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Department Spells Out Rules for Promise Neighborhoods

Looking to create a version of the Harlem Children's Zone in your own backyard? Well, you're in luck—if your backyard happens to be a rural, urban, or tribal community.

The U.S. Department of Education just released the rules for the new Promise Neighborhood program, which is meant to help communities create schools that offer a range of support services, from health assistance for new moms all the way up to college counseling.

Some lawmakers are seeking to make sure the newly revamped version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act includes increased support services, but they are scratching their heads about just where the money is going to come from for all these new librarians, mentors, college counselors, and after-school program administrators.

The $10 million the new Promise Neighborhood program got for the current fiscal year is a very small start. The money will be used for up to 20 grants of $400,000 to $500,000 each. Applicants will be expected to focus their programs on preparing students for college or a career. Non-profit organizations, including faith-based organizations, as well as institutions of higher education, are eligible to apply.

Those grants sound pretty small, but that's because they aren't meant to finance an entire new Promise Neighborhood Community. They are one-year "planning" grants to help applicants pinpoint their communities' needs and figure out how to address them.

The department has asked Congress for $210 million in this year's budget request. If Congress comes through, it looks like some of that money could be used for "implementation" grants to help carry out the plan.

There's no guarantee that communities that win this first round of planning grants will actually get the implementation grants. But the department says that communities that have thought through the issues outlined in the grant application will have an edge in that competition (including those that didn't win or seek a planning grant).

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