 MLC Chair’s Initiative, joined three panelists in leading the discussion.

“It offers a generational test of our democracy,” Lucas Bessire said about the challenge of water scarcity.

He grew up in southwest Kansas, on a farm where generations of his family were raised and relied on what seemed like an endless supply of water from underground.

“My great-grandfather was an early pioneer in deep-well irrigation,” Bessire said. “He believed the water would never run out, and he pumped it like there was no tomorrow.”

To this day, Bessire added, some common “myths” persist, standing in the way of the policy adjustments needed to “cut groundwater consumption to sustainable levels.”

Among those myths: Family farmers are responsible for the problem and don’t want to address it, and only continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer makes economic sense for these producers.

“Farmers know it’s a problem; they know what to do about it,” said Bessire, author of the book “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.” “They also realize individual action is insufficient to [address] the scale of depletion.

“In other words, depletion cannot be solved by policies that only incentivize voluntary, individual actions by producers.”

According to Bessire, the interests of far-away agribusiness owners and commodity-market investors have held too much sway — at the expense of local farmers, business owners and residents.

“For independent producers, growing irrigated corn in a dry range can sometimes feel like betting against a stacked deck,” he said. “Most of our losses are papered over by farm subsidies, crop insurance and bank loans. Such aid can compel farmers to double down on wasteful practices, but even most of these short-term gains don’t stay in our communities.”

A framework for reshaping state water policy

A restructuring of farm finance was one of several ideas offered by Bessire to end what he called a current “race to the bottom.” He also said states must have policies and water-permitting systems that reflect “the real value of groundwater,” and must ensure that any incentives for reducing water use be tied to “collective, fair and enforceable benchmarks.”

Another priority of Bessire’s: ensuring that local groundwater districts (such as those in place in Kansas) represent all interests in the community, not just a select few water users.

In Kansas, Rep. Highland led the work of a special legislative committee that took a deep-dive into the state’s water challenges and future. That led to this year’s introduction of HB 2686. It did not pass, but Highland expects many of the proposals to reappear in future sessions — creating a cabinet-level Department of Water and Environment, imposing new or increased fees on water users to raise revenue for water conservation and recovery, requiring groundwater districts to develop plans to reduce groundwater declines by 50 percent, and demanding more reporting by these districts as well as additional state oversight.

“Good bills take time [to pass],”Highland said. “We all know that, and I think we’ve laid the groundwork.”

According to Griggs, groundwater depletion should no longer be thought of as only a “western” or “Great Plains” problem.

It is spreading.

For example, the most recent interstate disputes have involved Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi.

“If you’ve ever been to these regions, you know they’re not lacking for water, but what they’re lacking is regular precipitation,” Griggs said. “And one of the things that groundwater does is allow producers to irrigate when they need to.”

Within a state, he urged lawmakers to craft policies with the view of groundwater, just like surface water, as a public resource.

“Dairies move. Meat plants burn down and move. Farms move,” he said. “But cities can’t move. Neither can rural communities.”

Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn has chosen water policy as the focus of her Midwestern Legislative Conference Chair’s Initiative for 2022. A series of articles is appearing in Stateline Midwest this year in support of this initiative. A special session on this topic also was held during this year’s MLC Annual Meeting.

In Minnesota and elsewhere, high-impact tutoring is making a difference in student achievement

For families with the financial means, tutoring often is the intervention of choice to help a child catch up or get ahead in school.

About $42 billion is spent on it in a single year, Wendy Wallace noted in July as part of a presentation to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee.

“[It’s] more effective than any other kind of academic intervention that researchers have found,” she added, comparing it to practices such as class-size reductions and technology supports. “The effects are shown across grade levels and subject areas, and range from a half a year to more than a year of learning [growth] over one year of academic tutoring.”

Often, though, the child who needs the tutoring the most — one at risk of falling behind and failing academically — does not receive additional supports. The goal of groups such as the National Student Support Accelerator, a project of Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform where Wallace works: Ensure every student has access to high-quality, high-impact tutoring.

