Foundation Commits $6.6 Million for Policy Research Lab in Texas

Michelle Welch, policy manager for the Arnold Foundation, announcing the grant maker’s investment in a Texas Policy Lab. Photo from YouTube.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation awarded a $6.6 million grant to launch the Texas Policy Lab for data projects aimed at improving public policy on a variety of issues including services for children and families.

The Texas Policy Lab will be housed at Rice University’s School of Social Sciences, located in Houston, and headed up by Ekim Cem Muyan. It will partner with state agencies such as the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Department of Criminal Justice, according to a press release.

The Arnold Foundation has spent nearly $40 million setting up nine policy labs in seven states.

“There is untapped information sitting on computers in the state capitol building right now that could help us understand how we get more kids through college or break the cycle of incarceration or move families through poverty,” said Arnold Foundation CEO Kelli Rhee, in a statement announcing the grant.

The foundation has invested over $38 million in policy labs across the country, which have engaged in more than 160 projects related to issues like youth employment, recidivism and homelessness prevention, among others.

The goal of the policy lab program is to help governments implement advanced methods of data analysis and research to improve public policies. Michelle Welch, policy manager for the foundation, said better use of data eludes many systems.

“We are ignoring one of the most promising tools in decades to fight poverty, homelessness, re-incarceration and other issues,” said Welch, at an event to announce the lab. “Taxpayers aren’t talking about it, reporters aren’t talking about it, and even governors are not talking about it.”

Lab locations include Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., California, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and now Texas. The policy lab in Colorado helped state officials understand how school mobility causes youth in foster care to drop out of high school at rates much higher than their peers. In Michigan, the Youth Policy Lab examined whether there was a relationship between a child’s academic performance and having been reported as a victim of child abuse or neglect.

Spokespersons at Rice University and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation would not yet comment on the types of projects Texas Policy Lab might undertake in partnership with the state’s youth-serving agencies.

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