Pioneer Institute offers interesting look at Middle / Gateway Cities

H/T to Tom Duggan for tweeting out this image that caught my attention.

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In March the Pioneer Institute released this white paper taking a look at Middle / Gateway Cities and what could be done to help them succeed. The Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous,data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility,and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

One of the items that caught my eye is the amount of aid most of these cities receive and are dependent upon from the state and how it still may not be enough.

In 2016, the Middle Cities, which constitute 17.6 percent of the Commonwealth’s population, are receiving over $2 billion in state aid, roughly equivalent to 40 percent of total local aid.

The state allocates around three times more to Middle Cities students through Chapter 70 funding than it does to other Massachusetts students; while that is justifiable as a way to ensure funding equity, it underscores the extent to which the state is a majority stakeholder in the choices made in our urban school systems.

◆Per-capita income in the 14 Middle Cities is between 31 percent and 66 percent below the statewide average and has been falling for more than 30 years.  It was 82 percent of the state average in 1979, but fell to 53 percent by 2009. The story is similar for median household income. It averages between $30,000 and $50,000 annually in the 14 cities; 12 to 53 percent below the state average of $66,866 from 2009 to 2013.

◆ All 14 cities underperform state averages on MCAS. In 2015, 91 percent of Massachusetts students scored “Advanced” or “Proficient” on MCAS English language arts tests, compared to between 67 percent and 89 percent in Middle Cities. In math, more than 15 percent of Middle Cities’ students scored in the “Warning/Failing” category—nearly double the state average. The dropout
rate in Middle Cities is nearly twice the state average and students attend college at a lower rate.

◆ In terms of equalized valuation, which compares the value of property assets, statewide values grew at an annual rate of 7.92 percent between 1992 and 2012. During the same period, Middle Cities’ property values rose by only 2.66 percent annually, just over one-third the statewide growth rate.

◆ Almost two-thirds of Massachusetts communities receive less than 15 percent of their total local expenditures from local aid. Even when focusing on urban centers,it is worthy of note that Boston and Cambridge have received 114 and 117 percent increases in per capita local aid, respectively, from 1981 to 2016. Over the same period of time, local aid per capita increased in Lawrence,Brockton and Springfield by 1032, 722, and 592 percent,respectively.

Including in the White Paper are some suggestions to help these communities, including:

What we are proposing is the creation of a Middle Cities Infrastructure Investment Fund (IIF).

Governance of the Fund and Ensuring Accountability

and what they see has The Role of Middle Cities’ Leaders:

The cities’ role in this initiative is to engage residents in developing a vision that includes both infrastructure improvements and a modernization plan for municipal services. Middle Cities seeking to participate in the IIF and coordinated grants program will have to compete for funding on the basis of the plan they put forward, which would include:

◆ IIF & State Grant Programs: A plan composed of infrastructure investment options developed through engagement with Neighborhood, community and business leaders;

◆ Education: Immediate actions by the community and school district to improve service for students in Tier 4 and 5 categories whether through reforms, the creation of new schools or access to schools outside the district. Actions can include adoption of the school based management approach outlined in the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act (and implemented in Barnstable) ,
where appropriate (Springfield), an expansion of access to the METCO program and vocational-technical schools; and active promotion of other school models, including pilot, Commonwealth and Horace Mann charter schools;

◆ Public safety: Participation in a Middle Cities working group on crime and public order that focuses on performance measures beyond simple crime data that leads to uniform reporting methodology, a unified CitiStat-style database, and improvements and
efficiencies in departmental command structures and officer deployment;

◆ Economic development: Streamline business and housing permitting time to under 65 days or adoption of Chapter 43D (including streamlined permitting for Brownfields sites); simplification of regulations for 25 “neighborhood” (quality of life and amenity) businesses so they are easier for residents to start; and together with EOHED a review of the organization and activities of municipal economic development and redevelopment agencies;

◆ Fiscal management: Working with the DOR, an audit of basic financial controls, long-term cost structures, opportunities for rationalization and reorganization, transparency, and accountability, and implementation of suggested reforms with a limited time horizon.

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