MPP Speaker Series

Speaker Series: Aaron Seybert, Social Investment Officer

aaron seybert.pngAaron Seybert, social investment officer at The Kresge Foundation, recently spoke with MPP graduate students about careers in the private sector, community development, and social investment.

Seybert is a Michigan native and Michigan State University alum, graduating from MSU College of Law. He first started his career in impact investing at Cinnaire, formerly the Great Lakes Capital Fund, where he focused on affordable housing.

 Taking part in an answer and question forum with the MPP students, Seybert spoke about his previous work experience with JPMorgan Chase Bank, where he was involved with community development banking, and how he transitioned into his current role with The Kresge Foundation.

The Kresge Foundation is a private, national foundation based in Michigan that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2018, the Kresge Foundation awarded $144.2 million in grants, and currently operates in over 230 cities nationwide. As a social investment officer, Seybert leverages the foundation’s assets in ways beyond traditional grants to better support markets not well served by the private financial sector. 

The MPP program thanks Aaron Seybert for sharing his advice and experiences with the MPP program at MSU!

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MPP Speaker Series

Speaker Series: Susan Reed

Susan ReedSusan Reed, Managing Attorney at Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, spoke with MPP students on Thursday, October 18, 2018 about her experience with Michigan’s immigration policy & being an advocate for critical immigration legal issues. Reed described the challenges of coalition-building between civil rights organizations and advocacy groups. She explained how working with different stakeholders can be difficult due to differing values and priorities. In her role as a legal supervisor, Reed deals with a variety of legal issues for immigrants, such as wage theft, work status, and the rights of unaccompanied minors.

Her work has grown in size, scope, and public engagement since Reed entered the immigration policy arena in 2007. There used to be less general public interest in immigration issues, Reed explained, but with the recent family separation policies by Trump Administration, public engagement has increased. Reed believed it is heartening to have more public support behind her work with immigration legal advocacy in Michigan; her organization was even invited to speak in seven different Michigan cities over the past year.

Reed advised MPP students to stay grounded in their core values and to not to betray  one’s constituents with intersectional identities by partnering with coalitions who promote policies which may harm them. Reed emphasized the importance of recognizing the social, cultural, and economic contributions of immigrants, but cautions against simplifying immigrants’ contributions to solely their economic impacts. Immigrants, those with legal status or otherwise, deserve human dignity. 

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MPP Speaker Series, Uncategorized

MPP Speaker Series: Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan

20171113_162553The 2017-18 MPP Speaker Series continued with a presentation from the president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and MSU alumnus, Eric Lupher. Mr. Lupher began by describing the long history of the organization. Beginning as the Detroit Bureau of Government and Research, the CRC eventually evolved into one of Michigan’s foremost non-partisan and non-profit public policy research organizations, primarily focusing on issues facing Michigan local and state government. At its founding, the CRC represented some of the fundamental principles of the progressive era including the reliance on fact-based policy research and the professionalization of American civil service. The CRC was also instrumental in Michigan’s 1961 constitutional reforms as it produced a number of white papers advising the state government and Michiganders on the latest in policy research at the time.

Mr. Lupher then discussed some of the major policy projects that the CRC has studied or worked on in the last few years, including improvements to the Detroit Public Schools budget, tracking the teacher shortage that is developing in Michigan, state public health and Medicaid spending, property tax policy improvements, and a number of local governance issues. Of particular interest to students were improvements that could be made at the county-level, including consolidating administration of certain municipal services such as police and fire, while allowing for local units to maintain their identity, and improved coordination through broadband network penetration of all city services.

Finally, Mr. Lupher fielded a variety of questions, mostly related to health policy and ways to effectively disseminate the CRC’s findings in a cost-effective manner. More information on the Citizen’s Research Council and their white papers can be found at http://crcmich.org/.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Students Learn About Public Budgeting, Engagement From Experienced Practitioners

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Linda Teeter

Last Thursday, Master of Public Policy students attended a presentation by Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, and Linda Teeter, Executive Director of Michigan Citizen Action. Both Fleury and Teeter have extensive experience in Michigan government at multiple levels. They shared their collective experiences and insights with a special focus on the importance of public budgeting.

Throughout her presentation, Fleury emphasized how budgeting and financial issues

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Rebecca Fleury

underpin nearly all public decisions. Public finance affects all levels and types of policymaking. Financial information usually plays a key role in determining what policies are adopted and if and how they can be implemented.

As Fleury and Teeter noted, the resources available to local governments have been particularly strained in recent years. This presents a challenge to local officials as well as citizens. Both Fleury and Teeter work to increase public awareness of the budgeting and decision-making process.

fleuryteeter1Fleury considers providing relevant and accurate budgetary information to public officials one of her most important responsibilities. Although it takes place behind the scenes, this work is vital to the success of any government project.

