Showcase your state's success
The CSG Southern Office recognizes that state employees work hard, not only to provide outstanding services, but also by striving to develop and adapt new and improved programs to make their states a better place to live and work. Such efforts should be recognized, and innovative ideas should be shared among colleagues.
For nearly 40 years, CSG has identified and promoted exceptional state government programs. Through the STAR award, the Southern Office recognizes impactful, creative, effective and transferable state government solutions. Innovative program submissions are accepted from a wide array of state agencies, departments and institutions operating within the executive, legislative and judicial governmental branches
Following an initial review process, five finalists are invited to present their program to the STAR Judges Panel — comprising state legislators, legislative staff and policy experts — who select two exceptional programs as models of efficiency and effectiveness in state governments in the Southern region.
- Creativity: Does the program represent a new and creative approach to solving common problems or issues?
- Impact: How far-reaching are the benefits and solutions of the program?
- Transferability: From a logistical and fiscal standpoint, could the program or practice easily be transferred to other states?
- Effectiveness: To what extent is the program successful at addressing an issue, and how efficiently does it operate?
This year’s deadline has passed. Thank you to everyone who applied.
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that pays any tuition and fees charged at community and technical colleges that are not covered by other sources of grant aid. These scholarship awards, on average, are approximately $1,000 per student. Each Tennessee Promise student is paired with a mentor – an adult in their community who can support them through the college and financial aid application processes. Each year, more than 9,000 volunteer mentors are recruited to support these students. To facilitate the recruitment and training of mentors, the state of Tennessee partners with three nonprofit organizations: tnAchieves, The Ayers Foundation and the Regional Economic Development Initiative.
Each year, approximately 17,000 recent high school graduates enter higher education as Tennessee Promise students. As a result, enrollment at community and technical colleges has increased by 25 and 20 percent, respectively, following program implementation. Since 2015, the state’s secondary educational attainment rate has increased from 36 percent to approximately 41 percent. Tennessee Promise students graduate on time at more than twice the rate of their non-Promise peers. Approximately 21 percent of the first cohort of Tennessee Promise students graduated on time from a community college, compared to only 9.5 percent of their non-Promise peers who entered a community college in that same year.
Arkansas Department of Education
K-12 Panic Button School Safety System
Arkansas's K-12 Panic Button School Safety System, established by the School Safety Act of 2015, was created to promote safety in the state's schools. To achieve the goals of the legislation, the state partnered with Rave Mobile Safety, a software company based in Massachusetts, to provide the Rave Panic Button mobile application to all public schools in Arkansas. A map of every school building and campus is available for download onto the cellular phones of each classroom teacher and other key personnel. The Panic Button mobile application has five options for activation in an emergency: fire, medical, police, active shooter and other. With the activation of the Panic Button, designated on-site personnel and local emergency responders are notified simultaneously.
In 2016, an active shooter incident at an Arkansas school led to a campus lockdown. After learning that a student had a gun on campus, a teacher immediately selected the active shooter option of the Panic Button app, which notified all key personnel and emergency responders. Within eight minutes of activating the app, law enforcement had the gun and student in custody with no injuries reported.
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Prioritizing Student Veterans
In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, to promote enrollment and degree completion by veterans in higher education, while also encouraging campuses to develop services and resources for student veterans. The primary components of the legislation include charging in-state tuition for veterans enrolling at public post-secondary education institutions and creating the VETS Campus Designation program to recognize public colleges and universities that demonstrate significant commitment to student veterans.
As of May 2017, 21 institutions in Tennessee have been recognized as VETS Campuses. Since their creation, the VETS Campus institutions have educated more than 8,000 veterans annually in Tennessee. In March 2017, the program was expanded to provide in-state tuition to veterans’ dependents and a new online tool was developed that allows veterans to see how their military occupational specialty equates to academic credit at Tennessee’s higher education institutions.
West Virginia Department of Education
Electronic Application Processing System
In 2015, the Department of Education (DOE) created the Electronic Application Processing System to provide a better way for teachers to obtain or renew a West Virginia teaching certification. The traditional process required teachers to know which of the 43 forms they needed to complete for their certification or renew and required DOE staff to collect multiple approval signatures from institutions of higher education. To standardize and streamline the process, DOE developed a secure online system that allowed applicants to complete certification and renewal forms online, submit them for approval, and process credit card payments through the West Virginia Treasurer’s Office. The system has reduced the time needed to process an application from weeks to days. Applicants now receive real-time status updates as their application traverses through the approval process. During the first year of the new system, more than 8,000 applications were submitted.
Virginia Department of Corrections, Division of Education
American Council on Education Accreditation Project
In order to reduce recidivism, the Virginia Department of Corrections, Division of Education (VDOC, DOE) offers career and technical education (CTE) courses to inmates. These courses are designed to provide inmates with the skills required to succeed in today’s workforce. ln 2014, the VDOC, DOE received college accreditation for five CTE courses through the American Council on Education (ACE). For more than 30 years, colleges and universities have trusted ACE to provide reliable course equivalency information to facilitate credit award decisions. Virginia is the only state in the nation to offer college accredited courses to its inmates. Research shows that ex-offenders who have acquired college credit while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates.
The ACE-accredited courses offered are business software applications, computer aided drafting, computer graphics and design, introduction to computers and print production. Upon release, ex-offenders may submit an accredited transcript to higher education institutions for potential transfer credit in a degree program. Based upon the initial success of the program, the VDOC, DOE plans to seek ACE accreditation for additional courses, including welding, HVAC, plumbing and masonry.
