Coalition for Community Schools - Because Every Child Deserves Every Chance

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Part Four: Case Studies of Scaling Up Community School Initiatives

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: Schools Enhancing Community Welfare


The story begins not with a grant, funder, educator, or elected official. The story begins with an individual who had an idea. Bert Berkley, a Kansas City–area business leader, believed that the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS)—a major funder of human services—needed to do better for Kansas City’s children and families. Berkley had the opportunity to put his belief into practice when Gary Stangler, then DSS director, encouraged Berkley to devise a reasonable alternative to traditional service delivery. Berkley struck upon a simple, powerful idea: form a citizen board committed to system reform by means of community engagement, collaboration, and broad participation.

It was unclear what would result from Berkley’s idea. The citizen group, called the Local Investment Commission (LINC), had no state statutory authority, no clear charter, no logic model, no data system, no web site, and no email. LINC, as Berkley later wrote in Giving Back: Connecting You, Business and Community, had the remarkable opportunity "to find its own way."

Initial organizational work began in 1992 with the hiring of Executive Director Gayle A. Hobbs, who set up shop in borrowed office space with a laptop computer, a card table, and lawn chairs. (She still leads the effort today.) The result is a neighborhood-based decision-making process that led to the restructuring of existing services targeted to low-income families. As Communications Director Brent Schondelmeyer states:

[LINC] was an outgrowth of community interest and not in response to a grant opportunity or anything like that. It was just people thinking or sitting around thinking, surely we can do better by our community.
 
The LINC commissioners—the board of directors—were recruited by Berkley based on nominations from the community. Out of concern that they would dominate discussions and the agenda, providers and elected officials could not sit on the board. LINC grew in spurts in response to a community need.

During the 1990s, LINC initially developed its organizational culture and community presence around welfare-to-work, which was the major federal domestic policy issue of the decade. LINC obtained federal waivers that it used to develop a community-based, community-designed welfare-to-work system. That effort, which drew significant national attention, unfolded before the 1996 adoption of landmark federal welfare reform and its promise to "end welfare as we know it." LINC continues its work in this arena.

At the same time, LINC recognized that any meaningful effort to improve community welfare would need to involve a significant presence within schools and therefore a partnership with school districts. LINC discussed the establishment and support of "school-based or school-linked" services. Hobbs said:

In order to get better results, we had to be able to touch families close to where they work, deliver services in the appropriate time, to be convenient or accessible, and also that, the focus to be on children. To help children you had to help the families, to get healthier families you had to have healthier neighborhoods.
 
The framework for LINC’s work as a "community schools" model gradually began to emerge in the early 1990s through an ongoing association with Martin Blank of the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, DC. Blank had helped LINC with its initial organizational development. As an intermediary, LINC carries out four critical functions: (1) engaging, convening, and supporting diverse groups and communities; (2) establishing quality standards and promoting accountability; (3) brokering and leveraging resources; and (4) promoting effective policy measures.

LINC worked with a handful of site coordinators who directed Caring Communities—LINC’s name for its community schools initiative. The coordinators had some flexible funds to spend on supportive services and were expected to organize site councils consisting of families, neighbors, and other interested parties. Much of LINC’s early work focused on providing school-based health services at selected high schools, with funding leveraged primarily from federal Medicaid dollars for administrative case management.

In 1999, LINC underwent a dramatic transformation. That year, the Kansas City School District, the region’s major urban school district, settled a long-running, expensive school desegregation case. A central feature of the court-supervised desegregation effort was the establishment of magnet schools intended to attract students from neighboring school districts. The 1999 settlement of the federal case resulted in a substantial reduction in school district funding amid an enormous increase in the school transportation budget. At the same time, success in creating racially diverse schools was modest at best, and the existing system of before- and after-school child care faced imminent collapse. The future looked grim.

LINC, by this point, had built a reputation for bringing together diverse partners to design, develop, and manage large-scale systems. This reputation was founded on the success of LINC’s early welfare-to-work efforts. Moving into school-age child care made perfect sense. And, given that a critical factor in a successful welfare-to-work system was the provision of safe, secure, accessible, and affordable child care, the prospect of delivering school-based care was an effective way to serve a large number of children, tap into new funding, and expand Kansas City’s network of community schools.

