This afternoon the Center for American Progress sponsored a forum to discuss the future of community schools reforms and school-community partnerships. Among the participants were former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, House of Representatives Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, and American Federation of Teacher president Randi Weingarten. The conversation centered around a reinvigorated effort to recreate America’s public schools as community schools, in particular those schools that serve lower-middle and lower income students. Forum participants agreed that the current model of public schools does not effectively serve large segments of American students. They called for a reconceptualization of public schools as community hubs; places where a community’s resources could be organized around student success.
Current legislative initiatives to support community schools reform include Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sen. Ben Nelson’s Full Service Community Schools Act, H.R. 3545 and S. 1655. This legislation proposes the authorization of $200 million per year over five years to provide grants for partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations. Additionally, the US Department of Education has requested $10 million for fiscal year 2010 to provide “Promise Neighborhoods” grants. These competitive 1-year awards would go to non-profit, community-based organizations “to support the development of plans for comprehensive neighborhood programs, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, designed to combat the effects of poverty and improve education and life outcomes for children, from birth through college” (US Department of Education, 2009).
Great Britain has led the way in reconceptualizing public schools as community schools. The UK is on track for all of its public schools to offer extended hours and provide extended services by 2010. The Obama administration, legislators, and teachers unions appear to be extremely supportive of efforts advance the community schools model in US public schools. The current legislative initiatives have the potential of providing incentives that can stimulate schools and communities to co-plan, coordinate, and collaborate; but it will be local schools and districts, families, and communities that determine whether or not the goals of these initiatives are achieved.