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Ideas Challenge 2023: Transforming Education, Housing, and Climate Action

Innovative Initiatives Target Affordability, Education Access, and Emission Reduction, Highlighting Progressive Leadership.

This category, Lowering Costs and Creating Economic Opportunities for Families, features five finalists in the NewDEAL Ideas Challenge 2023.

1. Richmond Pilot Program: Tuition-Free Pathways for Graduates

Mayor Stoney's Initiative Aims to Boost Access to Postsecondary Education, Nurturing Student Success with Cash Allowance and Mentorship

Entry: Richmond Pathways Program: Lowering costs and create economic opportunities for families

Leader: Levar Stoney

With an initial investment of $1.7 million from the city of Richmond, the Richmond Pathways Program pilot will cover the tuition of any Richmond Public Schools graduate to attend the local community college. The award will also be paired with a monthly cash allowance, mentorship, and additional resources to open more pathways for students to access postsecondary institutions and achieve success. Students would be able to pursue instruction in career-specific or skilled-trades credentials in addition to earning credits to transfer to a four-year college.

Impact and Current Status: Currently a pilot program, the city is working to achieve a fundraising goal of $4 million through donations and contributions before launching.

2. Arkansas Law Ensures Free School Meals for Low-Income Students

Clarke Tucker's Act 656 Eliminates Meal Costs, Leveraging State Funding to Alleviate Financial Strain on Eligible Families

Entry: Free School Meals for Eligible Kids

Leader: Clarke Tucker


The USDA provides income eligibility guidelines for public school students throughout the United States to qualify for either free or reduced-price school meals. Students who qualify for reduced-priced meals come from families with limited means and are still required to make some payment to receive their school meals. The price of those families’ school meals, even when reduced, can add up and even create debt.

Act 656 eliminates the cost of all school meals for students who come from families that qualify for reduced-priced meals. This will have a huge impact on families who rely on school meals for their kids to eat and who need their dollars to stretch a little further.

The law creates a tiered system of funding. The Arkansas Department of Education will utilize any available federal funds to pay for these meals, and then the state will cover any remaining costs (including dedicated funding from medical marijuana tax revenue).

Impact: As part of the legislation, the state auditing entity will audit the Arkansas Department of Education Child Nutrition Unit and provide a report to the Senate and House committees on Education every year to monitor the program, ensure that every eligible child in Arkansas is receiving these meals, and help the Legislature budget appropriately.

Current Status: The law was enacted this year. We are in the process right now of ensuring the funding is present for the 2023-24 school year, which of course starts in a few weeks. We are hopeful about having the funding in place this year and are very confident we can have it in place by next school year at the latest.

3. Maine Unveils Groundbreaking Paid Family Leave Plan

Kristen Cloutier's Innovative Initiative Promises 12 Weeks of Paid Leave for All Eligible Workers

Entry: A Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy for Maine!

Leader: Kristen Cloutier

The Guaranteed Paid Family Leave plan will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to all eligible employees in the private and public sectors. The plan permits employees to take leave to care for any individual with whom they have a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship regardless of biological or legal relationship. Employees can take paid leave immediately after starting employment.

Paid family and medical leave will help Maine workers meet their personal and family health-care needs while also fulfilling work responsibilities. Access to paid leave is a particularly salient concern for women, who comprise nearly half of the nation’s workforce and who are often the primary caretaker for children and aging parents.

To pay for this new program, the state will impose a 1 percent contribution rate, split evenly between the employer and employee. We’ll want to track how many folks are being helped by the program, which will most likely be measured by the number of claims being processed, paying careful attention to the number of claims being submitted and those being approved.

Impact: We’ll also want to keep track of how the program is affecting businesses and whether they are adapting well to implementation of the program over time.

Lastly, sustainability of the fund will need to be monitored closely so that contribution rates can be adjusted as necessary. We are especially proud of the robust oversight authority built into the Maine program for this very purpose.

Current Status: Maine recently enacted one of the broadest and most generous paid family and medical leave programs in the country. L.D. 1964, introduced by Sen. Matthea Daughtry and Rep. Kristen Cloutier in a true bicameral partnership, provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to all eligible employees in the private and public sectors.

The plan permits employees to take leave to care for any individual with whom they have a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship regardless of biological or legal relationship. Employees can take paid leave immediately after starting employment.

To pay for this new program, the state will impose a 1 percent contribution rate, split evenly between the employer and employee. Maine will begin collecting contributions on Jan. 1, 2025. Employees will be able to start taking paid family and medical leave on Jan. 1, 2026.

Updates from the Maine DOL on rulemaking and status can be found here.

Other Notes: The bicameral and inclusive process by which this legislation was passed is truly unique. The bill sponsors embarked on a three-year journey to get this piece of legislation across the finish line. That timeline included two years of commission work and a one-year tour across the state, meeting with stakeholders to collect input on various iterations of the policy. That feedback was then incorporated into the policy that was enacted.

