Water Quality, Safety and Access in Public Schools

By Andrew Johnson

School facilities are important for student success. The quality of these facilities can impact achievement and the overall health and wellness of students. The COVID-19 pandemic energized discussions across the U.S. about schools and public health, with concerns about building conditions taking center stage.  

Community leaders, parents and school officials focused on building air quality as they planned for the return to in-person learning during the pandemic. Another health concern in schools after the temporary closures was the quality of drinking water. When schools are unoccupied for long periods of time, the stagnant water supply deteriorates in quality. Sitting water can collect higher levels of heavy metals and microorganisms, such as lead or bacteria. Water access and quality also impact student achievement. Research shows that hydration can support cognitive function in students.  

Many states are seeking solutions to improve water quality. A Harvard survey found that a majority of sampled schools do not test water supplies for lead or flush water sources after periods of nonuse. The study found that only 51% of schools tested water for bacteria. While water testing policies vary, policymakers are responding to these public health concerns by prioritizing water quality through policy directives for addressing lead and other unsanitary contaminants. Directives include establishing lead testing requirements and standards, ensuring funding for water testing and focusing resources on susceptible, older facilities. 

Lead Testing Requirements Standards 

Once states implement policies, they must determine an action level — the maximum level of lead presence allowed before intervention measures are required. The thresholds and action(s) required varies state to state. For example, Indiana’s level is 15 parts per billion (or 15 micrograms of lead per one liter of water). If schools test at or above that limit, they must seek government or other grant funding to lower levels.  

New Hampshire does not set a limit. Instead, it follows guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency which the state reports is 15 parts per billion. If a school exceeds this limit, the school is required to notify families of the test results within five days and inform them of the action plan within 30 days or “as soon as practical.” Schools are required to test water within 30 days of any changes in the EPA’s regulations.  

Utah and Vermont have lower action levels of five and four parts per billion, respectively. If a Utah school exceeds this threshold, schools must develop a plan to reduce lead levels and continually provide information to families. Vermont, on the other hand, requires families and staff be notified of testing and the action plan before testing takes place.  

Funding for Water Testing 

States have different funding options for water testing in schools.  

  • California and Colorado have grant funding opportunities for child care centers and public schools, respectively.  
  • Michigan funds reimbursements for statewide school testing and water system maintenance.  
  • New York allows certain expenses associated with maintenance to be reimbursed. Further, the state allows schools that “substantially comply” with testing and lead thresholds below the limit to receive waivers from regular testing.  
  • North Carolina utilizes funds from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (of the American Rescue Plan Act) to remediate lead and asbestos contamination in public schools and child care facilities.  
  • Rhode Island allows federal capitalizations grant funds to be used in public schools and daycare centers.  

Focused Testing in Older Facilities 

Older buildings are more susceptible to pipe deterioration that results in unsafe drinking water. As such, some states are prioritizing water testing in older school buildings. Colorado established a grant program to test for lead in school drinking water that gives the highest priority to the oldest public elementary schools, then the oldest non-elementary public schools and then all other public schools.  

Louisiana established a pilot program for general water testing in schools. The Department of Health selects 12 elementary schools built prior to 1986 or that may otherwise be susceptible to drinking water contamination. Similarly, Tennessee requires the state board of education to implement a program to reduce the potential sources of lead contamination in school drinking water. This includes periodic testing of lead levels in water sources at school facilities constructed prior to June 19, 1986. This program requires samples to be taken from water that has sat in plumbing overnight. 

Maintaining the physical space of schools is necessary for student health, safety and achievement. While the health concerns of building quality pre-date the COVID-19 school closures, the pandemic expanded health and safety concerns around conditions like air and water quality. By responding to these concerns, notably the impact of safe drinking water, states are implementing policies outlining lead testing requirements and standards, ensuring funding for water testing and focusing resources on older facilities. 

Southern Pulse Newsletter, October 2022

With college football in full swing, the CSG South team is almost in the endzone and ready to bring the win home with our fall programming.

Fall Policy Masterclasses have concluded with resounding success. Nearly 80 legislators and upper management executive staffers came through three intensive classes, each focused on a unique, and regionally relevant, policy topic. We would like to thank our hosts in Birmingham, Alabama (The Future State Policy Masterclass), Atlanta, Georgia (The Future of Farming Policy Masterclass), and Savannah, Georgia (Anchors Away Policy Masterclass) for providing top-notch learning experiences for our attendees. And we are already working on our classes for 2023!

As I write this, the 2022 Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills (CALS) class has graduated!  The class of 25 elected officials and executive staff spent four full days in intensive leadership development, hearing from world-class speakers and facilitators, and making lasting connections – and friendships. Click here to learn more about the program, and cheers to the CALS class of 2022!

