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New Federal Promise Zone Grants Include Two Rural Winners

Two rural communities are among five winners in a new federal Promise Zone grant program aimed at fighting poverty and creating jobs.

Eight Southeastern Kentucky counties and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma are the rural recipients. Other winners include San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Promize Zones are areas where the federal government will provide tax incentives and grants, and multiple federal departments—Housing and Urban Development; Education; Justice; and Agriculture—all are participants.

Promise Zones differ from the federal Promise Neighborhood program, which falls under the education department, focuses on education and involves large grants. Promise Zones won't get that same multi-million chunk of federal money, but they will receive priority funding through existing programs and extra help in applying for new funds, according to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Expanding education opportunities is one of the program's strategies to helping the broader community.

President Barack Obama announced the initiative during last year's State of the Union Address, and expanding educational opportunities is one of the ways the money will be used. He plans to talk about the effort at 2:20 p.m. ET, and you can watch his remarks here. Fifteen more Promise Zones will be created during the next three years.

Officials received 31 applications, with 12 of those coming from rural areas. In Kentucky, the education-related plans include: creating leadership and entrepreneur training for youth and industry-specific retraining for local workers; and, implementing college and career readiness programs for all high school students, as well expanding technical education programs, according to the White House. One of the counties that will benefit from the new Promise Zone program is Clay County, which already is receiving part of a $30 million federal Promise Neighborhood grant to improve education.

In Oklahoma, the tribe's proposed zone has a median income of $33,500, which is below the national average of $50,000, and 1 in 5 residents has less than a high school education, according to a story in The Oklahoman.

Its education-related plans include: improving workforce training for skilled trades; offering more rigorous summer and after-school programs; boosting education by working across the region's 85 school districts to share data, and bolster both early literacy and parent support programs, according to the White House

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