Increasing Early Childhood Education Training and Credentialing

Research shows that “investments in quality preschool programs bolster student success.” Preschool programs prepare students for success in elementary grades, specifically in areas such as literacy and math.

A 2020 policy brief, from the Education Commission of the States, further highlights and quantifies the impacts of quality preschool programs, including positive generational gains, enhanced social and emotional learning skills, and spillover effects to students who did not participate. A recent study also shows that additional training for educators and caregivers further strengthens the impact of those learning experiences.

State policymakers across the country are working to implement policies that expand and enhance training and credentialing opportunities for in-service and pre-service early childhood educators in a variety of ways. Below, we break down specific examples of how states are offering – and funding – these opportunities.

 

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Dark Store Theory: How States are Addressing Retail Property Taxes

By Ishara Nanayakkara

Retailers are trying to lower the amount of property taxes they owe through a legal strategy called “dark story theory.” Dark store theory is championed by many “big box” stores like Walmart and Meijer, asserting that for tax assessment open, bustling stores are equivalent to ones that failed and closed. This means that during the assessment process, a commercial property should be compared to a shuttered warehouse rather than an open store. Companies justify this approach by arguing that stores are designed in such a specialized way that the property will lose much of its value as soon as the company leaves. They argue that these properties should be appraised according to how the next occupant may use it. 

The result is drastically reduced commercial property taxes. These tax reductions directly impact state and local governments by reducing revenue. Local governments are most heavily affected as property taxes are one of the largest sources of revenue. This tax revenue is used to finance public services such as schools, roads, parks and police and fire departments. Schools will feel the greatest impact because of their heavy reliance on property tax revenue. 

State and local governments view dark store theory as harmful and are taking steps to counter it. Schools in Texas were at risk of losing close to $900 million in 2016. Texas policymakers are discussing a bill that values properties as fully functioning rather than obsolete. Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin hopes to “close the dark store loophole” with his budget proposal. Michigan state and local governments have lost roughly $100 million in revenue and been forced to cut funding for road maintenance and employee benefits. 

There also have been legal disputes in several states. A common dispute is whether properties should be valued at the market rent (the expected rental value compared with similar properties) or the contract rent (what the lessee actually pays) of a leased property. 

Court Decisions 

There is no consistent pattern in state supreme court decisions because decisions are based largely on individual state law. Most legislation passed or proposed involves creating guidelines or standards to assess property values. The examples below detail a few key court decisions made in the past 15 years. 

Indiana  

Meijer contested the valuation of a property in Wayne County, claiming it to be functionally obsolete. Meijer argued there was a limited number of buyers due to the size of the property and the availability of other big box properties. The Indiana Board of Tax Revenue rejected this argument. But the Indiana Tax Court reversed the board’s decision, citing insufficient market-based evidence to dispute Meijer’s appraisal.  

Meijer also disputed the government valuation of another property in Marion County (assessed at between $15 and $20 million) claiming the value was between $7 and $11 million. The assessments differed on the appropriate list of comparable properties. The Indiana Board of Tax Revenue approved Meijer’s proposed reductions in value based on a finding that Meijer provided stronger evidence. 

Kansas 

The state supreme court reviewed a court of appeals decision in Johnson County. The lower court had upheld the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals’ decision to lower the assessed value of certain Walmart and Sam’s Club stores. The supreme court overturned the original decision of the  Board of Tax Appeals. 

Michigan 

Menards was valued by the city of Escanaba at $8 million. The company claimed the store was worth approximately $3.3 million. Menards compared the property to eight others in the area. The city objected that these properties were not comparable. Menards also asserted the building was functionally obsolete.  

The Michigan Tax Tribunal found in favor of Menards. But the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed this judgement on a finding that the property was not functionally obsolete.  

Ohio 

Meijer contested an assessment of a new property, arguing its value was $9.5 million rather than $13 million. The Ohio Board of Tax Appeals found the original tax assessment appropriate and the state supreme court affirmed.  