In addition to our fall programming, the team and I have worked hard on projects that will make CSG South an even better go-to resource for all of our members, staff, and legislators alike. As a member, we are here to provide you with anything you need to assist in the success of you and your office.

Click here to read Southern Pulse- October 2022

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“Pay for Success”

By Daniel Clothier

States must surmount various challenges when seeking to remedy a social issue. The state takes upon itself a significant degree of financial risks whenever engaging in new social/welfare programs. Therefore, financial and political constraints tend to guide policymaker’s actions and control the scope of these programs.

The Pay for Success (PFS) financial model introduces an alternative method for financing social programs. In this model, private investors provide funding to a nonprofit organization charged with tackling a public issue. The private investor is paid back, potentially at a profit, by the government if the project achieves the agreed upon results. The model is promising due to its ability to divert financial risk from taxpayers to private investors, should a project not achieve it’s intended outcome. Ideally, the PFS model can remove many of the constraints limiting the scope of innovative social programs.

Pay for Success is unique in its aim to capture return-seeking capital. By creating a profit incentive, the PFS model strives to use investment dollars to solve public issues. In theory, this will significantly increase the funds available for such projects. However, a report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review is skeptical that the PFS model is actually attracting return-seeking capital but instead is relying on impact-seeking capital. Philanthropy’s prominent role in recent PFS deals suggests this may be true. Furthermore, the report warns that “…the model is appropriate only for a narrow cohort of nonprofits that meet two related criteria: they must be able to effectively deliver and measure their social impact; and they must be able to translate that impact into financial benefits or cost savings that are traceable to the budgets of one or more institutions or government departments.”

Due to the potential and possible limits of PFS, the model may be currently more favorable to some state strategies than others. An evaluation of the costs and benefits of the program is therefore an important first step for states to identify if this model aligns with their capacity and policy priorities. With this in consideration, The CSG Healthy States National Task Force’s Fiscal Subcommittee recommends that states should assess Pay for Success models to fund health and human service programs[CS1] . Some states have already begun utilizing the model with promising results.

Utah’s High Quality Preschool Program seeks to provide a high-impact preschool education for low-income families. The program utilizes the Pay for Success structure for funding and partners with United Way of Salt Lake. Utah lacks a state funded preschool education and views this program as a way to mitigate future remedial or special education costs while reducing the taxpayer’s risk if the program is unsuccessful. Likewise, the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Initiative brought together the state, Third Sector Capital Partners and Roca in what was one of the first PFS contracts in the country. Collectively, they sought to prevent recidivism in previously incarcerated youth. The PFS contract laid out clear benchmarks for Roca to reach regarding recidivism rates. Should these metrics be met, the state will disburse funding.

The Farm Bill – Title II

By Cassidy White

Title II: Conservation

The Conservation Title (Title II) of the Farm Bill authorizes voluntary programs that help farmers and ranchers implement natural resource conservation efforts on private land. Such programs allow for improved productivity while simultaneously addressing natural resource and environmental concerns.

Over the years, Title II has encompassed various programs, including wetlands conservation, environmental easement (a nonpossessory right to use and/or enter onto the real property of another without possessing it), integrated farm management, wildlife habitat incentives, conservation of private grazing land and even provision of technical assistance related to the implementation of such programs. Programs can be grouped into the following categories: working land programs, land retirement programs, easement programs, partnership and grant programs and conservation compliance.[1]

The most recent Farm Bill (2018) reauthorized and amended portions of most conservation programs; however, the focus was on the larger programs, namely the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program.

What is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)? CRP is the largest land retirement program. Farmers enrolled in the voluntary program receive an annual rental payment and agree to (1) remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and (2) plant species that will improve environmental health. Contracts are typically written to ensure coverage between 10-15 years.[2]

What is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)? Agricultural producers and non-industrial forest managers part of EQIP are provided financial and technical assistance so that they may address natural resource concerns. Benefits include improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and mitigation against weather volatility. The length of an EQIP contract varies, but cannot exceed 10 years.[3]

What is the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)? CSP allows for tailored operation plans to bolster productivity and build on conservation efforts. CSP mainly focuses on provision of financial and technical assistance to producers so that they may maintain and improve existing conservation systems.[4] The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition highlights that, “By providing comprehensive conservation assistance to whole farms, CSP offers farmers the opportunity to earn payments for actively managing, maintaining and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips and the transition to organic farming – even while they work their lands for production.”[5] Benefits of participating include enhanced resiliency to weather and market volatility, decreased need for agricultural inputs and improved wildlife habitat conditions.

Why should state leaders care about Title II programs?

