Hundreds of organizations are coming together to promote a unified national agenda for community partnerships that link schools and youth-development organizations.
The Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools, spearheaded by organizations involved in education, after-school programs, higher education, health, family strengthening and mentoring, is modeled in part on the Chicago Community Schools initiative. That effort, launched in 2001, promoted the idea that schools alone can’t fully help the most disadvantaged kids, who also need health, developmental and enrichment services that are best provided by community-based organizations.
The Coalition for Community Schools is endorsed by the Afterschool Alliance, America’s Promise Alliance, the Forum for Youth Investment, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care, among others.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to create something that’s flexible, which creates incentives for communities to bring together the resources that already exist in a more coherent way,” said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership.
To do that, the organizations must agree to sing from the same songbook when approaching legislators and policy-makers, which is no easy feat. Blank hopes that by the first of the year, the coalition will have developed a “framework” that can be used in advocacy for community schools.
Coalition members also will hold meetings around the country about how to form school-community partnerships at the grass roots.
Can these groups set aside parochial concerns in the interests of the larger goal? “I don’t see why not,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. Enhancing youths’ skills and positive development is vital for them to succeed, especially in this “tough economy,” which creates a “big consensus” to “come together with common messages,” she said.
On the federal level, Blank said, the coalition will work to get the school-community concept into the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to win additional appropriations to expand funding for these programs locally.
The U.S. Department of Education provided nearly $4.6 million for Full-Service Community Schools this year. Applicants had to draw on scientifically based research that established or expanded schools in coordination with community-based organizations with strengths in early childhood education, literacy, mentoring, youth development, mental health, community service and other areas. This summer, 10 received grants averaging $459,000 each.
Blank said other legislation that would advance this agenda includes the Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged Act (S. 1302) and the We Care Act (H.R. 3762).
But the emphasis won’t be on crafting a slew of different federal programs, which Blank said encourages a money chase. “Ideally,” he said, “we would create a large enough pool to create strong incentives for partnership that could be sustained over time.”
Contact: Coalition for Community Schools (202) 822-8405, http://www.communityschools.org.