Current government decision-making about policies and funding allocations is too often focused on inputs and outputs rather than on outcomes. It is constrained by the fact that resources are often inefficiently siloed, locked into specific providers or programs, and does not incentivize innovation. It also fails to use research to provide adequate resources for prevention strategies instead choosing to support remediation activities and is impeded by limited availability of, and access to, data. By one measure, the Federal government allocates over $1.5 trillion for social services annually, but only about one percent of that funding is allocated in a way that its impact on those being served is known.[i]
Our failure to demand a focus on outcomes and evidence to address the inefficiencies in our policy and funding structures, and to demand the use of data in our policymaking is evidenced in our education rankings, criminal justice figures, and employment rates. No longer is the United States at the top of international education rankings. Over three quarters of a million young people drop out of school each year, and many who graduate lack the skills that would make them employable.[ii] Only half of the students who enter higher education institutions get a degree on schedule (within five years or less).[iii]Additionally, millions of individuals leave prisons each year with little prospect of becoming self-supporting through legal means, and over half of all people released from prison commit another crime within three years.[iv] Regarding employment, more than two thirds of our children and youth — 34 million Americans between ages 6 and 17 — are not receiving the supports they need to succeed as adults.[v] As a result of these challenges and others, one in seven American youths is neither employed nor in school.[vi] Despite these results, we continue to spend billions of tax dollars every year on safety net and human services programs and billions more on prisons — the public costs of which have increased four-fold in the last twenty years.[vii]
It is imperative that we address these challenges as a nation to ensure the best possible life for children, youth, and adults in communities across this country. At America Forward, we believe that policies and funding that support innovation and evidence-based practices are critical to meeting these challenges. From both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, there has been rhetoric that data and evidence should be used to develop policy, allocate budgets, and award grant dollars to improve the effectiveness of our federal programs. And over the last several years there has been some movement in translating this rhetoric into action through Congressional activities and Administrative efforts.
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