J-PAL North America State and Local Innovation Initiative’s resources for American Rescue Plan evaluation and evidence use

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Wisconsin State Capitol Building

Passed into law in March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) dedicates significant funding to state and local governments to build and strengthen communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including $350 billion through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program (SLFRF). The legislation presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use data and rigorous evidence to support Covid-19 recovery efforts. Reporting guidance from the US Treasury strongly encourages state and local governments to invest in evidence-based strategies, pilot and learn from new programs, and leverage data and evidence to drive decision-making.

One year after the ARP’s passage, states and localities have funded programming that supports recovery efforts in important ways. Over 380 state, local, and Tribal governments are using funds to address disparities in communities hit hardest by the pandemic—planning 1,460 distinct projects that invest in a variety of policy priorities, such as affordable housing, quality education, and public health. Examples of program investments range from funding child care for disproportionately impacted communities to investments in broadband and infrastructure. For example, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ARP funds are allocated toward youth employment programs, with outreach specifically to communities experiencing high levels of violence exacerbated by the pandemic. 

To maximize the impacts of the ARP, investing in effective evidence-based programs is needed now more than ever as communities—particularly low-income communities and communities of color—rebuild from the pandemic. However, state and local governments need support to determine which programs are truly evidence-based and on how to evaluate promising programs and policies. 

J-PAL North America’s State and Local Innovation Initiative offers deep expertise on how to leverage rigorous evaluation to inform policy priorities of communities in the United States. Such priorities are also highlighted in our State and Local Learning Agenda, which identifies key areas where new or additional research is best positioned to address barriers to mobility from poverty. By leveraging flexible funding through the ARP, J-PAL North America can support governments in building program evaluations into new policies in order to learn the most effective ways of reducing poverty and support the scale up of evidence-based approaches.

Accelerating our understanding of policy solutions through research-practitioner partnerships for randomized evaluations

A growing number of state and local government leaders are leveraging data for decision making and working to build rigorous evaluations into their policies and programs, tackling issues ranging from homelessness and job training to education and health care. Often, leaders make policy choices without the benefit of knowing which approaches have been tried and proven to be effective, either in their jurisdiction or elsewhere. Many state and local governments do not have the in-house expertise or resources needed to design and carry out rigorous evaluations. 

Over the past five years, the State and Local Innovation Initiative has supported governments by building their capacity to run randomized evaluations to generate new evidence on how to effectively address critical social issues. To date, we have partnered with over twenty state and local governments to develop and run randomized evaluations of promising programs and policies. 

J-PAL North America aims to support states and localities in utilizing ARP funding in a way that advances evidence-based approaches and understanding of social challenges. To date, we have partnered with over 20 state and local governments to develop and run randomized evaluations of promising programs and policies. J-PAL North America can support ARP-related efforts by:

  • Funding new rigorous evaluations 
  • Providing technical assistance to governments 
  • Facilitating strong researcher-government partnerships with the mission of policy evaluation
  • Offering capacity building resources such as custom training on evaluation-related topics and research project management support

Our research network includes academic researchers with deep expertise in a range of topics relevant to ARP programming. We can work to establish new research-practice partnerships between our network of researchers and our government partners. By leveraging our infrastructure and deep experience, we can move quickly to help state and local governments use ARP funds to embed randomized evaluation into social policy programs. 

Promoting researcher-practitioner partnerships is key to the State and Local Innovation Initiative’s work. For example, we provided funding and technical assistance to the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) and the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to address dangerous opioid prescribing and facilitate safer prescribing that limits risk of overdose and death with an evaluation of the state's prescription monitoring program. J-PAL North America provided funding, evaluation design support, and identified a researcher interested in leading the evaluation. As a result of this successful partnership, MMB and their research team launched a randomized evaluation, which J-PAL North America continues to support. The ongoing study is evaluating the impact of sending informational letters about the dangers of prescribing opioids simultaneously with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids, on reducing overprescribing. MMB’s researcher-practitioner partnership serves as an important model for how state and local governments can work with researchers to address pressing social issues.

Supporting the scale up of evidence-based programs

In addition to supporting evidence generation, J-PAL North America can help governments ensure that ARP funds are directed toward evidence-based interventions by highlighting existing programs with a strong evidence base. For example, J-PAL North America recently published an evidence review showing the promise of sectoral employment training programs and exploring common features of effective programs. Sectoral employment programs train job seekers for high-quality employment in industries considered to have strong labor demand and career growth. These programs offer a pathway to higher-wage jobs for workers who may face barriers to employment—typically those without college degrees. The evidence review summarizes academic literature on four randomized evaluations of nine sectoral employment programs throughout the United States. The evaluations find that sectoral employment programs increased earnings, educational credentials and certificates attained, and the share of participants working in higher-wage jobs. Longer-term research suggests that the increases in earnings persist over time.

J-PAL North America is also providing governments with policy outreach and implementation support to scale evidence-based tutoring programs. J-PAL North America's Evidence Review, The Transformative Potential of Tutoring for Pre K-12 Learning Outcomes: Lessons from Randomized Evaluations, informed the allocation of state funds to support the implementation of evidence-based tutoring in Colorado and California by demonstrating the powerful impact of tutoring programs on learning outcomes. In 2020, J-PAL North America staff worked with the California governor’s office to incorporate tutoring into Assembly Bill 86, including $460 million for hiring paraprofessional tutors. To help districts implement high-quality tutoring, we are providing technical support to the California State Board of Education and other stakeholders in designing evidence-based tutoring programs. 

The value of evidence in policy

Directing ARP funds towards the implementation of evidence-based policies and evaluation of ongoing programs can radically reduce poverty and address long-standing social disparities across the United States. When informed by rigorous research, state and local governments are better positioned to make difficult decisions as to which policies yield the biggest impact on their communities and can provide long-term insights for state and local government leaders. For state and local governments who would like to learn more about incorporating evidence into their policy portfolio, we also offer custom training on interpreting and using data to inform policy. Researchers and local governments interested in learning more about J-PAL North America can visit the J-PAL North America website, subscribe to the State and Local Innovation Initiative newsletter, or contact State and Local Innovation Initiative Lead Louise Geraghty

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