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Empowerment-Zone Proposals Prominently Feature Education

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Washington

Education and children's services figure strongly in the plans of cities and rural areas tapped to receive a massive dose of economic-development aid under the new federal empowerment-zone program.

The program, enacted in 1993, represents a major push by the Clinton Administration to breathe new life into depressed areas by blending social-services aid, tax incentives for businesses and workers, and better coordination of federal resources.

The application process brought citizens from all sectors of their communities together to chart their own plans for solving local problems. (See Education Week, 09/21/94.)

"I was surprised how strong and how consistent the message was that we must use those funds for education," said Donna Cooper, the executive director of the mayor's office of community services in Philadelphia, which won a joint award with Camden, N.J.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore notified officials in six urban and three rural areas last month that they had won the intense competition for empowerment-zone status.

The awards will bring $100 million each in social-services block grants to the urban zones and $40 million each to the rural zones, plus a lucrative package of tax benefits, housing aid, and business incentives.

Besides Philadelphia and Camden, the urban zones include Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and New York City. The rural zones are in the Kentucky Highlands, the Mid-Delta region of Mississippi, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

The Administration also awarded a total of $215 million in economic-development grants to two "urban supplemental zones"--Los Angeles and Cleveland--that fell just short of making the top cut.

Another 61 urban areas and 30 rural areas chosen as "enterprise communities" will get $3 million each in social-services aid. Boston, Houston, Oakland, Calif., and a joint application for Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., won slots as "enhanced enterprise communities" and will pick up $25 million each.

The program is being administered jointly by the Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture departments under the supervision of a Community Enterprise Board headed by Vice President Gore.

Work and Family Links

Plans submitted by many of the winners include links to school reform and call for improved job-training, adult-education, and early-childhood programs, as well as an emphasis on school-based services.

Mayor Arnold Webster of Camden, a former school superintendent, said he helped lay plans for a model K-8 "family school" in his zone that will offer a developmental curriculum, a training institute for teachers, and classes, clinics, and social services for families.

Phildadelphia's plans also include expanded family centers in schools and neighborhood councils to push for more early-childhood and kindergarten programs, smaller classes, and culturally sensitive curricula.

Baltimore's plans call for extensive efforts in schools and nontraditional education programs to serve young adults "alienated from the current structure and curriculum," said Michael Seipp, the executive director of the Historic East Baltimore Coalition.

As in other cities, the plan also includes child-care training and expanded early-childhood programs to boost school readiness and free parents for training and work. Baltimore's plans also include a teacher- and parent-training academy, school-based community centers, and help from business leaders in school budgeting.

In Detroit, the plan includes an environmental-learning center on the site of a former General Motors Corporation plant.

Rural zones focus heavily on latchkey and Head Start programs, vocational training, adult literacy, and better access to technology.

"None of this is really innovative; what these people are looking for is just basic help," said Edward Koplan, the executive director of the Weslaco Development Committee in Texas's Rio Grande Valley.

"There are people who have heard promises before and are skeptical," said Harry Bowie, the chairman of the Mid-Delta Empowerment Zone Alliance in Mississippi. "But by and large there's an atmosphere of excitement and a sense of the possible."

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