In Battle Creek, Fleury’s financial team updates elected officials on a quarterly basis. This helps the team avoid surprises. By finding out about significant changes in earlier quarters of the year, officials and staff can better plan for future needs and make important changes. Major activities include revenue forecasting and legacy cost planning.

As an example, Fleury explained that she and her staff had determined not to presume reimbursement from the state for the loss of the personal property tax when planning the city budget. As it turned out, the City did receive reimbursement, but by not counting on this money, it was in a better financial position. She noted that planning like this involves a lot of strategic decision-making. Planning for future decisions by means of methods like reserve funding for capital investments is essential. It can also mean increasing reliance on revenue streams like the income tax.

Fleury noted that expenses related to personnel take up the biggest portion of any local budget. This is especially true for police and fire. Staffing and union negotiations are especially significant in determining local expenses.Picture1.jpg

Following Fleury’s presentation, Linda Teeter emphasized to students the importance of being involved in their communities, particularly at the local government level. However, she also emphasized the importance of being aware of state and national policies. She noted there is a great need for engagement, especially among young people.

Teeter explained how attendance at a local government meeting at first inspired her to get involved. Since then, she has worked as a Legislative Aide in the Michigan House, served three terms as a City Commissioner for Kalamazoo, and has lent her expertise to getting the public more involved in policy through MCA.

Together, Fleury and Teeter made a strong case for the importance of public finance and citizen involvement in government.

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MPP Speaker Series

MEC Policy Director James Clift Shares Insights on Energy and Policymaking

jamescliftLast Tuesday, the MPP Speaker Series featured James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council. The MEC is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations that have an interest in influencing environmental policy in Michigan. Its members are diverse and represent a broad range of groups and associations.

Mr. Clift has spent 18 years at the MEC and has also worked as a lawyer, university instructor, and as a policy director at the Michigan Senate. He originally studied Business Administration and later graduated from Wayne State University with a law degree. His career illustrates the many different paths that lead individuals to policy work.

Among other activities, the MEC and Clift educate legislators about environmental and energy policy issues. They also keep track of passed legislation and administrative rules to ensure that they are being implemented as intended.

As Clift explained, the Michigan Environmental Council has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism, nonpartisanship, and solution-oriented work. He emphasized to students the value of building relationships with many people, particularly across party lines.

Earlier in the day, for example, Clift had given a presentation on energy issues to the Michigan House Energy Committee. Activities like this are an important of the MEC’s work. Clift noted that policymakers and others involved in industry and political decisions come from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, he explained, it is important to be able to listen to different perspectives and understand how they think about issues.

The energy industry is changing rapidly and involves many challenges as well as opportunities. As Policy Director, Clift makes it a priority to emphasize shared goals to his audience.jamesclift2

Three of the MEC’s major interests are protecting ratepayers, environmental protection, and securing a strong energy economy. Clift sees renewable energy as a way to both achieve environmental health and reduce costs to Michigan’s citizens. He explained that new technology, like advanced meters, can give more control to consumers while also benefiting the company and the state as a whole. This proposal involves a range of policy matters that MPP students have studied, including economic practices, policy trade-offs, and program evaluation.

Clift pointed to waste reduction as another way to reduce harm to the environment. He described how those working in any policy field may need to wait for the right political timing and work on getting public support in order to have their ideas heard. Given their limited resources, he said, organizations must choose what to spend their time on carefully. At times, it may be  easier to try to do things through the executive branch administratively under current law  than trying to get new policy adopted by the legislature.

He also noted that in Michigan it is very beneficial to relate issues to the health of the Great Lakes given their near universal importance and the concern the public and legislators have with preserving them.

Clift’s presentation was an interesting look at how those working with legislators can approach their work both at the Capitol and around the state. His expertise in this area gave the students valuable information about the workings of the energy and environmental policy fields.

The Michigan Environmental Council offers internships throughout the year. Interested students should visit their website at http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/.

 

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: MSU Professor Dr. Amita Chudgar Shares Research on Education and Development

img_0616Dr. Amita Chudgar was the featured presenter at an engaging session of the MPP Speaker Series last Wednesday. Chudgar is an MSU specialist in education policy, particularly in the context of international development. Her open presentation style encouraged participation from our MPP students, who took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and comment on her ongoing research.

Dr. Chudgar’s work focuses on educational access and attainment in areas facing serious resource constraints. She utilizes both national and cross-national datasets to uncover how different environments and policy factors affect educational participation and achievement outcomes. Her academic training in economics and methods complement her knowledge of policy and social contexts.

Chudgar noted that, over the past two decades, primary school enrollment has risen dramatically around the world. Now that access has been improved, however, communities, teachers, and policymakers must face the challenge of ensuring that children receive quality instruction and attain learning goals. Keeping students enrolled in school as they move on to the secondary level is an additional difficulty.

