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State Policy and Community Schools

 

State Policy and Community Schools: Organizing for a Well-Balanced Education


The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which devolves power back to the states, highlights the importance of state level entities in crafting new pathways towards educating our young people. This shift coincides with growing momentum for the community schools strategy at the state level from state legislatures and chief state school officers. 2015 saw the largest number of community school bills introduced in any year, with 12 bills introduced in 10 states. This included two bills that passed in Maine and Minnesota.


2016 has continued the momentum with various state legislation offered to support community schools. This momentum comes from legislators, organizers, and community partners who are working to strengthen and expand community schools across the country. These groups are coming together to advance the community schools strategy to respond to the unique challenges in their schools and communities; and they are forming community school state networks that bring together advocates who are essential in spreading and strengthening the strategy. In forming these state networks, advocates advance support for state policy and funding, as well as for the other key state network functions: professional learning, connecting local community school initiatives, and properly communicating the message of community schools.  


Maryland, New York, California, and Minnesota Organizing For Community Schools


Maryland: Maryland has seen steady growth in efforts to support youth through community schools in places like Baltimore and Montgomery County, as well in Prince George’s County with the new Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative. Maryland’s HB 1139 bill proposes to fund student supports as found in community schools by including the strategy in a revised state funding formula that the state legislature is currently considering. Partners helping to fight for this legislation, including the Maryland chapters of the PTA, NEA, AFT, and ACLU, as well as the Center for Popular Democracy, Family League of Baltimore, and Linkages to Learning in Montgomery County..  Their collective advocacy on this bill has helped to coalesce a community school state network for Maryland that will not only influence state policy and funding but also help connect places implementing community schools and communicate about the strategy across the state.


New York: Following the lead of New York City’s community school initiative, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $100 million investment to fund a community school initiative. However, Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan, the Alliance for Quality Education, and others--including our partner, The Children’s Aid Society--are pushing for a higher investment as well as more support from the state department of education for capacity building. And their advocacy is paying off: the New York State General Assembly proposed a $250 million investment for community schools for FY 2017.  A network is emerging ???


California: Last year, California community schools champion Senator Carol Liu introduced SB 403, which gave more support to the state’s existing community schools programs and to new communities, schools, and stakeholders who want to look into creating community schools.This year, Senator Liu has introduced a bill, SB 527, which will use 25% of Proposition 47 funds to create schools "aimed at improving outcomes for public school pupils by reducing truancy and supporting pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school or are victims of crime." The most interesting aspect of this Prop 47 funding is that it comes from funds that previously went toward the prison system. This connection directly links community schools to an equity strategy that helps improve the outcomes of youth, as well as a mindset greatly related to restorative justice.


In order to support this law, and community schools throughout California in general, a California community school state network has formed that includes partners such as the League of California Cities, United Way, Families in Schools, Communities in Schools, California Federation of Teachers, Youth Policy Institute, Los Angeles Education Partnership, and Oakland Unified School District. The state network is beng facilitated by the Partnership for Children and Youth; it has launched a website where community school stakeholders can connect and find and share resources. This online presence helps people in such a large state as California to be more connected.


Minnesota: Advocates with Education Minnesota, a merged NEA/AFT teacher union for the state, passed a bill in 2015, SF 1206, that initiates a pilot community schools program for the state funded at $100,000 for four schools. Their advocacy included significant community engagement through public forums and consistent messaging about the value of community schools with the organization Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. Organizers are now working to secure $10 million to expand the pilot program. The Education Policy Innovation Center just released a report on the power and promise of community schools, entitled Our Communities, Our Schools: Closing the Opportunity Gap in Minnesota With Full-Service Community Schools, which has gone a long way to show the continued impact community schools in Minnesota.


Looking Forward:

The increased level of state advocacy shows the power and significance of community school state networks to advance supportive state policies and funding. The Coalition looks forward to supporting the development of state networks as we continue to build on the momentum of the community schools movement nationwide.


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