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Moving Forward, Ideas Matter | Commentary

As the dust settles after the midterm elections, it is clear that voters across the country sent a strong message that they have had enough of partisan gridlock and inaction in Washington. And now the hard work begins – turning to the future and to the ideas that will move our nation forward.

It’s often been said that states are the laboratories of democracy. And as state leaders, we know that innovative solutions, big and small, are being put into action every day in cities and states across the country.

Looking ahead, we believe America faces three fundamental challenges: How do we expand opportunity for all Americans? How do we create the economic growth necessary to achieve this? And how do we modernize government so we can rebuild the trust we need to address the challenges of today and tomorrow?

In this partisan environment, it’s easy to throw up your hands and be cynical about government. But the truth is a lot of progress is happening, especially on the state and local level. We’re a part of NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders) — a network of pro-growth progressive mayors, state legislators, county and city officials — and we decided to challenge these leaders to give us their best ideas of what can work. We received more than 60 ideas ranging from improving our schools and investing in infrastructure to reforming taxes and making government more transparent and accountable.

The winners of the “New Ideas Challenge” offer four great examples of innovative, results-oriented policies that can help secure America’s future.

In Salt Lake County, Mayor Ben McAdams is pioneering a new way for government to focus on what works best. Knowing the impact that quality pre-kindergarten programs have, particularly in lower-income communities, McAdams is using Pay for Success Bonds, where private investors pay for the up-front costs of pre-school and get paid back if the programs succeed in saving taxpayers money from fewer at-risk kids using more expensive programs such as special ed. This pay-for-success model gives government the tools to fund an ounce of evidence-based prevention on the front end out of cost savings on the back end—and can be applied to a variety of social services.

Building on work in San Francisco, St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ College Savings Program would provide each child entering a public school kindergarten with a seed account of $50, which families can build on via financial incentives for good grades, attendance and family participation in a financial wellness program. Studies show that kids with savings accounts are more likely to enroll in and graduate from college, so these accounts will benefit not just the child, but all of us.

Through his Town-Square Schools program, Cincinnati City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld is transforming school facilities — which too often sit unused — into round-the-clock neighborhood hubs that offer after-school programming, health resources, adult education and recreational opportunities for students, their families and the surrounding community.

And Oregon state Rep. Tobias Read is being recognized for his work with the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX), a partnership between Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia to help address their collective infrastructure gap. WCX is working to unlock private investment for public projects, share best practices, partner on smaller projects, and incorporate climate resilience.

These ideas — and many more we received — are promising examples of how to re-imagine government for the 21st century, as we seek to ensure that Americans can compete and win in the changing global economy. And it is exactly this kind of fresh thinking that we hope can be injected into the national debate in the coming months and years. And if so — the real winners will be the American people.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell is the co-chairman of the New Ideas Challenge. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is honorary regional chairman of NewDEAL.

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