A federal court system in Pennsylvania is teaming up with a bank, a community college, and a health care system to help recently released prisoners reenter society with a goal of reducing recidivism rates. Some eligible ex-inmates will be fast-tracked into receiving a loan that will help them to build their credit and obtain transportation to a job. Participants can also take advantage of high school equivalency classes, job training and degree programs at a nearby community college, and drug and alcohol treatment. The voluntary program is part of larger trend by courts to introduce intensive court-supervised reentry programs to help brighten the futures of those returning to the outside.
Recognizing that artists often have little access to financing even as they enrich communities and attract economic activity, Kansas City, Missouri, has announced a new pilot program that will allow artists to apply for short-term microloans to grow their business. Residents who are actively pursuing work within an artistic discipline, building an artistic portfolio, and creating work with intentions to present to the public are eligible. The short-term loans will be used to assist the artists’ growing business through investment in new equipment, supplies, or other business needs. Although there is no set amount for the loans, officials expect a typical loan to be in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.
New York has become the first state to conceive and issue regulations to govern virtual currency such as “bitcoin,” a phenomenon that has widened in popularity and moved into the commercial mainstream. Under the new regulations, digital currency companies operating in New York State that hold customer funds and exchange virtual currencies for dollars or other currencies are required to apply for what is known as a state "BitLicense." Other rules relate to consumer protection, anti-money laundering, and cybersecurity protections. The regulations will not apply to consumers, currency miners, software developers, and businesses that accept virtual currencies as payment. The rules are the product of two years of deliberations and several rounds of released preliminary versions by the New York Department of Financial Services.
School districts in Vermont, North Carolina, Washington, and Maryland are reforming their curricula to train teachers on the importance of purposeful play, which involves having teachers subtly guide children to learning goals through games, music, art, and general fun. Baltimore, for example, is introducing a new curriculum this fall for its kindergartners that incorporates movement and opportunities to play and explore that complement traditional learning. Concerned officials in lower-income districts stress that a balance between play and academic rigor is still needed to ensure that children do not fall behind in the basics of reading and math.
Beginning July 1, legal cases pertaining to certain environmental and public health issues in Hawaii will be heard by a newly created Environmental Court, the second such court established in the nation (Vermont has the first). Under the new judiciary system, the Hawaii Supreme Court will designate judges to sit in each circuit and for a district court within each circuit, and will have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving historic preservation, litter control, recycling, solid waste, safe drinking water, air pollution, environmental impact statements, and other related issues. The goal is to ensure consistency among courts interpreting environmental statutory and common law by having judges with experience preside over the same matters. Over 350 environmental courts exist in 41 other countries.
The New York City Department of Education has unveiled new tracking software that will chart student and faculty performance in metrics such as grades and attendance. Administrators will also be alerted to potential “roadblocks” to a student’s graduation. The "Progress to Graduation Tracker" will be available to high schools and the "School Performance Data Explorer" will be available to all schools. Officials expect that the software, which was developed in-house, will save time, improve data accuracy, and increase access to a wide range of information.