School & District Management

Priorities Outlined for Promise Neighborhoods

Amid budget uncertainty, proposal provides details for those seeking grants
By Michelle D. Anderson — March 22, 2011 4 min read
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Although funding for the Promise Neighborhoods initiative remains uncertain as Congress battles over the federal budget, U.S. Department of Education officials have proposed new rules that would cover its implementation, as well as the next round of planning grants.

The program is modeled after the Harlem’s Children’s Zone initiative in New York City, which provides wrap-around services to children and families in one of the city’s neediest neighborhoods.

The Obama administration is seeking $210 million in fiscal year 2011 to implement Promise Neighborhoods, aimed at the educational and developmental needs of children in high-need urban, rural, and Native American communities. The money for implementation grants would support initiatives boosting early-learning-to-college education, as well as health, safety, and family engagement efforts.

In September, 21 nonprofits and higher education institutions received planning grants of up to $500,000 after being chosen from among more than 300 applicants from 48 states and the District of Columbia. The planning grants, designed to help grantees determine and address community needs, were funded by the $10 million approved during fiscal year 2010.

But money to move beyond the planning stage remains uncertain amid the intense federal budget debate, even though U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, leader of the Senate education committee, said last year that $210 million won’t be enough to finance the program.

Among the newly proposed priorities for the program, each planning grant recipient would need to develop a feasible plan by conducting a comprehensive needs assessment and analysis of children and youth in a specific geographic location. Prospective implementation grantees would need to demonstrate sound plans and show that they could carry out those plans by building and strengthening community partnerships and by collecting data on indicators at least annually.

The proposed priorities also include plan requirements for rural and Native American communities and for those who seek to improve early learning networks, Internet connectivity, affordable housing, and access to the arts and humanities.

The Education Department is seeking comments on the proposal through April 11, and expects to release final grant applications by late spring.

Model Program

The Promise Neighborhoods program also is expected to work in tandem with other federal agencies, both in terms of educational goals and outcomes and to assure that scarce resources are used flexibly. Already, programs from two other departments are being integrated into Promise Neighborhoods. One is Choice Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that provides grants to distressed communities. The other is the Community Health Centers program, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

James H. Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement in the Department of Education, said the program would collaborate with other agencies and local public-private partnerships to find innovative ways to improve education and support communities if the program does not receive the amount of funding requested.

“Although we may not receive the level of funding which we had initially requested for Promise Neighborhoods in fiscal year 2011, this challenge presents an opportunity, for the federal government and the local public-private partnerships that have come together as a result of the Promise Neighborhoods program, to share best practices and resources,” Mr. Shelton said.

Sources of Support

Promise Neighborhoods is strongly linked to the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and will include a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program, formerly known as the Weed and Seed initiative.

The Byrne program is intended to encourage law enforcement, schools, social service agencies, and community organizations to work together to address public safety problems and their underlying causes, said Thomas Abt, chief of staff to Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.

The Justice Department, through the Byrne program collaboration, intends to provide supplemental funding for Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees who seek to fight crime by proposing plans that encompass prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry efforts.

The joint effort initially began in summer 2009 with the launch of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, said Mr. Abt.

“If funded by Congress, [the Criminal Justice Innovation program] will offer some Promise Neighborhoods awardees additional resources to pursue public safety strategies that can bolster educational outcomes while keeping kids safe,” Mr. Abt said.

Promise Neighborhoods and the Criminal Justice Innovation effort were among the first programs selected to participate in a White House initiative that seeks to better align federal programs in support of local neighborhood revitalization initiatives, Mr. Abt said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2011 edition of Education Week as Priorities Outlined for Promise Neighborhoods Program


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