by Reuben Jacobson, Senior Associate for Research and Strategy, Coalition for Community Schools
On March 3rd Secretary Duncan sent governors a letter addressing how to effectively use education funds during these tough fiscal times, or what he refers to as “The New Normal.” With the letter, he included three documents on “some options on the effective, efficient, and responsible use of resources in tough budget times.” These include: Flexibility in Using Federal Funds to Meet Local Needs, Smart Ideas to Increase Educational Productivity and Student Achievement, and Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration.
In Smart Ideas, the Secretary highlights the community schools strategy as a way to leverage alternative sources of funding, local partnerships, and resources. The guidance recommends that SEAs and LEAs:
Leverage alternative sources of funding. States and school districts can seek funds from philanthropic sources wherever possible to support education programs and initiatives, but in addition to those funds, districts can look to other city or county funds and services to help meet the needs of the whole child. Many community schools have been successful in tapping these alternative resources to provide students with health and other supports. The integration of high-quality social services and family and community supports into schools can increase achievement and student outcomes while better leveraging the resources that are already being spent on such services.
Leverage local partnerships and resources. State and local health and human services agencies, departments of public safety and parks and recreation, community-based organizations, businesses, and other entities have a significant stake in the success of our children and youth. Many have long provided academic and enrichment opportunities in the form of before- and after-school programming, apprenticeships, nursing, or counseling support. Breaking down barriers and better aligning and utilizing community resources may also help school systems identify and access low-cost services or facilities. Pulling in external services and resources to support learning can effectively maximize opportunities for students.
He also recommends working collaboratively with stakeholders in making decisions about budgets. Shared ownership and collaborative leadership are core characteristics of the community schools strategy. He states,
…engaging in productive dialogue with teachers, principals, unions, and other stakeholders will ensure that input from all involved stakeholders informs relevant decisions and increases the likelihood of successful and sustained implementation….Thoughtful engagement is a recognized best practice and, by working collaboratively, collective interests can overcome differences.
The Secretary’s suggestions parallel the Coalition’s findings in a recent report, Financing Community Schools: Leveraging Resources to Support Student Success, which demonstrates how communities are using resources in smart and effective ways. Communities highlighted in the report and around the country represent an effective use of the community school strategy for leveraging financial, political, organizational, and other resources to improve results for children, families, and communities…a smart idea in “The New Normal.”