Advancing the Use of Evidence and Economics in State Government Policymaking
How can state governments make better use of the growing base of evidence about “what works” and thereby provide taxpayers improved returns on their dollars?
Since the 1990s, the Washington State legislature has directed WSIPP to review research on “what works” (and what does not) in public policy. WSIPP’s work has spanned many topic areas, including criminal justice, education, child welfare, behavioral health, health care, workforce development, public health, and prevention. In our systematic reviews, we assess the research evidence to identify public policies that improve statewide outcomes of legislative interest; we then estimate the benefits, costs, and risk associated with different options.
In recent years, representatives from other states have contacted us with an interest in duplicating Washington’s approach. The Pew-MacArthur Results First initiative, which funds part of WSIPP’s work, aims to enable other states to take a similar approach to Washington. As part of this project, WSIPP has developed software that allows analysts to input state-specific data to estimate the cost and benefits of various policy choices that impact outcomes of interest to state governments.
WSIPP’s benefit-cost model includes a tool to analyze hypothetical “portfolios” of policy choices in order to forecast the overall impact on outcomes given a combination of policies and programs. In addition to projecting short- and long-term benefits and costs of portfolios, the new tool can also project future high school graduation, crime, and child abuse and neglect rates.
The current project
In 2018, WSIPP’s “evidence and economics” approach has expanded into new research areas, including aging and higher education. WSIPP will also update and extend analyses in previous areas, such as children's mental health, public health, and prevention.
The 2017 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to complete a study measuring the outcomes for youth who have received extended foster care services pursuant to RCW 74.13.031(11). The study will include measurements of any savings to state and local governments and compare outcomes for youth who have received extended foster care services pursuant to RCW 74.13.031(11) with youth who aged out of foster care when they turned 18. To the extent possible, the study will also include a comparison of extended foster care programs in other states and a review of the available research on those programs.
A preliminary report was released in November 2018. A final report is due to the legislature by December 1, 2019.
The 2017 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to complete an evaluation of short-term foster care support. The legislation describes short-term support as case aides who provide temporary assistance to foster parents as needed with the overall goal of supporting the parental efforts of the foster parents. The short-term support does not include overnight assistance. The evaluation will, to the maximum extent possible, assess the impact of the short-term support services on the retention of foster homes and the number of placements a foster child receives while in out-of-home care, as well as the return on investment to the state.
A preliminary report was released in November 2018. A final report is due to the legislature by June 30, 2020.
The 2018 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct a statewide study on the needs of girls and young women concurrently involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare system, referred to in the legislation as “dually involved females.” To the extent possible, the study must review available data to understand the prevalence and demographics of dually involved females and their families and track outcomes such as academic, social, and vocational achievement. WSIPP will also summarize available information on other states’ systems that address and treat the needs of this population. Finally, WSIPP was directed to conduct a benefit-cost analysis of programs for dually involved females.
The original deadline was July 1, 2019, however, WSIPP's Board of Directors approved an extension. The final report will be delivered to the legislature by November 1, 2019.
Update to Inventory of Evidence-Based, Research-Based, and Promising Practices for Prevention and Intervention Services for Children
The 2012 Legislature passed E2SHB 2536 with the intention that “prevention and intervention services delivered to children and juveniles in the areas of mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice be primarily evidence-based and research-based, and it is anticipated that such services will be provided in a manner that is culturally competent.” The bill directs the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) and the University of Washington Evidence-Based Practice Institute (UW) to publish descriptive definitions and prepare an inventory of evidence-based, research-based, and promising practices and services, and to periodically update the inventory as more practices are identified. This will be the ninth update to the initial inventory published in September 2012. WSIPP will update reviews for all child and youth mental health services currently on the inventory. The inventory and accompanying report will be published in December 2019.
The 2019 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct an evaluation on the outcomes of resource and assessment centers licensed under RCW 74.15.311 and contracted with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). As part of the evaluation, WSIPP was directed to collect data regarding the following:
The type of placement children experience following placement at a resource and assessment center;
The number of placement changes that children experience following placement in a resource and assessment center compared with other foster children;
The length of stay in foster care that children experience following placement in a resource and assessment center compared with other foster children;
The likelihood that children placed in a resource and assessment center will be placed with siblings; and
The length of time that licensed foster families accepting children placed in resource and assessment centers maintain their licensure compared to licensed foster families receiving children directly from child protective services.
The report is due to the legislature, DCYF, and the Oversight Board for DCYF by December 8, 2020.
The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) began implementation of a new dynamic risk assessment tool, the Washington ONE (WA ONE), in December 2017. DOC contracted with WSIPP to design a potential multiphase study that will evaluate that impact of WA ONE on various outcomes. This evaluation represents the first phase which will focus on changes in risk level classifications and consequent minimum contact requirements.
A report is due by June 30, 2020.
The 2018 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to assess the impact of changes to the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA), as outlined in E2SSB 6160. To the extent possible, the study should include impacts to community safety, racial disproportionality, recidivism, state expenditures, and youth rehabilitation.
The 2019 Legislature amended WSIPP’s assignment to include an assessment of additional components contained in Sections 2-6 of E2SHB 1646. WSIPP must also conduct a benefit-cost analysis which includes the health impacts and recidivism effects of extending the JJA to include all offenses committed under the age of twenty-one.
A preliminary report is due to the legislature by December 1, 2023 with a final report due December 1, 2031.
