More than two years ago, President Barack Obama pledged to scale up the Harlem Children's Zone's model of pairing education with health and other community services. Now that idea is finally bearing fruit: Five communities are getting up to $6 million each implementation grants to create new Promise Neighborhoods under the federal program of that name.
The winners, announced by the U.S. Department of Education today, are:
—Westminister Foundation. of Buffalo, N.Y.; which got $1.49 million
— Berea College in Berea, Kentucky which will work with Clay, Jackson, and Owsley counties in that state; which got nearly $6 million
—United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County in San Antonio, Texas, which got $4.3 million
—California State University - East Bay in Hayward, Calif., which got nearly $4 million
— Northside Academy, in Minneapolis. which got $5.6 million
Most of these organizations—with the exception of Northside Academy— got Promise Neighborhood planning grants from the department last year to do local needs assesments and think through how best to help their communities.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on a conference call with reporters that he and the president share a "powerful, personal, and permanent commitment" to the work of the program, which he said is "especially important for children living in struggling communities and surrounded by poverty."
The planning money can help give an organization a leg up in the competition for a full-fledged implementation grant, which is money to create an actual Promise Neighborhood. But there's no guarantee; 21 communities got planning grants last year, and most of them didn't secure an implementation grant.
The department also gave money to 15 new communities for planning grants. They are: the Mission Economic Development Agency, in San Francisco; Reading and Beyond, in Fresno, Calif.; Mercer University, in Macon, Ga.; Community Action Project, of Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla.; the Elmezzi Foundation, in New York City; South Bay Community Services, in Chula Vista, Calif.; Black Family Development, in Detroit, Mich.; Children Youth and Family Services, in Charlottesville, Va.; CAMBA, in New York; SGA Youth and Family Services, in Chicago; Ohio University, in Glouster, Ohio; Meriden Children's First, in Meriden, Conn.; Martha O'Bryan Center, in Nashville, Tenn.; Catholic Charities of Albany, in Hudson, N.Y.); and Campo Band of Mission Indians, in Campo, Calif.
Most of the planning grants were for roughly $500,000, although one, for the Campo Board of Indians, was much smaller, at just $168,000. (That group had the lowest rating among the winning programs, so perhaps the department did not have the resources to give it a full grant, but wanted to make sure the group got some funds for planning.)
The Promise Neighborhood program has drawn a lot of interest from non-profits and higher education institutions, receiving more than 200 applicants this year. And it was one of a handful of winners in the most recent congressional spending bill, for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. It got $60 million, double its previous budget.
But it's also faced some pushback. A House Republican spending bill would have scrapped the program entirely. And U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., tried to remove language creating the program out of a bill renewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was approved by the Senate education committee in October. Kirk didn't like the structure of the program—he said most of the money had gone to planning and not to actually create new communities.