Florida Can Make Better Choices and Improve Outcomes by Embracing Evidence-Based Policymaking

The LeRoy Collins Institute at the Florida State University recently released a report that provides a blueprint for a better approach to making state policy and budget decisions by using rigorous evidence to inform these choices.   

Florida is widely known as a low tax/low services state, and it faces growing challenges. We rank 35th among the 50 states in the overall status of our children and trail many other states in key social indicators such health and education status of our residents.  Due in part to the state’s reliance on tourism and services as key elements of its economy, Florida’s average wages are relatively low with residents earning 87.4% of the national average. Climate change and rising sea levels will require major investments to protect the state’s highly populated, low-lying coastal areas.  

State resources to address these problems are highly constrained.  Florida does not levy an individual income tax, and our sales tax is applied only to goods with online sales untaxed unless the seller has a physical presence in the state. As a result, Florida’s revenues grow more slowly than the overall economy. When adjusted for inflation, state revenue collections remain below its pre-Great Recession peak, which was reached in Fiscal Year 2005-06. The COVID-19 pandemic is further straining state resources.  Since Florida is unlikely to raise new revenues to address its current and future challenges, the best path forward is to spend the state’s existing resources more strategically. 

Fortunately, there is a path forward that could help Florida navigate these challenging conditions – we could join a growing number of other states and adopt an evidence-based approach to budgeting, targeting its limited resources to programs that research has shown to generate high returns on investment and eliminating those that fail to achieve desired results.  This approach – sometimes called “Moneyball for Government”– uses the best research and data on program results to guide policy and budget decisions, targeting resources to programs that have been proven to work, and eliminating interventions that deliver poor results regardless of good intentions. This approach is based on the robust evidence about ‘what works’, which is now available from a growing network of research clearinghouses that rate the effectiveness of programs across many policy areas. 

The Collins Institute report describes the components of evidenced-based policymaking and discusses how the approach has been successfully used in other states. The report also explores how three Florida agencies – Children and Families, Health, and Juvenile Justice – are taking some positive steps in this direction.

However, the report also finds that Florida’s state government lacks a policy framework to support evidence-based policymaking.  As a result, there is a high risk that state government is operating ineffective programs that fail to address the critical problems facing our residents.  The report makes recommendations for key steps Florida should take to harness the power of evidence, including compiling a comprehensive inventory of state programs,  requiring that these programs be classified by their effectiveness , giving preference for funding to programs that achieve high returns on investment dollars, establishing standards to assure programs are implemented with fidelity, and creating a central database of agency performance measures that can be used to issue agency report cards. 

The full Collins Institute report can be accessed here.

Dr. VanLandingham is a professor and MPA director and Reubin O’D Askew Senior Practitioner in Residence at Florida State University. Dr. Vanlandingham studies evidence-based policymaking, policy analysis, program evaluation, performance management, and Florida government. You can learn more about Dr. VanLandingham here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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