Feds call for applicants for second round of community-centered education grants listen07/14/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The fact that school systems across the country face a dismal future as the economy continues to sag isnâ€™t exactly breaking news. As schools look for resources to help them address their communitiesâ€™ education needs, surrounding communities are often just as strapped for cash. On the whole this may not bode well for youth in disadvantaged areas, but The federal government wants to change that by awarding small grants to a handful of low income communities across the country â€“ though none in Florida have made the cut.
In developing the grant, the US Department of Education gets some inspiration from the Harlem Childrenâ€™s Zone. Thatâ€™s a program that incorporates healthcare for students and social services for parents into its educational model. In a conference call earlier this week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that placing the school in the center of an at-risk community and aligning local resources to address its needs will lead to success.
The federal Promise Neighborhoods grant is now in its second year. Last year, it awarded what officials call planning grants to 21 communities, out of an applicant pool of more than 300. Those grants had a maximum amount of $500,000, and the entire program was allotted about $10 million. The program will get $30 million this year, a fraction of the $250 million President Obama had initially wanted. This year, the program will still fund planning grants, but will also award a handful of communities that have already laid the groundwork. Jim Shelton is assistant secretary for innovation and improvement at DOE.
He said the department will favor applicants who seek a more comprehensive approach to education.
Shelton added that the eligibility criteria for the grant has been expanded to include a population thatâ€™s no stranger to snubs from the feds.
Grant recipients have to come up with matching funds of up to 50% of the federal grant amount, and they have to come from public-private partnerships. Despite the economic squeeze that currently dominates both sectors, Shelton said he thinks those who get the awards will figure out a way to come up with the match.
As for the question of whether a grant program that only benefits a handful of communities is really worth it, Shelton said itâ€™s more of a chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of this type of approach.
Larkin Tackett is deputy director of Promise Neighborhoods. He said in the year since the program launched, the grant money has already gone a long way.
Shelton said even the communities that applied for but didnâ€™t get the grant have seen positive changes.
He said one of DOEâ€™s big questions is whether the grants can be sustained in the long term.
Last year, nine Florida community groups applied for the grant, including one in Tampaâ€™s Sulphur Springs neighborhood. Not one Florida applicant was awarded a grant.