Virginia Department of Transportation and Department of Rail and Public Transportation
Smart Scale Program
In 2014, Virginia became the first state to pass legislation establishing a scored ranking system to evaluate transportation projects based on project outcomes and across modes with their Smart Scale program legislation, which established a statewide prioritization process for transportation projects that improve the efficiency of the commonwealth’s transportation network.
The Smart Scale legislation addressed concerns that the selection of transportation projects was based on politics, not objective data. Projects now are evaluated based on their benefits-relative costs, specifically the ease of congestion, improved accessibility to jobs, improved safety and economic development, transportation-efficient land use and impact on the environment.
In June 2016, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $1.7 billion in funding to build 163 transportation projects that were selected through the Smart Scale process. These projects are fully funded through all phases of project development and construction. The Virginia Department of Transportation has been working with other states that wish to replicate their success.
Georgia | Armstrong State University
Cyber Forensics Division
Cyber forensics labs retrieve deleted or corrupted data from digital devices such as computers, cell phones, tablets, and vehicle GPS. Due to the increased prevalence of cybercrime and digital evidence, however, most cyber forensic labs have backlogs of seven to 19 months, by which time criminal cases may be dismissed. In order to reduce this backlog, the Cyber Forensics Division at Armstrong State University opened its doors to state and federal law enforcement. All campus police are certified in digital forensics and, using the University’s three Forensic Evidence Recovery Devices, Cellebrite machine, and digital forensics software, the police examine evidence during uncommitted time. Relating this work to the University mission, the campus police also train students in the criminal justice program through internships. Using the same laboratory equipment, students learn how to retrieve digital evidence in a real-world setting through labwork modeled after actual cases. The Division has reduced Georgia’s cyber forensics backlog from seven to 12 months to 30 days or less, and has achieved high placement rates for its interns post-graduation.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Vital Records at DMV
In 2013, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation requiring a streamlined system for the retrieval of vital records by March 1, 2014. In response, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Health (VDH) integrated systems, controls, policies and procedures, and developed a web portal to connect the DMV customer service application with the VDH vital records application. Prior to the implementation of the Vital Records at DMV program, residents and Virginia natives had to go to the Division of Vital Records in Richmond to obtain copies of certificates of birth, death, marriage and divorce, or contact the Division to have the records mailed. To make these records more accessible, the DMV and VDH collaborated to offer print copies at any of the DMV’s 75 fixed locations and five mobile offices.
The availability of vital records at the DMV has been particularly useful to residents who need birth certificates required to obtain a driver’s license or state-issued identification, as they may now access all necessary documentation in one place, at one time. The DMV reports that 93 percent of its vital records transactions have been successful. The program’s creative use of the DMV’s service footprint improves state services while also reducing DMV wait times. In addition, the program has proven transferable across agencies—the DMV has partnered to offer similar services for Department of Transportation E-ZPass and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hunting licenses.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
In May 2012, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Department of Corrections (DOC) launched the DMV Connect program, an innovative, low-cost approach to reducing criminal recidivism rates in the commonwealth. The program was designed to smooth prisoners’ transition back into society by ensuring they have valid state identification upon release — a necessity for finding employment, opening a bank account, obtaining housing, and applying for benefits and services. The program has since expanded and the DMV now offers similar services to other populations of limited mobility, including the elderly and disabled.
This low-cost service provides immediate benefit to populations in need and long-term benefit to society. Recidivism rates in Virginia have dropped to their lowest levels on record. Although ongoing evaluation by the DMV and DOC will determine the exact effect the DMV Connect has on recidivism, the program has proven successful.
West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition
Feed to Achieve
Through the Feed to Achieve Act signed into law in April 2013, West Virginia’s Feed to Achieve program addresses the three-fold problem of food insecurity as it relates to child poverty, health and education. Implemented by the Office of Child Nutrition and building on existing state and federal nutrition programs, the Feed to Achieve program seeks to provide a minimum of two nutritious meals a day to schoolchildren in West Virginia by way of innovative meal delivery systems. The program also incorporates innovative funding mechanisms, including directed donations and targeted federal grants, that enable the program to operate with negligible administrative cost, providing children with free meals.
By building on existing state and federal nutrition programs and looking to the community for support, the Feed to Achieve program provides a creative and flexible solution to a multifaceted problem. While each community is able to shape their program to suit local resources and needs, continuous data collection and evaluation by the Office of Child Nutrition shows that the program has successfully increased availability of healthy meals to children statewide.
Kentucky Administrative Offices of the Courts
Veterans’ Connect Program
During its 2010 regular session, the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 377 and, in conjunction with the Administrative Offices of the Courts, established the Kentucky Veterans' Connect program. The program requires pretrial investigations and services to ask whether an individual has been in combat and, if so, provide contact information to services available for combat veterans. Vets are connected to a wide range of services available to veterans through the United States Veterans Administration, the state Department of Veterans Affairs and other sources.
The program only required amendment of the form used by Pretrial Services Officers during their initial interview; no additional equipment or software was needed. What was required was the willingness of the Pretrial Services Officers to do the extra work to identify and assist veterans. The Pretrial Services Officers' supervisors also conducted training for the new program online at no or minimal cost. Kentucky Pretrial Services Officers have displayed a willingness and enthusiasm to perform this service for those who have served our nation.
Virginia Department of Corrections
Step Down Program for Administrative Segregation
The Virginia Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Segregation Step Down program utilizes evidence-based practices (EBP) to provide a safe and secure way for offenders in Administrative Segregation to earn their return to the general population. The Virginia DOC is the first state correctional agency to apply the principles and practices of EBP research to an Administrative Segregation super-max prison population, and the program has significantly reduced the number of offenders in Administrative Segregation by 53 percent; increased safety by reducing prison incidents by 56 percent; and reduced staff stress and improved morale as evidenced by a decrease in use of sick leave.