Promise Neighborhood Funding at Stake in Congress Tuesday

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Supporters of the federal initiative to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) have been working to sway the funding decision of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, even while a new report says the famed HCZ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The subcommittee will consider whether to fund the Promise Neighborhood Initiative at the $210 million that President Barack Obama requested for fiscal 2011 – after a House Appropriations subcommittee voted early this month to cut that funding to $60 million.

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute organized an e-mail and phone campaign this week to the Senate subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education on behalf of the initiative, which will be considered as part of a larger federal budget mark-up. Hundreds of organizations signed a joint letter to Congressional leaders asking them to fund the projects at  Obama’s proposed amount.

Twenty cities are slated to be chosen to receive a total of $10 million to plan replications of HCZ. The 2011 money would be for implementation and additional planning grants.

The HCZ model includes charter schools and an array of social and community services, including out-of-school tutoring and enrichment;  access to social workers and counseling; healthy meals; recreation; and free medical, dental and mental?health services. Evaluations have hailed that holistic approach as a model for boosting the academic performance and behavior of low-income youth.

But those who want to cut the funding for the president’s nascent youth initiative got support from a report issued last week that says all those community supports don’t matter.

A report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, says the positive impacts of HCZ in New York are due almost solely to the HCZ charter schools that the youths attended. Thus, the program could be replicated for far less than the White House has sought.

The Brookings report – The Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education – examines data to compare the gains made by two groups of youths who were in one of HCZ’s charter schools: one that lived inside the HCZ’s geographic boundaries, and thus received a plethora of other social and community support, and another that lived outside the boundaries and supposedly did not receive those supports.

The Brookings report concluded that the gains were just about the same for each group, indicating that the out-of-school supports did virtually nothing. If that is true, it could devastate supporters of the HCZ approach, who’ve argued for funding in order to replicate the program’s c approach to education and youth development services. 

Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the HCZ, called the report “inaccurate and misleading.”

His written response said that “all of our public charter school students, regardless of where they live, have access to all of our services.”

It said the report erroneously treats the HCZ and its Promise Academy as one and the same, when HCZ is a “comprehensive place-based strategy that has a goal of working with all children that reside in our Zone,” regardless of where they attend school.

The Brookings report also states that students in HCZ’s charter schools do not perform exceptionally well compared with similar students in other charter schools in New York City.  “The HCZ Promise Academy is a middling New York City charter school,” the report concludes.

But Canada said the report looks at only one subset within a fraction of children served by one of HCZ’s schools.

The report authors responded to Canada’s criticisms in a subsequent blog posting, in which they said, “Our issue is not with the HCZ as a philanthropically supported endeavor to improve the lives of children in Harlem, but with the use of the HCZ as evidence that investments in wraparound support services and neighborhood improvements are a cost effective approach to increasing academic achievement.”

The Brookings report was written by Grover J. Whitehurst, an Education Department official in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and Brookings research analyst Michelle Croft.