In a January 30 report evaluating all 50 states on the sufficiency of their K-12 teaching profession laws, rules and regulations, a national education reform group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other ed reform interests gives Washington State an overall grade of C- including a D+ for “delivering well-prepared teachers.” The C- for Washington includes four more sub-section grades: three of C- for policies to identify, retain and “exit” ineffective teachers, and a C+ for “expanding the teaching pool.” The information comes in the Washington detail section of the “2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook” report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘Research & Reports’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg February 11th, 2014
by Matt Rosenberg January 27th, 2014
A special state advisory group issued a new report this month to lawmakers and Governor Jay Inslee that there is a viable business case for a road user charge in Washington to replace the failing by-the-gallon state gas tax. Consultants and members of the steering body January 23rd gave an update to the legislature’s House Transportation Committee on the findings, and are now seeking almost $1 million more before the current session ends so they can refine operational concepts, policy particulars, a pilot program and transition strategies.
The state Road Usage Charge Steering Committee’s latest report says that if rates were held constant until 2040 the road user charge – a more sweeping approach than current piecemeal electronic tolling in the Seattle region – would yield $2 billion to $3 billion more in net revenue than the gas tax for surface transportation needs in the state. The report says any of the three user charge methods considered would help ensure “everyone pays more of their fair share for using the roads.”
Now, ever-more fuel efficient internal combustion engine vehicles and their electric and hybrid counterparts pay a lower share of upkeep for the road system because they use less gas while still adding to wear and tear. State reports in recent years have projected that the current gas tax would produce $5 billion less by 2023 than earlier forecasted due to better average mileage and the gradual rise of electrics and hybrids; and that the purchasing power of Washington’s gas tax revenues have been cut by half between 2001 and 2011 from a 77 percent jump in the Construction Cost Index.
by Matt Rosenberg January 13th, 2014
Freight rail can continue to be a carbon-conserving boon to the environment and economy in Washington state versus higher-polluting trucked freight, and will benefit from at least $419 million in publicly-sourced improvements and repairs through 32 completed projects by 2018. But at least another $1.5 billion in identified freight rail improvements is needed by 2030 in the state, and likely more, with funding sources currently unclear.
Meanwhile, the main intercity passenger rail route serving Washington, the Amtrak Cascades train connecting Seattle to Vancouver B.C. and Portland, will see $744 million in investment by 2018, mainly from federal stimulus money for so-called “high-speed rail.” Overall, the state wants $6.7 billion for Cascades improvements by 2030 although the return on investment is far less evident than for the envisioned freight rail spending. These are among the key takeaways from 492 pages of information in nine newly-updated ‘technical notes” to the statewide rail plan. That plan is now being finalized by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The final version is expected to be online by month’s end but not necessarily with the technical notes, which currently are provided only to requesters.
by Matt Rosenberg December 30th, 2013
Washington State Parks have a backlog of deferred maintenance projects valued at $463 million now, up from $373 million in 2001, according to a new report to the legislature from the state parks and recreation commission. Current legislative funding for the backlog is a scant $7 million. The news comes as the parks system continues to wrestle with tough new fiscal realities sure to require more reliance on outside revenue and far less from Olympia.
by Matt Rosenberg December 23rd, 2013
Every year Washington’s economic data unit takes a good look at where the state ranks nationally on more than 40 key performance measures, and the latest report card came out late last week. It shows that in 2012 Washington had the cheapest business electricity in the nation, the third cleanest drinking water systems, was fifth best on research and development spending, remained third in foreign exports, and was in the top quintile on per capita visits to state parks and recreation areas. But our performance lagged on unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation costs, unemployment rate, condition of interstate highways, and college-going rates. We could also do better on air quality. Overall, our state leans more toward the second-tier of five, than first, the report suggests.
