One of the most important jobs Congress has is to ensure that our nation’s children have access to a quality education and the opportunities it brings. A strong education is critically important to secure a place in our middle class. However, we are not doing enough as a country to provide all of our children with the educational foundation they need to succeed. That’s why we joined together last week to introduce the Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2014, bipartisan legislation that would create a competitive-grant program to expand the number of full-service community schools around the country.
Full-service community schools provide support and resources to children and their families in order to encourage the future success of all students. Too often, students from low-income households don’t have the necessities that are critical to their success in the classroom, including proper nutrition and health care. As we learn more about the links between students’ health and well-being and their performance in reading and math, tackling the interrelated challenges of education, nutrition, and health care has become a top priority.
That challenge is what our bill aims to meet. Full-service community schools put education programs and health services, including nutrition, medical, dental, and counseling, together in one location, providing low-income families with a one-stop shop where they can access the services they need. Bringing these additional services into schools, which can also extend to job training and personal-finance workshops for parents, provides students with a better shot at success and parents with the tools they need to support their children’s learning. Additionally, these facilities stay open after normal school hours and offer weekend hours to increase family participation.
The children served by these schools have a greater chance of closing the achievement gap, succeeding in school, and graduating ready for college or a career.”
Our bill shows how Washington can work in a principled way to tackle a serious issue with innovative solutions. Under this legislation, grants would be offered to states seeking to support these schools through statewide education programming, as well as to local partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations. Recognizing that rural school districts often find themselves at a disadvantage when competing for funding, our bill features a separate funding stream for these communities.
Full-service community schools are already making a positive impact in many areas around the country, including in Maryland at the early-childhood level. One example is the Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Family Education Centers. This network of 27 full-service community schools across the state provides approximately 12,000 children and their families with year-round, full-day early education and a range of social services. We can already see the difference being made in Maryland: Program evaluations conducted by the state department of education found that children who used the services at Judy Centers performed better than those who didn’t when tested for kindergarten readiness.
In Peoria, Ill., three full-service community schools are administered through a partnership with the neighboring Bradley University as a pilot program for what could be achieved statewide at the K-12 level. States with large rural populations could benefit from aggregating services in one place to help families save time traveling long distances to access them. At the same time, urban and suburban areas with higher property costs could find savings by reducing the number of facilities necessary to house these services separately.
The benefits of full-service community schools are clear: This model results in a more efficient delivery of services and saves money. But, most important, the children served by these schools have a greater chance of closing the achievement gap, succeeding in school, and graduating ready for college or a career, according to numerous studies. Investments in full-service community schools are investments in a competitive workforce. Education for low-income children can help close the achievement gap while yielding dividends in the form of more graduates who will start small businesses and launch new startups as the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Over the coming weeks, we will be working to secure support from both Republicans and Democrats to pass the Full-Service Community Schools Act. Already, our bill has strong support in the education community, including from the Coalition for Community Schools, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education.
The challenge of the achievement gap cannot be solved at the state and local levels alone. By partnering the federal government with state education agencies, local school districts, and community-based organizations, we can help close that gap and make certain that every one of our students has the chance to access an education that can place him or her on the path to success.
A version of this article appeared in the August 06, 2014 edition of Education Week