By: David Greenberg and Dr. Linh Dang
The challenges we face in today’s educational landscape rarely have simple political solutions. The youth mental health crisis, insufficient community and family engagement, and lack of access to early childhood learning are just a few of the complex issues that require innovative strategies that span across- beyond the school walls. Thanks to recent investments at the federal and state levels, thousands of public schools are transforming into hubs that facilitate community-wide collaboration on these and other challenges by embracing a “community school” framework.
Community schools should not be confused with traditional neighborhood schools. The Community School Model provides a mechanism for schools and communities to co-create a plan that responds to the unique priorities and vision of the local community. In many places, this means linking classroom instruction to local issues to provide a real-world learning experience for students. Community schools develop strategic partnerships to support a range of services, such as early childhood education, mental health support, school tutoring, before and after school programs, mentoring, healthy meals and more again to support students and communities from cradle to career. Community schools create space for families, students, and community members to have a voice in decision-making, recognizing that education is a shared responsibility.
Success based on evidence
Research shows a strong evidence base for community schools, including a RAND study conducted in New York that demonstrated improved attendance and student achievement. A Albuquerque study shows $7 return on investment for every dollar invested in the salary of a full-time community school coordinator. Community school research will continue to grow and strengthen practice as the model proliferates. Individual states have invested billions to develop community schools. At the federal level, the Full-Service Community School Grant Program (FSCS) awarded its highest number of awards last year, providing 42 schools, districts, local consortia and states with funding to expand the community schools strategy to reach more students, families and neighborhoods . This year, the federal government has allocated $150 million – the highest amount ever – to continue to increase impact and reach more students.
A Closer Look at Community Schools
The stories of the community schools strategy transforming public education are many and grow in various contextsfrom rural to urban, elementary to high school, and from statewide to local implementation.
In Kentucky, federal community school grant funds expand the state’s Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs). This innovative model is one of the largest school-based family support initiatives in the country. FRYSCs are located at more than 800 Kentucky school sites where they help remove barriers to student learning as well as support after-school care, family education, literacy services, and referrals. health matter. The model has contributed to Kentucky having one of the smallest gaps between low-income students and the general student population in the nation.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, FSCS funding is helping to bring together four Southeast Alaska school districts with tribes, private sector entities and nonprofit organizations to implement comprehensive systems that strengthen the cultural identity of students and families and support social and emotional learning in and out of the classroom. In other parts of the country, FSCS grants expand community schools into middle and high schools so that students who benefited from them in elementary school, such as Enos Garcia Elementary School in Taos, New Mexicocan continue to enjoy benefits when transitioning to schools.
Current Funding Opportunities
Schools, LEAs and communities interested in the Community Schools Strategy have several funding streams. The Federal Full-Service Community Schools Competition for FY 2023, which provides $73.8 million in new funding for community schools across the country, was launched on June 7. Potential beneficiaries will have until August 8e to submit an application. Details of the grant competition, as well as webinars to support applicants, can be found here on the Full-Service Community School Grant Competition website.
In addition to the federal grant program, LEAs and schools can leverage a range of title funds and pandemic relief funds to launch community schools, and last January, the The White House released a toolkit to help leverage a variety of federal resources for community school development and sustainability. The Community School Advancement Task Force has also produced a budgeting tool.
At a time when our national challenges seem so complex, the way forward for public education seems clear – let’s invest deeper in the wisdom of local communities through proven frameworks like community schools. The first step is to assemble a team of students, staff, families and community members to learn more about the community schools strategy.
David Greenberg is a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association and focuses on community school implementation. He co-directs the NEA Community School Implementation Institute and co-directs the California Community Schools State Transformational Assistance Center, and previously served as executive director of the NEA-New Mexico Center for Community Schools.
Dr. Linh Dang is a Senior Policy Specialist with the National Education Association’s Center for Education Policy and Implementation. His portfolio covers policies and programs related to a wide range of public school options. She was previously an adjunct professor of educational research, a state legislative staff member, and a teacher leader in the San Francisco Unified School District.