These are among the takeaways from the Washington State Economic Climate Study for 2013, issued December 20 by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The idea of digging into the data, says the council, is that business is responsible for increasing productivity, but government policies help set the table for success. The study includes several dozen 50-state rankings on core indicators drawn mainly from blue-chip federal government data sources for the most recent and the four preceding years, plus explanations of how the measures are calculated and why they matter. Following are some highlights.
|Elec. Prices – Cmmrcl./Indstrl.||5||1||1||2||1||2|
|Exports, No Jets||6||8||8||8||7||9|
|State Parks & Rec. Site Visits||5||5||5||7||8||5|
|College-Going – 2 & 4-yr. schools||24||24||27||28||30||28|
Some Strong Points
Blessed with abundant hydropower, Washington’s weighted average industrial and commercial price of electricity per kilowatt hour in 2012 was 6.17 cents, the lowest in the nation. Idaho was next lowest at 6.27 cents. At the opposite end of the scale, highest prices after Hawaii and Alaska were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California. It was the third of the last five years that Washington had the lowest cost.
Washington in 2012 also held its rank as third greatest exporter in the U.S. measured in export dollar value as a percent of state personal income; bested only by Louisiana and Texas. Using that same yardstick but filtering out transportation equipment including Boeing foreign jet deliveries, the state ranked seventh in exports last year behind Louisiana, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Vermont and Alaska. The export data only includes trade in goods that are physically shipped, ruling out some software exports including most by Microsoft.
Clean Drinking Water
The state last year also ranked third lowest of 50 in percent of its population – just one-fifth of one percent – that was served by drinking water systems which were cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, either for exceeding maximum allowed levels of microbial, chemical or radiological contaminants under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act; or for violations of prescribed drinking water treatment methods. Only New Hampshire and Hawaii ranked better in 2012 and Washington is number one on the measure over the last five years combined, improving markedly since 2008 when it was just eighth best, according to the ERFC 2013 report.
Per Capita R & D Spending
Powered more by the private sector than government, Washington was fifth nationally in 2012 in total per capita research and development spending, exceeded only by Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Delaware. Washington’s five-year average rank is fifth.
State Parks Visits
The per capita rate of visits to state parks and state recreation sites in 2012 was far and away the highest in Oregon, followed by South Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming and Washington. The measure is based on total state parks and rec site visits including by tourists, versus the state’s population. Washington’s running five-year national rank is fifth.
But though Washington did well in some areas, it has room to improve its competitive standing in others, according to the Council’s new report.
Challenges include unemployment insurance costs, worker’s compensation costs, and unemployment rate.
Some High Costs of Doing Business; Plus High Unemployment
Washington slid in 2012 to 38th from 17th in 2008 in controlling the dollar amount of worker’s compensation costs per $100 of payroll. Over the last five years its average ranking is 20th.
It is improving somewhat in unemployment insurance cost contributions collected from employers as a percent of total wages of covered employees, from 44th best in 2008 to 28th best in 2012 but its five-year average ranking is still 42nd.
Washington’s unemployment rate of 8.2 percent in 2012 was only 33rd best in the U.S., the same as its five-year average ranking in that measure.
Our interstate highways are hurting, at least relatively. According to the new ERFC report, nearly seven percent of Washington interstate highway miles were in poor condition in 2011, the most recent year for which data were available. This puts the Evergreen State 44th of 50, a marked drop from the next most recent annual measurement in 2009 when it was 19th.
Not Competitive in College Enrollment
The state’s combined participation rate in two- and four-year colleges was another weak spot. Nationally, 6.4 percent of the population aged 18 and over is enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, versus 6 percent in Washington last year. That put the state 30th of 50, with a five-year average ranking of 28th.
Middling air quality
On air quality we ranked 22nd in 2012. The measure was percent of state population living in so-called “non-attainment areas” where the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards aren’t met. Metropolitan regions must for three years running meet NAAQS benchmarks on carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide in order to avoid being classified as “non-attainment” areas. The state ranked first in 2008 but in every year since has hovered between 22nd and 25th.
Overall, the ERFC report suggests Washington comes out in the wash looking pretty much like a second-tier state, but that’s out of five tiers, or quintiles which divide the 50 states on individual and aggregate performance metrics. Washington’s five-year average combined ranking is 18th of 50 states in 16 “innovation driver metrics” in contrast to a new report from Bloomberg News based on seven metrics and one year that ranks Washington first in innovation.
