Managing for Results; Maryland's Compact
Byline: Robert D. Reischauer, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Maryland Opportunity Compact announced by Governor Robert L. Ehrlich this week represents a promising model for tackling social problems and saving taxpayers money. The compact applies the bottom-line thinking of the private sector and the data-driven standards of science to the public sector's challenge of fighting poverty and disadvantage.
Rather than struggling to cope with social problems after they have metastasized, the compact seeks to address them at an earlier stage through preventive interventions that have proven successful in jurisdictions such as San Diego and Milwaukee. Substance-abusing parents with children in costly foster care will be enrolled in treatment programs in an effort to speed up family reunification or, where that is impossible, adoption.
Community-based intensive mental health services, substance-abuse programs and other services would be given to non-violent youth offenders who might otherwise land in expensive institutional settings where few receive the supportive services they need to put their lives back on track. And prisoners returning to the community would be provided the skills, training and counseling needed to successfully reintegrate with society and avoid reincarceration.
Instead of repeatedly reauthorizing money for last-resort programs that often do no more than mitigate harm, the compact creates thoughtful incentives and calls for investing in proven strategies that can give poor children a "good start" and needy adults "a second chance." In a laudatory example of public-private cooperation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, T. Rowe Price, the Abell Foundation and the Family League of Baltimore City have pledged the resources needed to get these preventive programs off the ground.
For its part, the state has made a commitment to reinvest a portion of the savings it realizes from reduced dependence on last-resort programs - programs that consume the lion's share of the public sector's social spending today - in good-start and second-chance programs. But this will happen only after rigorous analysis has demonstrated that these programs work and generate the promised savings. As an indication of good faith, Mr. Ehrlich and state legislators overwhelmingly approved an initial $2 million line item in the 2005 budget as a reserve on savings produced by the compact. …