NewDEAL Announces Winners in National Ideas Challenge

News Category: News Posts

For Immediate Release:                                                    

November 7, 2023                                                        

Contact: Jonathon Dworkin, 202-660-1340 x5,

NewDEAL Announces Winners in National Ideas Challenge

State and local leaders recognized for transformative policy ideas that expand opportunity and strengthen democracy.

Washington, DC – NewDEAL has announced four winners in the 2023 National Ideas Challenge, a competition among rising and innovative state and local policymakers to propose the most effective solutions on an array of issues. Nationally-recognized policy experts serve as judges for proposals that best improve Americans’ well-being and overall quality of life, and that make government work more effectively to meet communities’ needs.

From nearly 80 entries, the judges (listed below) initially narrowed the field to 20 finalists, and selected these winners:

“I am blown away by this year’s competition entries, and especially these winners,” said Debbie Cox Bultan, CEO of NewDEAL. “The winning ideas, together, highlight a foundational principle of NewDEAL Leaders: fighting every day for policies that help Americans to thrive no matter where they come from or what ZIP code they live in. All the ideas submitted show leaders working relentlessly to improve the life of every American. At a time when there is much focus on problems and division in our politics, NewDEALers like Secretary Toulouse Oliver, Representatives Bynum and Olaleye, and Mayor Stoney fill me with hope and optimism as they work to deliver positive results for their constituents.”

The 2023 Ideas Challenge winning ideas:

Effective Use of Federal Funds Winner:

  • Janelle Bynum, Oregon state Representative, won for her Leveraging Federal CHIPS Funding & Creating a Diverse STEM Workforce program. To directly address the gender, social, and racial gaps in STEM education and careers, Bynum advocated for two new grant programs focused on leveraging federal CHIPS funding to build a diverse workforce for the future. These grants go above and beyond what other states are doing and will work to ensure that the lucrative semiconductor careers of the future are more equitably distributed and incorporate individuals who are often left out of economic development. Bynum emphasizes that, especially considering the Supreme Court's recent decision on affirmative action, investing in students who will attend HBCUs is more important than ever to address the STEM education and career gap.

    “My focus in the legislature continues to be closing the gap between talent and opportunity,” Bynum said. “We have brilliant kids across this state that, if they didn’t have the opportunity, they wouldn’t go as far as they could.” Bynym added that the most important thing the government can do “is give people agency and options, and not prescribe the rest of their lives based on where they were born, who they love, or what they look like.”

Creating Economic Opportunities and Lowering Costs for Families Winner:

  • Levar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond, won for his Richmond Pathways Program, an initiative to provide assistance to students to community college. With an initial investment of $1.7 million from the City of Richmond, the Richmond Pathways Program pilot program will cover the tuition of any Richmond Public School graduate to attend the local community college. The award will be paired with a monthly cash allowance, mentorship, and additional resources to open more pathways for students to access postsecondary institutions and achieve success. Students will be able to pursue instruction in career-specific or skilled-trades credentials in addition to earning credits to transfer to a four-year college.

    “I want to create ladders to opportunity – ladders to success – for so many of our children,” Stoney said. “And the Richmond Pathways program will help us eliminate barriers to college. We want the dreams of all these children unlocked with this Richmond Pathways program.”

Promoting Equality with a Focus on Underserved Communities Winner:

  • Phil Olaleye, Georgia state Representative, won for his Georgia Educational Opportunity Act, a bill to expand resources to low-income students. Georgia HB 668 introduces an "opportunity weight" to allocate additional resources for students in poverty. Georgia is one of only six states that does not allocate specific state funds to help educate students living in poverty. This initiative ensures schools can meet diverse educational needs, from rural transportation to mental health support and urban meal programs, striving to eliminate disparities and enhance education statewide. For example, schools in rural Georgia might use the funds to transport students to dual enrollment programs or provide Wi-Fi hotspots. Suburban schools might use the funds to enhance mental health counseling and increase after-school tutoring. And urban districts might use the funds to pay for school meal programs and provide critical wraparound services.

    “One of the reasons I ran for office was to stand up for Georgia children, especially those most under-resourced, most economically disadvantaged youth across the state, not just in my district,” said Olaleye. “When you live in a state where we have close to half a million children living in poverty, and those students aren’t receiving additional resources for academic recovery, for enrichment programming, for dual-enrollment transportation, for nutrition services, those stressors make it really difficult for those children and the school at large to be successful,” he added. “It’s past-due that we, as a state, put our children first.”

Protecting Democracy Winner:

  • Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico Secretary of State, won for her New Mexico Voting Rights Act and Election Infrastructure Bills, legislation she championed that was signed into law this year focused on voting rights and protecting elections. Her efforts focused on voting rights and election infrastructure, demonstrating that expanding ballot access while enhancing ballot integrity can happen simultaneously. The NM Voting Rights Act includes provisions to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals; strengthen New Mexico's automatic voter registration system; create a permanent absentee ballot list and expand the use of secure ballot drop-boxes; and enact the "Native American Voting Rights Act," a first of its kind in the entire country. The NAVRA portion of this bill protects ballot access for Indian, Tribal, and Pueblo communities throughout New Mexico by ensuring they have input on polling locations.

    A second bill (SB 180) brings New Mexico's election infrastructure further into the 21st century and allows candidates to pursue digital petition collection options, making this process more equitable and more aligned with campaign practices of today. It creates more layers of protection to ensure the integrity of absentee ballots and reflect the growing preference for absentee voting nationally. It also creates a more substantive process by which New Mexico's elections are audited to ensure accurate and reliable results, while also including provisions for local officials to verify and streamline those and related processes.

    “Our democracy is at its healthiest when we have the widest participation possible,” Toulouse Oliver said. “When I look around the country, and see some places where states are making it more difficult to cast a ballot, I looked for ways in New Mexico to make voting both easier and more secure at the same time.”

About the Ideas Challenge

The Ideas Challenge was open to the nearly 200 members of the NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders), a national network of rising state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives. A list of this year’s twenty finalists, and a brief description of their ideas, can be found here.

NewDEAL’s mission is to bring together leaders focused on expanding opportunity and to help them develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly-earned and sustainable. NewDEAL Leaders connect with each other, and with other pro-growth progressive political, policy, and private sector leaders, to achieve the group’s mission.

The winners of the 2023 Ideas Challenge are featured in GOVERNING, and will be recognized at the thirteenth annual NewDEAL Leaders Conference, November 15-17, in Washington, D.C.

NewDEAL would like to thank the following panel of judges for reviewing the Ideas Challenge submissions:

Kate Burns, Executive Director of the MetroLab Network

Frank DiGiammarino, Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton

Jorge Elorza, CEO of Democrats for Education Reform

Karen Freeman-Wilson, President & CEO of Chicago Urban League

Patrick Gaspard, President & CEO of the Center for American Progress

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, U.S. Representative (NH) & Chair of the New Democrat Coalition

Andi Phillips, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Maycomb Capital

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, President & CEO of Accelerator for America