Last week we were proud to join Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to announce the 21 Promise Neighborhoods planning grantees. The event in our nation’s capital was a great opportunity not only to publicly recognize the first cohort of Promise Neighborhoods, but also to acknowledge the efforts of all communities across the country engaged in the important work of building great schools and strong support systems for children and youth.
While we took time to congratulate the organizations receiving grants, we also recognized that these grantees are representative of a much broader movement of communities committed to Promise Neighborhoods approach. From the west in California, to the north to Minnesota, east to Massachusetts, and south to Mississippi, an analysis of the initial group of Promise Neighborhoods reflects the tremendous need and great potential of all the communities that applied for planning grants.
In large urban areas, mid-size cities, and rural towns, children in 21 Promise Neighborhoods face significant barriers to getting a great education. For example, in one neighborhood, residents require five times the rate of health services as the rest of the city. In another neighborhood, one in five children has an incarcerated parent. In another, a study found that only three percent of high school students are college eligible.
These statistics are not unique to Promise Neighborhoods grantees. In fact, they are just a sample of the challenges facing every community that applied for a planning grant, and the hundreds of others engaged in this movement.
Similarly, the grantees reflect the broader field of nonprofits, colleges, and universities that are working with districts and communities to turn around our country’s most persistently low-performing schools. Many of these organizations have strong leaders with years of experience and a clear and compelling vision for improving their communities. They are building new partnerships and sustaining existing collaborations, and continuing to break down silos between agencies and programs at the local level so that no child falls through the cracks.
The nearly $7 million in matching funds secured by the 21 grantees, which includes $2.3 million in contributions from foundations, businesses, and individuals, is only a small amount of the total funds committed to the more than 300 Promise Neighborhoods applicants.
In the next several weeks, we will post selected information about high‐scoring applications on our website. We encourage the supporters of these applications and all communities engaged in this work to maintain their commitments. There is a tremendous opportunity to fill the gap between the number of quality Promise Neighborhoods proposals and the limited planning grant funds available from the Department of Education to support those proposals.
In fact, some of the support for Promise Neighborhoods comes from other Federal agencies, which are doing their part to break down “silos” inside the Beltway. We were so encouraged to be joined at the announcement by Melody Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. We also recognize the commitment and leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder. These leaders are not only supportive of the Promise Neighborhoods movement, but they are finding ways to align their assets with the program.
Whether or not a community applied for or received a planning grant this year, the Department of Education adds our voice to the chorus of supporters encouraging all communities to continue their efforts in this vein:
- Build comprehensive plans to ensure each child in your community has the continuum of support they need to be successful from birth through college and career. Follow through on the partnerships required to deliver these plans and ultimately implement your community-based solutions.
- Design models to provide new or expand highly-effective early learning opportunities, after-school and summer programs, and approaches to ensuring the health and safety of each child.
- Identify research-based programs where possible and prepare to rigorously evaluate the promising but unproven elements of your plans.
- Create clear metrics to determine whether progress is being made and use data to make decisions.
- Work to “braid” public and private funding to ensure the sustainability of projects.
Most importantly, we encourage communities to continue to put providing high quality schools and other educational options at the center of their work.
As this movement grows, the innovative and comprehensive approach of Promise Neighborhoods will blaze the path to improving the lives and life outcomes of children and youth in distressed communities throughout our country.
Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary, US Department of Education
Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director, Promise Neighborhoods