Community Education Surviving, but Seeking Broader Support
Atlanta--Community education's growth may have been halted by the elimination last year of categorical federal funds, but most states have managed to retain existing programs, according to delegates to the National Community Education Association meeting here this month.
"Our very informal survey of states showed that about two-thirds of them still have at least one staff person at the state-education-agency level with responsibilities for community education," said Laura Karl, a program specialist for the U.S. Education Department. "Very few states have lost their community-education programs entirely."
Advocates of the community-education concept who gathered here for the 17th annual meeting of the organization suggested that the withdrawal of federal support came at the time when the field was on the verge of winning wider acceptance among educators in the schools.
After a decade of disagreement over whether "linkages" between schools and their surrounding communities are peripheral or central to education's mission, teachers and officials were beginning to agree, the community educators said, that schools must broaden their goals to include community involvement.
Ironically, they noted, the economic retrenchment that has forced school leaders to become more sensitive to the need for community support has also forced community educators to turn their attention to funding rather than new ideas for school-community partnerships.
A seminar on "A New Model for Community Education Funding" was so popular that the overflow audience spilled out of the meeting room and into the hallway. It focused on how to find new sources of support, a problem for community educators since the passage last year of the Omnibus Education Reconciliation Act, which folded community education, along with 30 other small programs, into block grants to states and school districts.
Federal funding for community education had reached a high of $4 million in 1980. Now, it has no line item in the budget; program funding is at the discretion of state and local school authorities.
Directors of community-education programs are increasingly looking for private support. Representatives of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which has made several large grants to community-education programs, were engaged in continuous conversations with delegates between sessions.
Also on the program were sessions addressing the convention's theme, "Responding to Crisis."
"Crisis, in this case, doesn't mean the funding problems we are facing right now so much as the major issues that the world faces and that we are going to have to deal with as a community," commented Stephen Parson, program chairman.
"Community educators are a little bit sensitive to the idea that they are solely interested in the old avocational topics like woodworking and basket weaving," Mr. Parson said, citing conference sessions on hunger, energy conservation, unemployment, and discrimination.