Many countries lack a sufficient pipeline of students interested in becoming teachers. chudgar1Chudgar’s research has uncovered several reasons why this is the case. Attempts at solving any of these problems often affect other aspects of the educational environment. For this reason, education policy in the developing world is a complex and interesting field of research.

A recent project funded by UNICEF examined the demographics of those who teach the most marginalized students. As in other studies, Chudgar and her fellow researchers found that experience level among other factors is important in understanding teacher distribution.

In many countries, younger teachers are assigned to more rural or less desirable locations. As they gain experience and expertise, they transfer to more attractive positions. This leaves many marginalized students with the least experienced instructors. Many promising students are discouraged from becoming teachers and are instead pushed to enter other fields. Some countries, Chudgar explained, have reduced requirements for becoming a teacher in order to address shortages, but the tradeoff is that educational quality may suffer.

MPP students added to this discussion by sharing their own experiences with teaching and learning in North America, Europe, and Africa. Questions were raised about the role of technology in improving educational outcomes. This is connected to tendencies to package education in a uniform manner in hopes of more efficient delivery. Chudgar noted that this may raise ethical and pedagogical issues.

chudgar2One research note that students can take away from Chudgar’s presentation is the availability of large-scale databases that can be used to examine interesting policy questions. Making good use of existing data, often in the public domain, has been an important component of several of her recent projects.

Chudgar’s research brings to mind the fundamental policy question of balancing cost efficiency, equity, and quality. She believes that research can inform policy and that research on educational policy should also be responsive to ongoing policy debates and questions.

Dr. Chudgar is currently teaching a course on Economics of Education. This course focuses on American domestic issues and shows how economic tools can inform education. She encouraged first-year MPP students to consider taking this class next spring and to explore other special topics courses in MSU’s renowned Education Policy PhD program.

 

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: IPU-MSU Director Dr. Jan Beecher Shares Infrastructure Commission Report Findings, Experience

downloadDirector of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University Jan Beecher presented Master of Public Policy students with an engaging overview of Michigan’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission Report and discussion of her own work with the Commission and at IPU. This was a great opportunity for students to hear from an expert about a critical and complex policy area.

Dr. Beecher has several decades of experience in applied research and is an expert in public utility regulation. As Director, she performs a wide variety of duties at IPU, including guiding research, managing development, communications, funding, and the Institute’s educational and program work. She was one of 27 individuals appointed to the infrastructure commission when it was formed by Governor Rick Snyder in 2016.

The Commission was charged with studying Michigan’s infrastructure and related issues and developing recommendations. The water crisis in Flint was a key impetus. Their goal was to assess conditions and make recommendations for how Michigan should invest in its public infrastructure. Safety, reliability, and affordability are a few of the key qualities by which infrastructure can be measured.

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IPU-MSU trains regulators from across the U.S. and from many other countries. Utility regulation is a very interdisciplinary area, drawing on public policy, economics, law, accounting, finance, and engineering. Beecher sees the economic regulation as one of several policy domains affecting utilities and infrastructure, which provides checks and balances. Infrastructure can be complicated because of its nature, including the mix of public and private operations and incentives.

As Beecher noted, American infrastructure as a whole gets low marks from the American Society for Civil Engineers. Michigan’s state and local infrastructure spending per capita is about 60% of the U.S. average.

20170207_161423Beecher shared her view that governance is one of the most important aspects of infrastructure. Getting funding commitments from stakeholders, especially elected officials, and motivating action is harder than finding good ideas. The commission’s findings and recommendations were based on a comprehensive approach and a consensus process

Beecher emphasized the importance of bringing a consumer perspective into the discussions. While nearly everyone is reluctant to accept tax increases and higher rates, their can be especially hard on low-income households. The commission held listening tours throughout the state, but public engagement is an ongoing need.

The commission took the view that infrastructure as a “multi-year, multi-generational” challenge but that meeting it “creates a foundation for the future.” Safe and reliable infrastructure is critical for protecting public health. Good infrastructure can also help build a strong economy and livable communities, which can help attract and keep workers.

Road conditions, broadband access, and water are especially popular infrastructure topics 20170207_162931in Michigan. Beecher also explained that more effort is needed in terms of optimizing systems in cities with heavy population loss to help lower the cost of infrastructure over the long term. Coordinated planning and asset management are critical tools in this area.

The report’s recommendations include the creation of a state infrastructure council and regional pilot programs. Despite the immense challenges, there are also opportunities, including the idea of making energy, water, and transportation systems “smart.”

Dr. Beecher’s talk with MPP students illustrated how critical and complex issues like infrastructure can be, and how policy analysis can play a role. Her presentation provided a great introduction to infrastructure for those unfamiliar with the topic. You can read the Commission’s report here.

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