President Biden has proposed urgently needed reforms to address poverty and income inequality and their effects on children. By expanding the Child Tax Credit (for this year only) in last spring’s American Rescue COVID-19 relief plan, Biden and Congress took a major step to reduce child poverty temporarily. As part of the federal budget reconciliation, Congress absolutely should include Biden’s proposal to extend the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. But Congress should also take care of another of the President’s plans that has not been as extensively reported: President Biden has proposed to increase funding for Full-Service Community Schools—from $30 million to $443 million.
Full-Service Community Schools provide wraparound services located inside the school building to address families needs at an easily accessible location. Here is what I was astounded to discover a decade ago when I visited New York City Public School 5, The Ellen Lurie School. This elementary school houses a medical clinic; a dental clinic; a mental health clinic; rooms filled with young children in Head Start and a brightly lit room filled with toddlers—some accompanied by their parents—in Early Head Start. We saw a classroom set up for evening English classes for parents and another classroom filled with commercial sewing machines for job training for parents. We observed an after school program serving well over a hundred children; some of the children were folk dancing while others were tending an enormous garden and others were cooking the vegetables they had grown in the garden. We talked with the Community School Director, who helped parents connect with other social services located outside the school and also patched together funding from Medicaid, Head Start, and the federal “21st Century Learning Centers” after school program, along with some philanthropic grants. Her responsibility was to work with the principal to coordinate the Community School services along with an excellent academic program.
Income inequality and poverty are overwhelming challenges for American families. In early September, for The Guardian, Ed Pilkington reported new data from the Russell Sage Foundation documenting economic inequality between white, African American, and Hispanic children in the United States: “In 2019, the median wealth level for a white family with children in the U.S. was $63,838. The same statistic for a Black family with children was $808. Hispanic families with kids fare little better. They have a median wealth of $3,175, which equates to 5 cents for every dollar of wealth in an equivalent white household… Wealth is calculated by aggregating a family’s assets and subtracting from it their debts. The median for white families largely consists of the value of the homes they own minus mortgages, with additional wealth coming from savings and inheritance. Among Black families homeownership is much less common, as are savings or inheritance, which collectively shrinks the median wealth to the paltry figure of $808.”
Families without resources need help locating assistance, and Full-Service Community Schools locate support for families right in the same building where the children are at school. The growth of Full-Service Community Schools is not merely an urban phenomenon. The Minnesota education writer, Sarah Lahm reports on the importance of a Community School in the Deer River School District, “a rural district serving approximately 900 students in the densely forested, lake-filled reaches of northern Minnesota,” where “the school district pulls kids in from the surrounding towns and covers more than 500 square miles…. Also, the school district is located within the Leech Lake Reservation, which is home to nearly 10,000 members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe…. Approximately one-third of Deer River’s student population is Native American…. More than two-thirds of the district’s K-12 students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines; 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless” and “almost 25 percent qualify for special education services.”
Earlier this month Lahm explored the role of a Full-Service Community School in inner-suburban Minneapolis—in Brooklyn Center rocked by the tragedy in April 2021 of the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer: “Offering assistance in a time of crisis is something full-service community schools may be especially equipped to do.” Programming supported by community partnerships helped bring the return of school engagement not only after Wright’s tragic death, but also after a year of disruption by the COVID pandemic: “Sizi Goyah, a high school math teacher in Brooklyn Center… is overflowing with enthusiasm these days. It’s summer, and students from Brooklyn Center Community Schools, where he teaches, have been spending their days outside, learning about drones and other hands-on science and technology topics. ‘They are seeing engineering coming to life,’ Goyah says happily, noting that the summer program he’s part of is a way to help students re-engage in learning after the disruptions caused by COVID-19 shutdowns. The summer school option has been brought to life with help from local partners that work alongside Brooklyn Center Community Schools, an approach that is standard practice for this suburban school district… This includes not only support for summer school courses but also a whole range of on-site and community based initiatives.”
U.S. News‘ Lauren Camera cites data documenting the effectiveness of Full-Service Community Schools: “Research shows that community schools have a wide range of positive impacts on students and throughout the community, from improving attendance, academic achievement and graduation rates, to reducing disciplinary actions and increasing the physical and mental health of students and their families. One analysis found that community schools yield up to $15 in social benefits for every dollar invested. And they’ve proven especially important for underserved students and their families….”
The President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation, Raymond Pierce celebrated Full-Service Community Schools in a commentary last week for Forbes Magazine: “President Biden’s budget request for the U.S. Department of Education includes an investment of $443 million to expand the Full-Service Community Schools program. That’s more than 10 times the amount invested in fiscal year 2021, and for good reason. In his testimony presenting the Department’s proposed budget, Education Secretary Cardona explained: ‘This program recognizes the role of schools as the centers of our communities and neighborhoods, and funds efforts to: identify and integrate the wide range of community-based resources needed to support students and their families, expand learning opportunities for students and parents alike, support collaborative leadership and practices, and promote the family and community engagement that can help ensure student success.'”