Title II programs can reap numerous benefits, both locally and nationally. These initiatives support local farmers across various states, which in turn impacts both food and national security. The Conservation Title helps ensure a safe and vast food (as well as fiber and fuel) supply, invigorates rural communities and champions farmers to care for the environment as they engage in their critical work. State leaders must remain cognizant of the various programs and the many benefits they might provide to their constituents while also serving the larger population.  

Moreover, fifty percent of the United States is cropland, pastureland and rangeland owned and managed by farmers and their families.[6] As such, much of our land and water-based solutions to climate change sit in the hands of farmers, ranchers and other private landowners.[7] Importantly, only 2.1 million out of a population of 327 million people are farmers; we rely on a small number of individuals to produce what we eat and how land is managed.[8] State leaders will likely want to remain abreast of these programs directly impacting the communities they represent and serve, as well as – less directly – the entire nation.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, who served on the Senate Agriculture Committee during the crafting of the 2008 farm bill, shared that “Any number of economic policies that we establish in farm bills impact everybody’s daily lives.”[9] Senate hearings for the 2023 farm bill are underway, with the first field hearing taking place on April 29, 2022, in Michigan. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, listed conservation programs as a major concern for the new farm bill.

Each state and its residents are impacted by Title II of the farm Bill in one way or another, and state leaders should take note.

[1] https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12024

[2] https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/

[3] https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/

[4] https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/2019-05-03_IF11199_1abf91e5ef60e8066572ab324e14d521a579e571.pdf

[5] https://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/grassrootsguide/conservation-environment/conservation-stewardship-program/ 

[6] https://www.trcp.org/farm-bill/

[7] https://www.trcp.org/farm-bill/

[8] https://blog.ucsusa.org/elliott-negin/farm-bill-and-everyday-americans/

[9] https://kansasreflector.com/2022/08/13/farm-bill-season-arrives-whats-the-outlook-for-2023/

[10] https://www.farmers.gov/sites/default/files/documents/FarmBill-2018-Brochure-11×17.pdf

Associates in Action: Visa Inc. on Fighting Poverty and Homelessness

By Sarahi Castillo

Visa Inc., a CSG Associate and a global payment technology company, and Visa Foundation work with charitable organizations to support underserved communities. In May, Visa Inc. and Visa Foundation directed resources to Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco Bay Area.

Visa Foundation announced a $12 million grant for Tipping Point Community to address and prevent youth homelessness in six San Francisco Bay Area counties. The grant will support a broader three-year $16 million total combined initiative, which includes $4 million in funding from Tipping Point to local services that support at-risk youth or youth currently experiencing homelessness, while strengthening the service providers and systems designed to meet their unique needs.

The new program announcement builds on a $7.5 million commitment from Visa Foundation supporting Bay Area organizations working to address chronic and youth homelessness since 2019, including an initial $3 million Visa Foundation grant to Tipping Point.

It is estimated that over 3,500 youth are experiencing homelessness in San Francisco’s Bay Area on any given night, making it one of the highest rates of youth homelessness in the nation. In addition, LGBTQIA individuals and minorities experience greater rates of homelessness than their peers. Recent estimates also show that more than 35,000 homeless people live in all nine Bay Area counties — a 24% increase from 2017 — and 1.7 million people in the Bay Area are unable to meet their basic needs. In some communities, only three in 10 students graduate from college and three-in-four homeless youth come from foster care or the juvenile justice system.

 “Homelessness in the Bay Area is the defining issue of our time for our community. It is happening on our watch, and we all need to do our part to solve it, we are committed to working to reduce the tragic number of families and youth experiencing homelessness,” said Oliver Jenkyn, president of North America Visa and member of the Tipping Point board of directors. “As broad and complicated as the issue is, we are committed to working to reduce the tragic number of families and youth experiencing homelessness. Visa and Visa Foundation are ready to roll up our sleeves with Tipping Point to have an impact.” “Visa Foundation and Tipping Point recognize that no single institution acting alone can prevent or address youth homelessness in the Bay Area,” said Graham Macmillan, president of Visa Foundation. “It is through an aligned and coordinated effort across service providers and systems that we can effectively direct resources to address youth homelessness where they have the greatest impact.”

Northeastern trade directors meet to discuss regional trade development

The Eastern Trade Council held its first meetings in 1999, resulting in a joint report on regional exports that helped state leaders make the case for investment in export development.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the board is still serving as a catalyst for northeastern state export leaders to collaborate, communicate with federal trade officials, and navigate an increasingly turbulent global marketplace.

The council, also called the ETC, is an affiliate organization of CSG East and is the only organization bringing trade directors together on a regional level.