Perhaps more than ever before, Wallace said, states have the opportunity to overcome the obstacles that traditionally have blocked the expansion of tutoring in their K-12 systems.

Schools have become more open to scheduling changes, and unprecedented amounts of federal assistance are available (via the American Rescue Plan Act). In addition, education leaders now have information on the essential elements of a high-impact tutoring program.

In the “No Child Left Behind” era of education policy, many students were offered, and participated in, government-backed tutoring initiatives. The problem was a lack of quality, Wallace said, causing the impact on student achievement to be “close to zero.”

What works?

Many of the essential elements can be found in long-running, successful programs run by ServeMinnesota, which oversees all AmeriCorps programs in that state. Through the organization’s early-learning, reading and math corps, tutors are embedded in schools across Minnesota.

People of all ages and backgrounds serve, Lindsay Dolce, chief advancement officer for ServeMinnesota, said to legislators.

“A lot of our tutors have never spent time in school and don’t have an education background, but they’re passionate about serving their community,” she added. “They want to give something back.”

Each tutor receives intensive, week-long training before ever stepping foot in a classroom. Then, he or she gets ongoing training and feedback, including from a staff person in the school building and from a “coaching specialist” at ServeMinnesota. Tutors also have access to high-quality materials and “scripts” to guide instruction.

Through the Reading Corps, students in kindergarten to third grade get 20 minutes of tutoring every school day. Math Corps provides a total of 90 minutes of tutoring each week to students in grades four through seven.

ServeMinnesota has expanded the reach of these tutoring programs, partnering with more schools in Minnesota while also spreading to states such as Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

North Dakota Sen. Kyle Davison said the program has proven to be a “game changer” in parts of his state.

“We look at the kids on the bubble [of academic success or failure] and try to help them with this program,” he said. “One of the strengths of AmeriCorps is that these volunteers want to be in your schools, and the effect of a student’s relationship with that adult in that school every day, for 20 minutes [of tutoring], is just incredible.”

In Minnesota, the Legislature has gradually increased appropriations for these tutoring programs. (Most of the funding comes from federal AmeriCorps dollars; private donations help as well.)

Across the country, Wallace said, there has been an uptick in state support for high-quality tutoring — in the form of new grant programs and matching funds for schools. In addition, a handful of states now have laws defining “high-impact tutoring” and/or requiring that certain students have access to it.

Other options for states include training tutors that can be deployed in the schools, or bringing more college students into the classroom through new partnerships between K-12 and postsecondary systems.

Farm economy has outpaced expectations, but high input costs and labor shortages persist as problems

With the caveat that “agriculture issues can change quickly,” a leading economist told the Midwest’s legislators in July that conditions in one of the region’s most important industry sectors point to continued growth — both for farmers and the states that rely on the tax revenue.

“Right now the ag economy remains strong, supported by high prices and a robust domestic and international demand for U.S. farm products,” Cortney Cowley, a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said in July during a session led by the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

That is good news for the Midwest, where the health of agriculture affects entire state economies: In 2020, for instance, the industry supported 9 million jobs in this 11-state region, while generating close to $150 million in tax revenue.

It has been a tumultuous, yet often unexpectedly prosperous period in U.S. agriculture. At the end of 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many forecasters were predicting the continuation of a recent decline in the agriculture economy in 2020.

Then a global pandemic disrupted the entire food production chain. That year, though, farm prices bounced back quickly for most commodities, and when combined with pandemic relief from the federal government, 2020 turned out to be a strong income year for most agriculture producers.

One outlier has been the cattle industry.

“That sector is still struggling, and cattle prices have been slow to recover,” Cortney said.

When COVID-19 hit, a large portion of the animal processing workforce got sick; at one point, as many as 500,000 cattle were awaiting processing. It was a buyers’ market, and live cattle prices dropped. On the consumer side, meanwhile, a store-level shortage of beef occurred, causing retail prices to skyrocket.

