The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Vermont

Background

In November 2011, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell and Speaker of the House Shap Smith jointly submitted a letter of invitation requesting that the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative help “guide our thinking about our budget development system design.” The Legislature committed to piloting the Vermont Results First approach in 2012 and familiarizing policymakers with the methodology and preliminary findings in order to have the model “increasingly functional for the fiscal year 2014 budget-building process.” Campbell and Smith designated the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office to lead the implementation effort with “extensive Administration support and data assistance.

As the agencies became more involved in developing the Vermont Results First model for adult criminal justice programs, policymakers saw a need to formalize the data collection, analysis, and consensus process. In 2013, reaffirming the state’s commitment to using evidence in decision-making, the Vermont Legislature enacted Act 61, which created a multi-agency Criminal Justice Consensus Cost-Benefit Working Group to develop the Vermont Results First model and consensus cost estimates for its use.

Implementation

The Legislative Joint Fiscal Office houses the core Vermont Results First model that incorporates cost estimates produced by the working group. The core model is being continually expanded to produce analysis for additional policy areas at the request of the legislature.  Nathan Lavery, a business manager and fiscal analyst with the office, serves as the Results First project manager in collaboration with analysts from within the office and across agencies and research institutions. Stephen Klein, chief fiscal officer, is the liaison between the technical team of the fiscal office and the Legislature.

The Criminal Justice Consensus Cost-Benefit Working Group consists of criminal justice stakeholders from 12 state entities, including the executive and judicial branches and is convened and staffed by the Vermont Center for Justice Research. Throughout the fall of 2013, the working group met regularly to consider data related to the costs of recidivism to the criminal justice system and to crime victims. The group will report its preliminary findings to the Senate and House committees on Judiciary and the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions and issue a final report to the General Assembly in May 2014.

Cost-benefit findings

The technical team completed model implementation in fall 2012 and has spent the past several months reviewing and vetting the preliminary results with key stakeholders. In March 2013, they released the issue brief Community High School of Vermont, or CHSVT, that describes the results of a program-cost analysis conducted as part of implementing the Vermont Results First model. The report describes the Results First approach and how the costs analysis contributed to the presentation of options for increasing cost-efficiency in the delivery of CHSVT, which was demonstrated to have a high per-student cost.

Policy impact

The state’s fiscal 2014 budget included less funding for the Community High School of Vermont; through several presentations to policymakers, the team’s issue brief on the high school helped inform this decision.

Next steps

The Joint Fiscal Office continues to develop and use the Vermont Results First model. The office is planning to produce a series of similar issue briefs on electronic monitoring and other alternatives to incarceration and is exploring opportunities to evaluate substance abuse programming.

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