$6.6M grant from Arnold Foundation to fund Texas Policy Lab at Rice U.

Rice University’s School of Social Sciences will launch an effort this fall to work side by side with Texas’ officeholders and state agencies to solve some of the state’s most pressing problems. The Texas Policy Lab, which is supported by a $6.6 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), will use cutting-edge research and analysis to offer measurable solutions for policymakers.

Texas State Capitol Building in Austin, TX.

Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.

Social Sciences Dean Antonio Merlo said the lab will provide the executive and legislative branches of the Texas government with information and evaluation results on an ongoing basis. The Texas Policy Lab is part of a multimillion-dollar national initiative funded by LJAF that is bringing together data experts, social scientists and state officials to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public programs.

“The demand for evidence-based policy is steadily rising on national, state and local levels,” Merlo said. “The ultimate goal of the Texas Policy Lab is to change how policy is developed, implemented and evaluated. By providing rigorous, unbiased, timely, evidence-based research to key government players in the policymaking process, the lab will have a broad impact and better the lives of every Texan.”

Rice President David Leebron said the new lab will elevate Rice’s research mission and extend the university’s impact at the state and national level.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation for their visionary support of the Texas Policy Lab,” Leebron said. “This will undoubtedly become one of Texas’ preeminent organizations for supporting evidence-based policy decisions in the state, and have an impact across the nation. It strongly complements the new social policy analysis program in both undergraduate and graduate education.”

The policy lab’s goal is to increase the adoption of effective social policies, improve Texas state and local governments’ capacity to use scientific evidence and technology in policymaking, and train future and current leaders to be critical evaluators, savvy stewards of public funds and drivers of solutions. The policy lab’s professional staff and affiliated faculty have significant expertise in evaluating programs related to criminal justice, housing, early childhood development, military veterans and preventative services directed at families, mothers and children.

“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 out of poverty,” said LJAF President and Chief Executive Officer Kelli Rhee. “We want to bring together the best researchers in the country with public officials to unlock the power of that data and use it to make real progress on these problems.”

Texas will join a cross-country network of labs with affiliates in California, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., that are studying youth employment, recidivism, homelessness prevention, policing, degree accreditation and other issues. The network affiliates have launched about 150 research projects leading to shifts in government spending and bipartisan legislative action.

In the past year alone, these teams helped Colorado officials uncover why foster care youth dropped out of high school at much higher rates than their peers. They tested ways to reduce jail overcrowding in California. And they conducted a seminal study evaluating the impact of school suspensions on academic performance, which led Texas to ban the practice for non-violent offenses from prekindergarten through second grade.

Ekim Cem Muyan will serve as executive director of the Texas Policy Lab. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and most recently worked as an associate at Cornerstone Research, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., that provides economic and financial analysis in all phases of commercial litigation and regulatory proceedings.

The lab’s faculty affiliates will come from Rice’s School of Social Sciences and other Texas universities and institutions, representing a broad range of fields. Selection of affiliates will be made by the lab’s advisory board and based on expertise and qualifications.

Complementing the work of the policy lab, the School of Social Sciences is launching a first-of-its-kind program that includes an undergraduate major and a professional master’s degree on social policy evaluation to prepare future leaders for careers in policy analysis and public service.

“These new degree offerings, in conjunction with the lab’s research opportunities, will provide unparalleled training for future leaders,” Merlo said. “With the increased demand for evidence-based policy comes a growing need for public and nonprofit leaders who possess the ability to gather, analyze and interpret evidence.”

Elevation of Rice’s research achievement and reputation and extending the university’s reach and impact are goals of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade (V2C2).

For more information on the Texas Policy Lab, visit https://www.texaspolicylab.org/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.