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Recap: Improving Mental Health Services Delivery for Youth and Young Adults with Marginalized Racial Identities

By Dai Nguyen

The number of high school students experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% between 2009 and 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hispanic students report these persistent feelings at the highest percentage; and more Black students attempted suicide than students of other races. Young adults ages 18-to-25 with serious mental illness increased from 3.8% to 9.7% (or by 3.3 million people) from 2008 to 2020, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this already dramatic trend as the number of youth and young adults with mental health conditions continued to increase substantially. Recent research covering 80,000 youth found that depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms. Many youth and young adults have treatable mental health disorders, but they face a variety of obstacles to accessing the services and supports they need to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, mental illness among youth and young adults can significantly influence employment outcomes.

To better understand the mental health challenges and consequent employment challenges faced by youth and young adults, the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) held a virtual roundtable on Improving Mental Health Service Delivery for Youth and Youth Adults with Marginalized Racial Identities with the White House Office of Public Engagement on Sept. 27, 2022. The roundtable examined state opportunities to improve mental health service delivery, including supporting better educational and employment outcomes. 

Participants in the roundtable included youth and young adults with lived experience, policymakers, practitioners and community leaders in mental and public health, education and workforce development.

Below are key themes from a few of the guest speakers:

  • Hannah Bristol, senior advisor of public engagement at the White House, emphasized that rates of suicide are highest among young people of color and indigenous and LGBTQIA+ youth. In response, the White House has prioritized the expansion of mental health services for diverse communities. In addition, the Biden administration has invested in workforce development, including the development of care and public health services.   
  • Justin Tapp, a student in the Master of Science in Social Administration program at Case Western Reserve University, discussed his experience when he seeks mental health services as a young adult who is Black, LGBTQ and living with a disability. He emphasized that financial constraints create a cost barrier for people who are members of marginalized communities, particularly those with disabilities. “Being able to afford $150 biweekly out-of-pocket for therapy because my therapist doesn’t like to bill through insurance, I had to sit back, budget out and see if I could actually afford it.”
  • State Senator Marie Pinkney of Delaware suggested policy solutions that can reduce barriers to access to mental health services for minority children and young adults. She noted that states and the federal government can invest in support systems for marginalized communities in schools and community centers where marginalized youth can be reached. She also emphasized the importance of providing extra funding for schools to hire more mental health providers and expanding Medicaid to increase access to mental health services.
  • Allissa Torres, the director of mental health equity at Mental Health America, discussed how the Western Medical Model prioritizes diagnoses, structured treatments and medical settings but does not fully address the needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities compared with European American peers. She introduced self-directed care as an option to address the needs of people with marginalized racial identities. “Self-directed care is an innovative practice that emphasizes that people with mental health and substance use conditions should have decision-making authority over the services that they receive.”

This event will contribute to an upcoming policy brief on what states can do to support youth and young adults from marginalized populations in accessing the mental health services they need. The brief will examine practices to improve the education and employment success of youth and young adults who experience mental health barriers and belong to marginalized racial groups.  

For more information on advancing employment policies for youth with disabilities please visit www.capeyouth.org or contact [email protected]

Anchors Aweigh: Navigating the Policy of Ports

Legislators and staff from across the southeast gathered in Savannah, Georgia for Anchors Aweigh: Navigating the Policy of Ports. Sixteen officials from seven states – Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina – participated in the event. 

Over three days, participants heard from experts around the country on port operations, the Jones Act, workforce development, dredging, and the logistical difficulties of the modern supply chain. Participants also toured the third busiest port in the United States, the Port of Savannah. The Masterclass ended with a conversation on how states can make strategic infrastructure investments to facilitate long-term and sustainable growth at their ports. 

Experts from Texas A&M at Galveston, the Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Charleston, The World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, The American Association of Port Authorities, Savannah Technical College, Roger Williams University School of Law, and the Georgia Ports Authority contributed an in-depth learning environment for participants. 

The Masterclass was hosted by CSG South, with a panel moderated by Women In Government Executive Director Meredith Martino. By interacting with colleagues and experts from around the region, participants gained a deeper knowledge of how ports in their states can not only affect local communities but can also have a broader economic impact across the region.  

Participants included: 

Ms. Archana Cadge, Louisiana 

Representative Mack Cormier, Louisiana 

Ms. Endra Curry, South Carolina 

Representative Dean Davis, Oklahoma 

Mr. David Fleenor, Kentucky 

Senator James Higdon, Kentucky 

Senator Jason Howell, Kentucky 

Senator Patrick McMath, Louisiana 

Ms. Wanda Mehrhoff, Missouri 

Senator John Morris III, Louisiana 

Senator Cody Rogers, Oklahoma 

Representative Troy Romero, Louisiana 

Senator Vickie Sawyer, North Carolina 

Representative Margie Wilcox, Alabama 

Ms. Tanisha Woods, Oklahoma 

Representative Mark Wright, Louisiana 

Click here for photos

Click here for all presentations

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