The supreme court described the issue as a “fundamental dispute” over valuation methodologies. The assessors compared the disputed space to similar, new spaces. Meijer claimed the new store did not add much market value since it was not adaptable to the needs of potential buyers. For this reason, they used several abandoned Kmarts for comparison. The courts found the new store was in a “growing and flourishing” location and could not be accurately compared to vacant buildings.  

Wisconsin  

This dispute involves assessing stores built under contract by third-party developers and then leased by retail stores. Walgreens maintained two locations with 60-year leases which obligated the company—rather than the developer/owner—to pay property taxes. The city of Madison considered Walgreens’ lease payments as a form of income (i.e., “income approach”). Walgreens argued those payments significantly exceeded market value because the lease payments reflected additional expenses associated with the initial sale-lease transaction including construction, land purchase and financing.  

Lower courts decided in the city’s favor, but the Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed. The court referred to Section 70.32(1) of the Wisconsin Statutes which stated properties should be assessed “in the manner specified in the Wisconsin property assessment manual.” This manual states the assessors should use market rent rather than contract rent. The justices concluded that the power to determine the appropriate methodology for valuing property for taxation purposes lies with the legislature. 

State Legislation Addressing Dark Store Theory 

The table below provides examples of legislation addressing dark store theory. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. 

State Bill Status Summary 
Indiana Senate Bill 436 Passed 2015 Requires tax assessors to use the “cost approach” (what it would cost the property renter to build the store) in valuing big box stores over 50,000 square feet. 
Indiana House Bill 1290 Passed 2016 Reversed Senate Bill 436 
Michigan House Bill 5578 In Progress Proposes the establishment of detailed standards for the Michigan Tax Tribunal including restrictions on the use of vacant properties as comparables.  
New York Senate Bill S5715A Passed 2021 Established standards by which assessments should be made in order to assist court decision making. This legislation requires that comparable properties be similar in size, usage and location, among other characteristics.  
Texas House Bill 27 In Progress Proposes that for a property to be comparable for assessment, the property must have the “same highest and best use as the subject property.” This limits the use of vacant properties as comparables as these stores are not at their full potential. 
Wisconsin   s. 70.32(3)  Property must be valued using the actual or best information that the assessor can obtain at full value which could ordinarily be obtained at private sale.  

See Also: Shedding Light on Dark Stores 

The Future State: How Policymakers Can Understand and Incubate Cybersecurity, Technology, and Innovation in the South

Southern state officials and staff gathered in Birmingham for “The Future State: How Policymakers Can Understand and Incubate Cybersecurity, Technology, and Innovation in the South” Policy Masterclass. Nineteen members from eight CSG South states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee – participated in the masterclass.

Participants engaged in programming over two days, covering myriad topics and issues across the fields of cybersecurity, innovation, and technology. Briefings covered the importance of investing in rural innovation and expanding opportunities for rural citizens to join the tech workforce, Southern state innovation in biotechnology and remote medical care, the creation and future of the Alabama Innovation Corporation, trends in state information technology and cybersecurity, and how to respond to and prevent cyberattacks on K-12 public school systems. Attendees also toured the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI). They received senior staff briefings from the United States Secret Service and Alabama Attorney General’s Office and examined the various training pieces provided to state and local judicial and law enforcement members who study at the NCFI.

Experts from the Center on Rural Innovation, Southern Research Institute, OnMed, Alabama Innovation Corporation, Alabama Legislature, Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, North Carolina Department of Information Technology, West Virginia Office of Technology, and the Alabama State Department of Education briefed attendees.

The Masterclass was hosted by CSG South. By interacting with subject matter experts and colleagues from other Southern states, participants increased their knowledge of cybersecurity, government operations, workforce development, innovation, technology, and policies related to these issues.

