Remember that petition calling for LeBron James to replace U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? That’s not happening.
But back in the real world, Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland have a plan to help schools follow in the footsteps of James’ I Promise School in the NBA superstar’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, that opened last month.
The Full-Service Community Schools in Distressed Communities Act would authorize $45 million in annual competitive federal grants to support various partnerships between schools and their surrounding communities. These partnerships could cover a variety of services both inside and outside the schools, for parents and other community members as well as students. Community schools focus on early-childhood education, health-care services, family literacy, and mentoring programs, among several potential outreach efforts. Thirty percent of the grants would be set aside for rural schools.
The LeBron James Family Foundation partnered with the Akron district to open the I Promise School, which focuses on STEM education as well as wrap-around services.
James is not mentioned by name in the bill. But Brown made it clear on Twitter Wednesday that the four-time Most Valuable Player Award winner was an inspiration for the legislation:
Unfortunately for our schools and our basketball teams, not every community has a LeBron James. Introducing a bill today with @ChrisVanHollen that would provide support & tools for other schools to expand the programs we know work for students, inside & outside of the classroom.
— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) August 22, 2018
In a statement Wednesday, Brown said the recent opioid addiction in his state also spurred him to write the bill, which would give a priority to schools in areas with high drug-overdose rates and high rates of drug-related deaths.
“We know the toll the addiction epidemic has taken on communities across our state—including on Ohio’s children. As we think about how best to fight this epidemic of opioid and other drug addiction, our schools have to be part of the solution,” Brown said. “LeBron James’ new I Promise school in Akron incorporates everything from free breakfast and lunch to job placement help for parents—things we know our students need to thrive.”
There’s been some debate about whether I Promise represents something revolutionary, setting aside the hype around the school, which is less than a month old.
If the term “full-service community schools” sounds familiar, that’s because there’s already a program with that name at the U.S. Department of Education that supports this kind of work. In fact, Congress increased its funding from $10 million in fiscal 2017 to $17.5 million in fiscal 2018, the current budget year. So it’s not as if Capitol Hill is hostile to this educational model, although getting $45 million in new cash for it is a pretty questionable proposition. (The Brown-Van Hollen legislation would amend Title IV of federal education law, which is different than the section that includes current funding for full-service community schools.)
Photo: Basketball star LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, on July 30. The school is supported by the LeBron James Family Foundation, and is run by the Akron Public Schools. (Phil Long/AP)