These factors resulted in a large spread between low cattle prices and high prices at the grocery store. Cowley explained that this gap is continuing because many people who work on the cutting floor at animal processing facilities did not come back to the labor force after leaving due to COVID.

Labor shortages on the cutting floor are keeping processing numbers down, she said. Droughts also have hit many cattle-raising areas, and producers are dealing with high (and rising) input costs, particularly for feed. As a result, some producers are liquidating herds, and overall, the number of beef cows in the United States has fallen — a drop of 2 percent in July 2022 compared to a year ago.

This is the fourth straight year of smaller beef cow numbers, with the biggest decreases in heifer and cow inventories. Higher cattle prices should be coming soon as a result of this downward trend.

Across the agriculture sector, net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is expected to drop 4.5 percent this year compared to 2021 numbers — down from $123.4 billion to $113.7 billion, with this year’s figure still being high relative to most recent years and above the 20-year average.

In part, farmers have been using their increased income to pay off loans, with rates of farm loan delinquencies decreasing and loan repayment rates improving.

According to Cowley, just as supply chains in the farm sector were recovering from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, labor challenges and the weather have impacted agriculture producers this summer. Because Russia and Ukraine account for a large share of the global production and export of grain and oil, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused historical increases in the price of oil and wheat similar to that seen during the Dust Bowl and the 1974 oil embargo.

The invasion caused broad disruptions in global commodity markets and large price increases, the latter exacerbated by already low inventories.

Markets have been dropping slowly, Cowley said, but higher commodity prices will continue to be supported by record-high exports through the remainder of the year.

For farmers, one concern continues to be a rapid rise in production costs, along with uncertainty about where input prices are headed. Right now, increases in input costs — particularly fertilizers, which are made from fossil fuels — are far outpacing rises in food prices. Between 2020 and 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that total production expenses will increase by more than 20 percent. This is leaving many farmers, particularly small and medium-sized producers, to question their ability to just break even this year, despite high commodity prices.

Cowley, in response to questions from legislators about how to help producers, said that states should look to increase access to credit and focus on strategies to ease the labor shortage.

‘Stress tests,’ long-term budget forecasting position states to handle ups and downs of economy

The best of fiscal times may be the ideal period for budget leaders to prepare for the worst, and smart planning means more than building up state rainy day funds and other reserves.

According to Airlie Loiaconi of the Pew Charitable Trusts, two emerging best practices in states stand out: long-term forecasting and budget “stress testing.”

“You already have the building blocks [to implement these practices]; it’s just a matter of bringing them all together,” Loiaconi said during a presentation in July at a meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Fiscal Affairs Committee.

The session was held a few weeks after many states closed the books on a historically strong fiscal year. But legislators during the MLC session also expressed caution about what may soon lie ahead: a slowdown in consumer spending due to inflation and other factors, and a “fiscal cliff” when the additional federal dollars stop flowing to states.

Among the 50 states, Loiaconi singled out Utah as being the “gold standard” in fiscal planning and analysis. Thanks to a mix of statutorily required policies, she said, budget leaders get the information they need to “think long-term and avoid crisis-driven decisions.”

Every three years, for example, the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst evaluates the budget impacts of a moderate recession, a severely adverse downturn and a protracted slump. A five-year time frame is used.

How much revenue should the state expect to lose under these scenarios? How much in contingency funding would be easy to access? How much would be available, but more difficult to access? How does the amount of recession-fueled losses compare to the value of the contingency funds?

These and other questions are addressed in Utah’s budget stress test.

The same office also is directed to produce triennial revenue volatility reports and long-term budget forecasts.

Loiaconi identified several principles for states to follow when implementing these forecasts. They include:

looking ahead at least three years (Utah’s time frame is five years);
distinguishing, and perhaps defining in statute, one-time vs. ongoing revenue streams;
establishing a “current services” baseline that shows how much money will be needed to maintain existing programs in the future;
accounting for any known policy changes, such as tax cuts or new state programs; and
identifying any looming structural budget deficits, as well as determining the specific causes.