The Masterclass participants included:

Senator Sam Givhan, AlabamaRepresentative Jeremy Gray, AlabamaRepresentative David Faulkner, AlabamaMs. Jessica Sanders, AlabamaMr. Connor Johnston, AlabamaRepresentative Carol Dalby, ArkansasRepresentative Jack Fortner, ArkansasRepresentative Roger Lynch, ArkansasRepresentative Leesa Hagan, GeorgiaMs. Josselyn Hill, GeorgiaRepresentative Jason Hughes, LouisianaRepresentative Dale Goodin, MississippiRepresentative Carl Mickens, MississippiRepresentative Orlando Paden, MississippiRepresentative Donnie Loftis, North CarolinaMr. Brian Shea, South CarolinaMr. Mark Hendrick, South CarolinaMs. Endra Curry, South CarolinaMr. Scott Sloan, Tennessee

Click here for workshop photos

Presentations:

Alabama State Department of Education

Center on Rural Innovation

Examples of Innovation- OnMed

Examples of Innovation – Southern Research Institute

North Carolina Department of Information Technology

National Association of State Chief Information Officers

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How legislative pay is set: A look at a recent Illinois court case, and review of other state laws

More than a decade ago, when the Great Recession rocked state budgets across the country, Illinois legislators passed bills over multiple years to freeze their own scheduled cost-of-living salary increases and to require each member of the General Assembly to take unpaid furlough days.

Were these moves constitutional?

That question came before the Illinois Supreme Court this year, in a case brought by two now-former legislators who based their lawsuit on this language in the state Constitution: “Changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”

The two lawmakers said that the legislatively enacted changes in pay took effect mid-term, thus violating language in the Legislative Salary Clause. Illinois’ top court ruled against the former legislators, but its decision left the question about the constitutionality of mid-term salary freezes unresolved.

Instead, the justices ruled against the two plaintiffs because they had waited too long to make their claim and had voted for the salary freezes while in office. “[As a result,] they cannot now be allowed to challenge the reductions in their salaries during their previous terms in office,” the court concluded.

According to the Chicago Tribune, if all legislators serving in the General Assembly during this period had requested and been ordered back pay, the cost to taxpayers would have been $10 million or more.

In Illinois, a Compensation Review Board recommends salaries for various state officials, including members of the General Assembly. Decades ago, at the board’s suggestion, lawmakers included statutory language that triggers automatic cost-of-living adjustments to legislator pay.

In most Midwestern states, legislators vote on their own salary levels and any changes to them. But there are exceptions; for example, an independent, citizen-run Legislative Salary Council establishes pay levels in Minnesota; and Nebraska’s Constitution caps legislative pay at $1,000 per month.

Additionally, South Dakota’s legislative salaries are adjusted annually to equal 20 percent of the state’s median income; and Indiana uses a statutory formula that sets the pay of legislators at 18 percent of that of trial court judges. In Wisconsin, a joint legislative committee approves the pay of members by either adopting or amending recommendations made by the state director of employment relations.

Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)

Voter registration rolls are the official record of all eligible voters in a state and are the foundation of free, fair and accurate elections. However, maintaining and updating voter rolls can be costly and inefficient.

The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is a non-profit, member-led organization established in 2012 to assist states in ensuring voter rolls are accurate and voting processes are accessible. Seven states—Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington—started the center with the help of The Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC allows states to use state-of-the-art data matching technology with robust, widely accepted information security standards to identify inaccurate and outdated voter registration information.

Which states are part of ERIC, and why?

Since 2012, 25 states and Washington, D.C. have joined the seven founding states, bringing the total number of participants to 33.

The current members: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state, Washington D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin.

As part of their membership, participants agree to share voter registration and motor vehicle licensee data with one another. By sharing this data, states are able to determine if voters have moved out of state, have duplicate registrations in the state or have died. States can then update their voter rolls accordingly. In the case of a voter moving out of state, the pre-existing system requires that a voter notify the state that they have moved, or alternatively requires the state to follow the process outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Husted v. A Philip Randolph Institute (138 S.Ct. 1833, 2018). In this case, the court confirmed Ohio’s procedure of removing a voter from its rolls after (1) a failure to vote for two years, (2) a failure to return a notice card, and (3) a failure to vote for four additional years was sufficiently rigorous under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and its amended versions The goal is to collaboratively develop more efficient and effective mechanisms for collection and recording voter data.