The state ERFC report puts Washington ninth of 50 over five years, or first tier, in five “business performance” measures; but 21st, or high in the third tier, over five years on seven economic growth and competitiveness indicators. On 10 combined quality of life measures over five years, Washington ranked 16th, or second tier. A handful of measures in the report were not for 50 states, but major metro regions instead.
by Matt Rosenberg November 11th, 2013
Visiting Seattle right now are 19 Arab journalists focused on transparency, media and civic life. The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the World Affairs Council of Seattle are coordinating. I’m honored to have been asked to present to them Nov. 11 and to leave time for conversation, I’ve compiled his post for them – and others – illustrating sources and output of Public Data Ferret, a non-partisan Seattle-based news project that digs for sub-rosa online government documents and data sets. I also share some Recommendations for Global Open Government
Using special sources available to all, we craft original stories which are then archived by jurisdiction and topic in a special database, and distributed via legacy and social media. We always link to full source documents. Governments are making more and more documents and data available voluntarily, online, in the U.S. and elsewhere. They know that by doing so they can build trust, broaden public knowledge and participation, and perhaps also avoid the expense of staff hours required to gather information on demand.
We also teach and train student and community volunteers who contribute content; participate in panel discussions and conferences, and publish transparency policy analyses in outside venues. Public Data Ferret is a program of the 501c3 non-profit Public Eye Northwest.
We are supported by private donors, and earned revenues from communications consulting. We maintain total editorial control over what appears at Public Data Ferret, and how it is written. After three years, we are gratefully beginning to reach financial sustainability.
Why Do This?
Our motivation for starting the Public Data Ferret project was that:
Develop Shared Resource Guides to Public Documents and Data
To find material we often use our own continually updated resource guides to public documents and data. These include guides to sources from the U.S. government; Washington State; King County regional governments; the City of Seattle; and local governments across Washington State which follow the “best practice” of putting individual links to individual public documents in their online meeting agendas, thus making it much easier for bloggers and online reporters to link to source materials.
Drilling Down – Into Online Source Materials
Let’s examine some of the online sources of government documents and data that have been most helpful for Public Data Ferret, and some of the resulting news articles.
The ‘PubMed’ Index – National Institutes of Health
Public health reporting is enriched by the online reference library called Pub Med, sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Health. A recent find there led to our article, “Prescription Pot Could Be A Real Bummer, UW Doc Argues.”
Context on Medical Marijuana – Health Research & Public Debate
In a medical journal article, the doctor, who is an expert in addiction and psychiatry from the government-funded University of Washington and the Puget Sound Veterans Administration, reviewed the medical literature and called for great caution in prescribing medical marijuana for chronic pain, something that is currently legal in Washington State. The debate is very current because Washington is now right in the middle of implementing legalized recreational use of marijuana following 2012 voter approval, and new, tighter restrictions have already been proposed on medical marijuana as a result.
Important to “Connect The Dots”
Our method includes “connecting the dots.” It turns out this was not the first warning issued by UW doctors about legally consuming marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes. In our recent story we linked to a related report we did earlier this year, which emphasized another detailed warning from a UW researcher, and also contained links to six other government or university studies on the health hazards of smoking marijuana, something that is now even more socially acceptable following its legalization for recreational use in Washington State.
PubMed User Tips & “Open Science” Values
Our searches at Pub Med usually use the keyword “Seattle,” or “King County” which ensures that abstracts of any new public health articles by researchers from the University of Washington or King County, on any topic, will be found. We also use the search term “Washington State.” Searching by topic is another option, such as marijuana. The results are displayed in reverse-date order so you get the most recent entries first.
The Open Science Imperative
This specialized search engine indexes abstracts and sometimes free full-text versions of scholarly articles in “open access” or “open science” publications. If only an abstract is available, we contact the author by email and explain our project, and ask to be emailed a free, full-text copy. Some comply, some don’t. If we can’t get a free full-text copy, we will not do our own article on the findings.