4. Colorado's MIHA Targets Middle-Income Housing Gap

Leader Jeff Bridges' Market-Oriented Approach Aims to Tackle Affordable Housing Crisis

Entry: Middle Income Housing Authority (MIHA)

Leader: Jeff Bridges


Colorado faces an acute shortage of “missing middle” housing, housing that is affordable for essential middle-income workers like nurses, teachers and firefighters. By treating middle-income housing like the infrastructure investment it is, the Middle Income Housing Authority (MIHA) creates market-based incentives to drive the development of housing that’s affordable for middle-income folks, using private capital and a minimum investment of government dollars to do it.

While most government support is targeted at low-income housing and market-rate development focuses on high-income homes, MIHA represents a significant shift in addressing affordable housing by using a market-oriented approach driven by public-private partnerships. By leveraging tax-free municipal bonds and social impact investors, MIHA reduces reliance on government financing and creates a sustainable and scalable model that reinvests all profits into additional affordable housing. This initiative is built on a model of financial sustainability and risk management, ensuring that each project finances itself and that the state is never liable for the bonds.

MIHA increases the supply of rental housing that’s affordable for middle-income individuals and families by allowing access to the same kinds of tax-free bonds used to finance other infrastructure investments. While developers may get a higher return by building market-rate housing, they pay taxes on those returns. By utilizing tax-free bonds for MIHA projects, the returns roughly equal out. This drives investment in middle-income housing without competing for government dollars that should go toward low-income housing subsidies.

Impact: Success will be measured by the number of affordable housing units built for middle-income earners, especially in our mountain resort communities and in gentrifying neighborhoods where long-established communities are being pushed out by increased housing costs. While currently focused on rental housing, the success of this unique financial model should allow for the construction of for-sale MIHA housing as well. Over the next two years the initial six projects representing several hundred new housing units will help us identify what works best, where it works, and why it works. The long-term goal is to show a measurable decrease in the number of middle-income individuals and families across Colorado who are cost burdened, alongside a measurable increase in the supply of housing units that are affordable for those families.

Current Status: I passed a bill in 2022 creating Colorado’s MIHA as an independent authority with its own board and a small initial staff. From more than a dozen proposals, the board has identified six pilot projects currently under review for final approval. These projects represent the very different types of communities we have in Colorado, from urban, to rural, to rural resort (ski towns). They also have different capital structures, from independently financed to partnerships with local governments or nonprofits like Denver Health, the city’s safety-net hospital.

Over the next two years these six pilots representing several hundred new housing units will help us identify what works best, where it works, and why it works. California has had a similar program underway for a few years, but they’ve focused mostly on flipping existing buildings instead of working to address their housing shortage through new construction. With a deficit of about 100,000 homes in Colorado, new construction is the primary purpose of Colorado’s MIHA.

With the initial MIHA pilot statutorily limited to 3,500 housing units, next steps include the successful completion of these and a few other initial projects, monitoring their progress, and capturing learnings for future endeavors.

5. Colorado's Sweeping Emissions Reduction Bill

Chris Hansen's Landmark Legislation Targets Broad Climate Mitigation

Entry: Reducing Emissions Across the Colorado Economy

Leader: Chris Hansen


Colorado Senate Bill 23-016 leads the way in emission reduction through a comprehensive approach addressing many sectors of the climate crisis. The bill activates every part of the economy to act to mitigate the climate crisis, incentivizing action from individuals, businesses, and state regulators. The bill advances bold greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goals to 100 percent net zero by 2050 and provides incentives to reach them, such as a 33 percent tax incentive for individuals to transition to electric lawn equipment and a new authority of the energy and carbon management commission to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Colorado with an explicit set of language to prevent impacts on disproportionately affected communities.

The bill also establishes a requirement of the Air Quality Control Commission to establish a first-of-its-kind fee/ton on GHGs, a requirement of the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to consider and prioritize transmission line upgrades, and a requirement of the Public Employees Retirement Association to describe its climate-related investment risks, impacts and strategies.

In addition, the legislation promotes renewable energy, including the recovery of wastewater thermal energy by allowing it to be included in utilities’ clean heat plans, a clause to prevent home owner associations (HOAs) from disallowing heat pump systems, a new fee for utilities if they are slow to interconnect distributed generation sources (e.g., rooftop solar systems), and an authorization for a utility to recover costs for facilitating electric vehicle charging for a customer.

Impact: The bill will be successful if Colorado is on track to meet its emission reduction targets measured against its next interim target (26 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2025). Also, if the state reaches its EPA ozone attainment levels, if there is additional transmission capacity added to existing lines to create a more resilient grid, and if we see geothermal, heat pump, and CCS projects built throughout the state.

Current Status: This bill has passed the 2023 Legislature and the next steps will be rulemakings by the AQCC and PUC, the ECMC to seek Class VI well primacy, as well as tax credits going into effect Jan. 1, 2024.

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