The 2018 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct a study on the cost of textbooks and course materials and the use of open educational resources at four-year institutions of higher education across the state. The study will address the types of required textbooks and other materials (including digital access codes and bundled items) and their average cost per student. WSIPP was directed to consider these materials and their costs as well as the use of open educational resources at each four-year institution and in specific degree programs or courses. The study will also include relevant information on best practices in the development and dissemination of open educational resources, to the extent possible.
The report is due to the legislature by December 1, 2019.
The Effect of Integration on the Involuntary Treatment Systems for Substance Abuse and Mental Health
The 2016 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to evaluate the effect of the integration of the involuntary treatment systems for substance use disorders and mental health. WSIPP’s report must include whether the integrated system:
Increases efficiency of evaluation and treatment of persons involuntarily detained for substance use disorders;
Is cost-effective, including impacts on health care, housing, employment, and criminal justice costs;
Results in better outcomes for persons involuntarily detained;
Increases the effectiveness of the crisis response system statewide;
Impacts commitment based on mental disorders;
Is sufficiently resourced with enough involuntary treatment beds, less restrictive treatment options, and state funds to provide timely and appropriate treatment for all individuals interacting with the integrated involuntary treatment system; and
Diverted a significant number of individuals from the mental health involuntary treatment system whose risk results from substance abuse, including an estimate of the net savings from serving these clients into the appropriate substance abuse treatment system.
Preliminary reports are due to the legislature on December 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, and a final report is due June 30, 2023.
LAP Inventory: Effective Practices to Assist Struggling Students
The 2013 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to prepare an inventory of evidence- and research-based practices, strategies, and activities for school districts to use in the Learning Assistance Program (LAP).
The state program provides supplemental academic support to eligible K-12 students achieving below grade level or not on track to meet local or state graduation requirements. LAP funds may support programs in reading, writing, mathematics, and readiness, as well as programs to reduce disruptive behavior.
The 2016 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to review the effect of revisions to Washington's Professional Educator Standards Board's (PESB) expedited professional certification process for out-of-state teachers who have at least five years of successful teaching experience.
The report will include the following:
The extent to which advanced level teacher certificates from other states compare to the standards and requirements of the Washington professional certificate;
The extent to which the federal or state-issued advanced level certificates that allow individuals to teach internationally compare to the standards and requirements of the Washington professional certificate; and
Whether the revised expedited professional certification process for out-of-state teachers has increased the number of professional certifications issued to individuals from out-of-state.
The report is due to the legislature by September 1, 2020.
Early Achievers Quality Rating and Improvement System
The 2015 Washington State Legislature required Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) providers and licensed child care providers who serve non-school aged children and receive state subsidies to participate in Early Achievers. Early Achievers is Washington State’s quality rating and improvement system for early childhood education and child care providers.
In the same bill, WSIPP was directed to examine the relationship between the Early Achievers quality ratings and outcomes for children who participate in state-subsidized early education and child care.
A preliminary report is due to the legislature by December 31, 2019, with subsequent reports in 2020, and 2021. A final report including a benefit-cost analysis of Early Achievers is due to the legislature by December 31, 2022.
Policy Changes to Reduce Excessive Absenteeism in Public K–12 Schools
The 2016 Washington State Legislature changed existing statute and added new provisions to decrease absenteeism and truancy in public K-12 schools, including the following:
All school districts (except very small districts) and their corresponding juvenile courts must establish community truancy boards by the 2017-18 school year;
Courts must implement an initial stay of truancy petitions and refer children and families to community truancy boards for assessment and intervention; and
In cases where detention is deemed necessary, the law establishes a preference for placement in secure crisis residential centers or HOPE centers (as opposed to juvenile detention facilities).
The same bill directs WSIPP to evaluate the impacts of this act. A preliminary report on study methods and potential data gaps was published in December 2017, and the final report will be published by January 1, 2021.
Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP)
The 2013 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct an outcome evaluation and return on investment analysis of the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). WSIPP produced two reports: one summarizing the national research literature on the long-term effectiveness of early childhood education programs of various types and a retrospective evaluation of the effectiveness of Washington’s ECEAP program through fifth grade for a sample of children born between 1999 and 2004.
Many children in this initial study are expected to have graduated from high school by 2019. This offers the opportunity to examine additional long term outcomes of ECEAP.
The current project
WSIPP’s Board of Directors authorized WSIPP staff to produce two reports, which will update findings from the initial reports produced in January and December of 2014.
The first report will update the meta-analysis of state and district early childhood education programs for low-income children provided nationwide. To the extent possible, it will also examine the effectiveness of other types of early education.
The second report will update the original outcome evaluation of ECEAP, examining academic and other outcomes over a longer period of time. The report will include an analysis of the impact of ECEAP on high school graduation for at least two cohorts.
The first report is due by December 15, 2019, and the second report is due by December 15, 2020.
In November 2012, Washington State voters passed Initiative 502 to regulate and tax the use and sale of cannabis for persons twenty-one years of age and older. As part of I-502, WSIPP was directed to “conduct cost-benefit evaluations of the implementation” of the law. The evaluations must include measures of impacts on public health, public safety, cannabis use, the economy, the criminal justice system, and state and local costs and revenues.
The 2018 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to conduct additional cannabis research, supplemental to the ongoing benefit-cost evaluation of cannabis legalization authorized by Initiative 502 in 2012. For this supplemental work, WSIPP was directed to update its inventory of programs for the prevention and treatment of youth cannabis use; examine current data collection methods measuring the use of cannabis by youth and potential ways to improve on these methods; and identify effective methods used to reduce or eliminate the unlicensed cultivation or distribution of marijuana in jurisdictions with existing legal marijuana markets.