Community school advocates back more funding but demand fixes for program flaws

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

Proponents of the community school movement want lawmakers to invest more in the seven-year state initiative to bring essential services to thousands of schools in low-income areas, but they say “flaws” in the program’s launch should be fixed in the next round of funding.

United Ways of California, along with other community school advocates, said districts that are understaffed are struggling to meet the tight deadline for the first round of grants and may also struggle to meet the application deadline. fall for the next series. Advocates said some districts weren’t getting enough information and guidance on how to run community schools and qualifications may have been too rigid in the first round – disregarding the special circumstances of some rural districts .

Still, advocates fully support Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to add $1.5 billion from the Budget 2022-23 to extend the program. It was launched with $3 billion from the current year budget approved last year.

The Legislature’s 2022-23 budget proposal cut the program along with some of Newsom’s other proposals to add $4.5 billion to the local control funding formula.

“Community schools can be transformative,” United Ways of California President and CEO Pete Manzo said in an interview with EdSource. “We are totally in favor of the money in the proposed budget, but share a concern about how the program has been rolled out.” The association is the State Section of the National Poverty Advocacy Group.

The legislature passed a reserved budget Monday and will continue to to negotiate with Newsom on details before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. Shadow budget did not include Newsom’s $1.5 billion proposal increase funding for community schools.

Malia Vella, deputy superintendent of public instruction, told EdSource that the state anticipated that some districts would not have been able to meet the application deadline for the first round of grants, and that is why the program offers two rounds of planning grants and three rounds of implementation grants. Planning grants total $200,000 over two years for district schools, charters and county offices of education to establish community school frameworks. Implementation grants are for existing community schools over five years and range from $712,500 to $2.375 million depending on the size of the school.

Districts and charter schools will be required to contribute an additional third as a match for state grants.

Kendra Fehrer, research director for the Community Schools Learning Exchange, an organization that helps schools implement community school programs, said many schools that would qualify for community school grants are overwhelmed this year and ” simply don’t have the bandwidth” to go through the application process – especially in a limited time frame. The request for planning grant applications was released on February 28 and was due April 1, and the application for implementation grant applications was released on March 10 and was due April 11.

“When there’s such a tight turnaround when schools are at very low capacity, which districts can take advantage of this program?” Fehrer said. “It’s the districts that have greater capacity, that have a grant writer, that have economies of scale that they can do this, or they have the resources.”

Fehrer said the California Department of Education should consider simplifying the application process for districts and be clearer about timelines. Fehrer urged the department to reach out to schools for feedback to better understand how equitable the rollout of the program has been.

Another California Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, Steve Zimmer, told the May 18 Meeting of the National Board of Education where the first round of grants was approved, that “urgency and compressed timing” were unavoidable for the first round. With more time to prepare for the next cycle, Zimmer said, the department plans to “actively listen” to stakeholders to learn how it can better engage districts that aren’t already “in the know” about community schools.

“We think we haven’t reached everyone, and we disagree with that,” Zimmer said.

Manzo, the CEO of United Way, in an April letter to members of the state Assembly, urged the state to delay sending out the request for applications for the next round of grants until that the department can obtain these comments.

Manzo also calls for the program to have a “more explicit connection” linking K-12 and early childhood education programs like transitional kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. The State Law which established the Community Schools Partnership Program requires the state to prioritize grant applicants who commit to providing early childhood care and education for children from birth to age 5 under their program.

“We want to see that early integration,” Manzo said. “Orientation alone is not enough. We want specific measures for early childhood education. What gets measured gets done.

Grant applicants who commit to adopting strategies to address childhood trauma are also prioritized in the process. Manzo is concerned, however, that the state has not provided enough guidance on how to proceed.

Districts should also be required to partner with community organizations, Manzo said, and community organizations, like Centraide, should be able to apply as a lead organization – especially for districts that are too overburdened to apply for funding.

Because the grant program is funded by Proposition 98, only schools, districts and other local education agencies can receive the money, a State Board of Education spokesperson said. Allowing community organizations to be primary agencies would require a change in state law.

The $3 billion grant includes $166 million to fund a network of regional technical assistance centers. United Way of California and the Orange County Office of Education applied to be the lead agency, but the state board awarded the $20 million to the Alameda County Office of Education and at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Beware of rural communities

Julie Boesch, superintendent of the Maple Elementary School District in West Kern County, worried that the rigid qualification rules for the first round of grants were leaving out small, rural districts that are also working to expand their community service offerings.

In 2018, Maple joined with neighboring small rural districts to form the West Kern Consortium to receive funding from a federal community school grant program. Since then, the consortium has pooled resources and split costs to provide social services and mental health resources in schools, hire a shared math coach, and launch other programs that Boesch says have seen a surge. measurable success.

But the consortium now illustrates a problem that proponents say needs to be addressed. All six schools in the consortium applied for implementation grants, but Maple – the “anchor” of the consortium – was the only one denied. That’s because only 55% of Maple’s 300 students were considered low-income; the first round of grants was reserved for schools with 80% or more low-income students, or small rural schools with 70% or more low-income students.

The law establishing the Community Schools Program gives priority to schools that serve 80% or more low-income students. Judging by demand from schools that didn’t meet the criteria in the first round, Vella said it would be “very difficult to drop below the 80% prioritization threshold in future rounds” without the 1.5 billion. additional dollars proposed by Newsom.

The CDE encourages schools and districts that did not qualify for the first round of funding to apply for future rounds, Pete Callas, director of the Career and Academic Transition Division, said at the meeting of the May 18.

Because the consortium schools are pooling their resources, the state’s denial of Maple’s request for a total of nearly $1.2 million over five years impacts all six schools, Boesch said.

“It doesn’t just hurt my students, it hurts all the students in the consortium,” she said.

Boesch thinks the state should have looked at the “big picture” instead of looking at just one thing – especially after all the work that has been done to bring the community school model to the region over the years. of the last five years. She plans to apply for the next round of grants.

“The work will continue, but it will be impacted,” Boesch said.

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