What are the benefits of ERIC?

ERIC provides reports that can help states identify unregistered voters, save money and help detect and respond to voter fraud. Between 2012-2017, ERIC used the data collected and shared to identify 26 million eligible voters who had not yet registered. Member states were required to mail election information to these potential voters. The response rate was estimated to be 10-20%, according to The New York Times. In that same timeframe, ERIC identified more than 8.4 million inaccurate individual voter registrations.  

As a part of membership in ERIC, states are required to act on all reports in accordance with federal law. ERIC utilizes resources such as the Social Security Death Index and data from the United States Postal Service that non-member states must buy on their own. Moreover, ERIC membership results in less returned mail and a reduction in the number of provisional ballots on election day, which means shorter waits at polling places. Provisional ballots are often issued as a failsafe when a voter arrives at a polling location and is not on the precinct’s voter rolls. After the location closes, the polling location will work to establish the voter’s eligibility to vote at that location. States who are members of ERIC are able to more readily identify instances in which a voter has moved and thus has multiple voter registration records. This also allows states to easily notify voters that their voting precinct has changed, ensuring they are showing up to vote at the correct location.

Finally, member states may request a report identifying voters who appear to have voted twice within the state in the prior federal election, voted in more than one state in the prior federal election or who voted on behalf of a deceased voter in the prior federal election.

ERIC is a state member-led organization that is focused on improving voter list maintenance and helping states conduct free, fair and accurate elections. Their work helps ensure elections are conducted efficiently while also identifying voter fraud.

State Broadband Programs

By Sandi Abdelshehed

The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the need to close the digital divide and ensure broadband access empowers people to stay connected to services that are offered digitally, such as education and health care.

In an effort to highlight ways states can best plan for and invest in broadband access, the Economic and Workforce Health Subcommittee of The Council of State Governments Healthy States National Task Force issued a recommendation that “States should consider creating multi-stakeholder, multi-agency task forces (with the intent of permanent offices[BS1] [SA2] ) dedicated to broadband coordination that include private sector telecommunication companies and co-ops.”

The connection between broadband access and related public policy goals requires the involvement of public agencies and the private sector; departments of education, economic development and public health; offices of emergency services; and other stakeholders invested in broadband expansion and sustenance. Dedicated state broadband programs can ensure collaboration in the allocation of resources and efforts toward efficiently and effectively expanding broadband access. For example, statewide broadband programs can provide input on the development of a broadband framework, promote public-private sector participation, create broadband maps, administer and assist with funding programs and improve digital literacy. Since each state has its own broadband needs, the benchmark for broadband project success differs based on the state’s needs for speed and coverage and agreed upon timelines.

States can establish broadband programs in the form of offices, agencies or task forces.. Some states, such as California and Minnesota, have established statutory goals, while states such as North Carolina[BS3]  and Virginia, outlined their goals in broadband plans. These state programs are especially critical in the management of federal financial support for broadband in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

There are at least 35 states that established governance structures in statute. Florida established an Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Division of Community Development in July 2020. The office works with state and local government agencies, community organizations and private businesses to increase the availability and effectiveness of broadband throughout the state, specifically in small and rural communities. Through these partnerships, the office provides grant funding opportunities. Colorado formed a Broadband Office through the Governor’s Office of Information Technology in 2016. The broadband office oversees and coordinates activities across state agencies to enable the development of a statewide digital communications infrastructure through public-private partnerships. This is designed to fulfill the growing demand for broadband access in the key sectors of public safety, education, health care and transportation.

These state broadband programs are critical to closing the digital divide by ensuring that underserved and unserved areas and communities have affordable access to a high-speed, reliable network.


U.S. Supreme Court Watch: Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, Oct. 3.