LINC was selected by the state of Missouri to develop an out-of-school-time system for the Kansas City School District by tapping new funding sources. Drawing on its strong partnership with the Missouri DSS, LINC initially turned to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds and, later, a Child Care Development Block grant. LINC made a straightforward case for funding: continuing success of welfare-to-work depended on the availability of affordable child care for TANF participants. Under TANF rules, individual families could apply for child care subsidies and seek high-quality child care, which often was in short supply and inconveniently located. LINC proposed an alternative. It would apply on behalf of all eligible families—with eligibility determined on the basis of children’s free or reduced-price lunch status—and use the subsidy to provide school-age child care at schools attended by the children.

Tying out-of-school time to TANF funding was a huge step. It provided LINC with core funding of about $4.8 million annually, allowing it to develop out-of-school-time programs in almost every elementary school and assign a full-time site coordinator to each affected school to manage and direct the effort. The resources were sufficient for LINC to operate a low-cost, affordable, and readily accessible program while meeting state licensing standards and staffing ratios.

The new effort transformed LINC—already recognized for its welfare-to-work initiative—into a major community institution. The number of LINC Caring Communities sites grew from 18 schools in four districts to more than 70 sites, the majority within the Kansas City School District.

In 2006, the arrival of a new school superintendent with little understanding of LINC’s long-standing partnership with the school district gave rise to a contract dispute between LINC and the district. The Kansas City School District, which once counted over 70,000 students, saw dramatic year-to-year declines in enrollment that leveled off at under 20,000 students—half the district’s size at the time that LINC began its efforts in the district. At the same time, LINC was able to transfer Missouri DSS funds to serve eligible families in school districts located in inner-ring, increasingly low-income suburbs. Therefore, LINC exited from the Kansas City School District and expanded into the adjoining school districts. LINC has now established new school district partnerships and expanded existing ones.

It is hard to see LINC as a whole because it bridges so many school districts and political boundaries. It has a significant presence in seven school districts and a recognized functional presence in a three-county area (Jackson, Clay, and Platte) as the state’s recognized "community partner" for eight state agencies. In 2009, a new Kansas City School Board and superintendent invited LINC to return to the school district. LINC has since re-established its presence there.

LINC operates one of the country’s most extensive community schools initiatives. Combined enrollment (2010 figures) at its Caring Communities sites totals approximately 30,000 students; if LINC were a unitary school district, it would be Missouri’s largest. Student demographics are 50 percent African American, 16 percent Hispanic, and 32 percent white. Of these students, 71.9 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. At each school, LINC provides funding, support staff, data systems, and training in over 60 low-income neighborhood schools through partnerships with seven school districts. At each school, LINC organizes parents, neighbors, and businesses into site councils that are charged with directing neighborhood-level efforts.

LINC sees the wide-ranging network of community schools as an emerging "delivery system" that provides localized services and supports for children, families, and neighborhoods through, for example, parenting classes, computer and computer literacy classes, health education, adult literacy classes, and food and emergency assistance. LINC also uses school buildings to serve the immediate neighborhood by offering additional services in the schools. In one instance, LINC is locating an office in a school to help TANF recipients obtain training, jobs, and supportive services. That school has the region’s highest number of TANF recipients in a neighborhood where limited public transportation often constrains access to social services. LINC’s 2010–2011 budget of $17.7 million is a significant increase from $6.1 million in 1998, the year just before LINC started to provide out-of-school-time care in the Kansas City School District.

LINC’s wide-ranging presence in terms of geographic coverage and scope of services is unmatched in the community. LINC increasingly sees itself as a "distribution network" for service delivery, information, opportunity, community organizing, and engagement. Its community school presence enables LINC to address broad, significant community issues. Two notable examples are LINC’s work on foreclosure issues in the Kansas City area and its information campaign on the $1.2 billion sale of a non-profit health care system to HCA, the result of which was the creation of two health care foundations with assets of $650 million available to address community health care needs.

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