Our Washington State+Open Science archive at Public Data Ferret provides links to many examples of our work based on articles found through Pub Med and similar sources, such as the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Centers for Disease Control’s “Wonder” Database
The CDC also has a database called “CDC Wonder” on disease and death rates by U.S. state since 1999, and we have been able to use it to generate original, Washington-specific stories with mapped data summaries, such as “Washington Tops U.S. in 12-year Alzheimers Death Rates,” and “WA Led U.S. in Breast Cancer for Most Recent Year Reported.” This last story included links to two others we did on related risk factors: “Study: Pre-pregnancy Drinking Boosts Breast Cancer Risks;” and “UW-Group Health Study: Some Pills Raise Breast Cancer Risk.”
More on how to do Open Science-based reporting in this tutorial we published.
Another archive is for data visualizations. Among those we’ve created, some employ Tableau software and others Google Public Data Explorer. Among the particularly interactive ones are those showing:
Effective Government Management, of Budgets and Programs
A variety of government information sources facilitate oversight and accountability reporting. Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive includes numerous stories about difficulties in efficiently overseeing federal spending and programs. One recent example is our article, “CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688 BIllion Since 2004.” This story was also enriched by additional research we found using a valuable U.S. government disclosure site called paymentaccuracy.gov, which tracks improper payments on an agency-by-agency basis, as mandated by federal law.
NGO Liberates Hidden Government Reports From CRS, Regularly
“CRS” stands for the Congressional Research Service, which is an independent policy analysis arm reporting to the U.S. Congress. Incongruously, Congress has steadfastly refused to let CRS directly make its work available to the public, even though CRS is taxpayer-funded. However an NGO, the Federation of American Scientists, does post online most CRS reports within days of release, thanks to cooperative sources inside the agency.
This is an institutionalized, and clearly tolerated example of “leaking” documents, which serves the public interest. Here is the main FAS index of CRS reports, and a particularly useful subsection titled “miscellaneous topics.”
Washington State Oversight
Our Washington State+Management archive includes stories reported with the aid of many different online sources.
One is the regularly-updated compendium of oversight reports issued by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO). Freshened with new content every Monday morning, the SAO’s site has many dry and unremarkable reports about whether or not proper financial reporting procedures are being followed by local and regional governments in Washington state.
But other reports are more newsworthy; often these are so-called “whistleblower investigation reports,” or fraud reports. SAO performance audits examine how well state or regional agencies are fulfilling their mission and duties.
Stories based on Washington State Auditor Reports
Some stories we have published based on SAO reports include:
The Seattle+Management archive includes stories developed from SAO reports and other sources, including,:
Transportation, Education, Finance & Budget
There are many other ways to use the Public Data Ferret archive, mainly by combining different jurisdiction and topic search keywords. For example:
Seattle City Council Committee Meeting Agendas
At the local level, one example of voluntary government transparency which sometimes yields newsworthy stories are the meeting agendas of the legislative committees of the Seattle City Council. They are accessed from a central hub and include embedded links to documents explaining the agenda items for each meeting. Examples of related stories we have done include:
Recommendations for Global Open Government
There is no “One Size Fits All” approach to government transparency. Conditions vary widely between cities and states, and particularly between countries. But aided by the Internet, social media and mobile technologies, there is also growing impetus supporting fair and free elections; broadened human rights; freedom of the press; plus heightened expectations of corruption-free, transparent governance; government performance measurement; and accountability.
With that in mind, NGOs, citizens and governments should work together to advance the following objectives.
Open data must be for the electorate, not the elite.
by Matt Rosenberg November 5th, 2013
In a new editorial for the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, a University of Washington and Veterans Administration doctor argues the scientific literature shows that prescribing smoked marijuana for chronic pain isn’t smart because it can cause a range of harmful mental and physical effects or heighten risks. A Mayo Clinic doctor offers a counterpoint, arguing medical pot can make sense as part of a careful treatment program. Meanwhile, Washington is looking at tough new restrictions on medical weed, as legal recreational pot comes to market here.
Although medical and now recreational marijuana are legal in Washington that doesn’t mean it’s now smart for doctors to prescribe pot for pain relief, argues a University of Washington physician who heads the addiction psychiatry program there, and the Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education for the U.S. Veteran’s Administration Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. In the new editorial for General Hospital Psychiatry, titled “Marijuana Not Ready For Prime Time As An Analgesic,” Dr. Andrew J. Saxon argues that based on a review of the scientific literature, prescribing pot for chronic pain “is currently fraught with a number of concerns.”