Up to six communities will get the chance to create a version of the Harlem Children’s Zone in their own backyards, now that the U.S. Department of Education has opened up the very first round of Promise Neighborhood implementation grants.
The grants will be $4 million to $6 million annually for three to five years, the department announced today.
That isn’t a lot of winners, especially when you consider that more than 300 communities threw their hats in the ring for one of the “planning” grants made available under the program last year. Just 21 communities ended up getting those grants, which were aimed at helping communities figure out what kind of wraparound services (pre-kindergarten, college counseling, health services, etc.) they needed to boost student achievement in their area.
It’s important to note that just because communities got planning grants, they’re not necessarily shoe-ins for the implementation grants. They’ll just have done the thinking needed to make themselves competitive.
The department will also give out 10 new “planning” grants this year.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves talking about the Promise Neighborhood program, particularly in answer to critics who say the department doesn’t do enough to provide schools with the kind of wraparound services that some see as vital to overcoming the impact of poverty and boosting student achievement. So why so few actual Promise Neighborhoods?
Well, the program has never actually gotten a whole lot of money. It got just $10 million in its first year (fiscal year 2010), and then got a little less than $30 million this year, even though President Obama had sought a big boost for the program, $250 million. Now, he’s asking for $150 million, and I’d be shocked if Congress came close to that.
So ... are four to six small programs really going to make a difference?
Jim Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement thinks so. He said the program “was always meant to be a demonstration program,” providing an example communities could learn from. And he said that many communities that don’t win grants are likely to proceed with the work, even without the federal backing.