This dispute began in 2007 when the Sacketts (private citizens) wanted to build a home on their property. The Environmental Protection Agency directed the Sacketts to halt construction because the property contained wetlands. The Clean Water Act gives the agency the authority to regulate “navigable waters”, which is defined in the act only as “waters of the United States.” The agency currently interprets its mandate to include protecting wetlands, such as marshes and swamps.

The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress in 1972 based on its power to “regulate commerce among the several states” under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. The act is justified by the need to protect the environmental integrity of waterflows in the U.S., which are essential to commercial activity involving every state.

The question in this case is not whether the Clean Water Act is constitutional. Instead, the question is whether the agency can interpret “navigable waters” to include marshes in the absence of clear direction from Congress. The dispute comes from the fact that the wetlands here do not directly flow into another body of water and are therefore not an active part of interstate commerce.

It is a fundamental principle of American law that states cannot regulate an area of policy where the federal government already regulates. Therefore, if wetlands are under the authority of the federal government, they are not subject to overlapping state regulation. A decision, in this case curtailing the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, would open the door for more state government decision making.

However, even though the federal government’s regulation of waterways is tied primarily to economic activity, it also is about refereeing disputes among states. Since the founding of the U.S., there has been concern about a state making decisions regulating a waterway within its borders that have implications for another state “downstream.”

This case, and its potentially dramatic implications, is reflected by the fact that twenty-six states collectively and Alaska individually have filed legal briefs supporting the Sacketts. “By construing the Clean Water Act to reach places with only tenuous connections to navigable, interstate waters,…[the Environmental Protection Agency] would saddle States with implementing a vast scheme of federal water regulation. States’ own efforts at conservation, tailored to local needs, would fall by the wayside.” 

But the division among the states is equally clear, as seventeen states and Washington D.C. collectively and Colorado individually, have filed legal briefs supporting the Environmental Protection Agency. “Each of the forty-eight contiguous States contains waters that are downstream from other States and thus relies on the [Clean Water Act’s] federal standards to protect their waters from pollutants that are discharged into wetlands in upstream States.”

Traditionally, the courts have given executive branch agencies a lot of leeway to interpret the will of Congress when statutory language is vague. This is known as “Chevron deference.” The Supreme Court ruled in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council in 1984 that when a statute is ambiguous, courts should defer to executive branch agency interpretation as long as it is reasonable. However, the Supreme Court has grown more skeptical of agency power and become less willing to defer. For example, last June 30 the court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency in a case involving its exercise of regulatory power under the Clean Air Act.

During oral argument in Sacket v. Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 3, the Sackett’s attorney told the court that navigable waters should be defined to only include waters that flow into other waters – therefore potentially involved in commercial activity. Several justices seemed concerned that if the agency could regulate a body of water, even if it did not connect to any other body of water, there would be no limit to the agency’s authority. There was extended discussion of whether it matters if two bodies of water are not connected but are adjacent to one another; or if the barrier between them is manufactured or natural. The justices also wondered about the implications for private landowners who might inadvertently violate federal policy as they develop their property.

But some of the justices seemed skeptical of the Sackett’s argument. For example, Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that in the 50 years since the act was passed, the agency has consistently said wetlands and other waters are covered, even when they do not flow into other waters. Near the end of the argument, Justice Kavanaugh wondered whether bringing clarity to the language of the act was the responsibility of Congress rather than the courts.

Most of the justices seemed to be struggling with how to best achieve a balance between protecting U.S. waterways and protecting private property ownership. Interestingly, the government attorney noted to the justices that the Environmental Protection Agency was working on a new rule regarding navigable waters and wetlands that would clarify situations like the one at issue in this case. The goal is to issue the new rule by December.

It is impossible to predict what the court will do in any given case, but it may be that a new rule would further clarify the meaning of “navigable waters” thus allowing private citizens like the Sacketts to move forward in developing their property. The new rule could retain substantial portions of the agency’s authority over waterways. Such a rule may allow the Supreme Court to withdraw from the dispute, seeing it as already settled.