What Works Cities


Racine chosen for nationwide economic mobility grant, will expand HSED program

The City of Racine is one of 10 cities chosen for an initiative supported by a $12 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group.

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the 10 cities have already begun working with a team of advisers from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team, both partners in What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative that helps cities use data and evidence to develop programs for addressing social and economic issues.

Each city chose a specific initiative designed to help improve residents’ long-term economic mobility. Racine will work with national experts to develop its program and could receive up to $150,000 in grant funds. The cities will also share lessons and experiences to further advance the work and build a model for future collaboration among cities on the topic. 

“Through this new partnership, these 10 cities will have the chance to test innovative ideas, collaborate with other cities facing similar challenges, and share what they have learned with communities nationwide,” said Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

For its project, the City of Racine has decided to expand the YWCA's 5.09 High School education program which helps adults obtain a high school equivalency diploma, also known as a HSED. While the city, county and other partners have gone to great lengths to expand training opportunities that fit local employers' needs, those opportunities are not available to people who have not graduated high school.

According to the 2017 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 9,500 people living in Racine do not have a high school diploma or equivalent credentials. 

"As mayor, I want to break down barriers that prevent our residents from getting into the middle class," Mayor Cory Mason said in a statement. "I want to create as many pathways for our residents to achieve the American Dream and have a solid middle class life."

Building on what works

Vicky Selkowe, the manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships with the Mayor's Office, said the plan is not to reinvent the wheel, but to build off what is already working.

The 5.09 program has a high success rate with its students, but it only has the capacity to work with about 15 students every eight weeks. So far the program has graduated about 100 students.

"It's really clear that the region has workforce needs. Local employers are going to need people who have education and who have skills. We don't want to leave them behind," said Selkowe. "We want to say to those adults, 'We believe in you. It's not too late for your education, and we want to help you get that so you can get on a path to getting into these jobs.'"

Through their research, Selkowe said they found people drop out of high school for a variety of reasons, from domestic violence, poverty, mental health and having to care for a parent or child, to some youths just finding that high school didn't work for them.

"Life is messy; life gets in the way," she said. "(There's) a whole range of issues that might have prevented someone from getting a diploma in the first place. And they're finding it hard to go back and needing the supportive environment to go back and get it done."

In addition to its grant partners, the city is working with the county, Racine Unified School District and Gateway Technical College to expand the 5.09 program to make it more easily accessible to the people who need it.

Based on census data, the city is considering holding the expanded programs at RUSD's "community schools" — Knapp Elementary, 2701 17th St., and Julian Thomas, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive — in part because of the need in the communities those schools serve. Also, the schools provide evening programming for children.

Unified's community schools offer programs such as school-based mental health services and extended learning programs. The schools also offer programs for families and adults in their neighborhoods.

"Part of our thinking is: How do we make this easy for people?" said Selkowe. "How do we make it fit into their lives? And some of that is going where they are and reducing those barriers — reducing the transportation, the child care and the other things that keep people from coming back to complete their diploma."

Another part is the realization that many parents become motivated to complete their own high school educations.

"People are motivated by their kids," said Selkowe. "By wanting to help their kids with their homework, wanting to set an example for their kids, and I think that's going to probably be a key piece of the folks we find and recruit into this scaled-up program."

City staff plans to work through the details with their partners over the summer, and  hope to start offering classes in the fall.


Digging into data

In addition to helping plan the city's specific project, researchers from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team will help the city and its partners with Higher Expectations for Racine County dig into data sets and establish best practices for how data can be used to inform decision making and how it can best be shared with the public. 

"Which is really exciting because the city, we don't have a lot of resources internally to do that on our own," said Selkowe. "And to have experts who are really good at knowing how could you be using data smartly and efficiently to get the goals that you want to accomplish, the outcomes you want to accomplish, is going to be really valuable."

So far experts from the Behavioral Insights Team have visited Racine twice to speak with project partners and to review and analyze some of that data, which is available online at The Opportunity Atlas.

The Opportunity Atlas collects Census data to show how children who grew up within a Census tract are doing 30 years later, showing statistics for income, incarceration, marriage rates and more. The project 

Higher Expectation Deputy Director Chelsea Powell said that in reviewing the data, there are some surprises that could give them insights into what improves economic mobility.

"There are census tracts where in spite of the families being or parents being low income when they were raising these kids, that they're doing well," said Powell. "It's really leaning into those spaces and understanding what's happening there that we can leverage."

In addition to learning from the experts, the experts are hoping to learn from Racine's. Racine is the smallest of the cities selected but the majority of Americans live in communities with less than 90,000 people. Insights into what works and what doesn't on that scale, could inform a lot of other communities.

"Because we're a smaller city, there's initiatives that they can help us with that can make a tremendous difference and be really measurable in ways that are much harder in larger cities," said Selkowe. "They've certainly stressed to us they're excited about this high school diploma initiative because there'll be a lot of lessons that larger cities and cities comparable to us can learn from what we do here and how we figure this out."

Read original article by Christina Lieffring here

Read Milwaukee Journal Times article about Racine’s involvement in this grant project here.

Elizabeth Erickson