The recent rise of community schools legislation in various states is a clear sign that the movement is growing. Just in 2015 alone, legislative champions in eight states across the country have introduced more than ten bills promoting community schools, the most state legislation ever introduced in one year. Even more promising, these states span the political spectrum and demonstrate that elected leaders, regardless of their political affiliation, view community schools as an effective bipartisan strategy for closing the opportunity gap and helping our young people succeed.
You can find summaries of the community schools legislation recently introduced in California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin here.
A significant win in these bills is the collective embrace of full-service community schools language and principles. Many of the bills repeatedly reference "Community Schools" or "Full-Service Community Schools" throughout their legislation. Some also require a community assets and needs assessment and the hiring of a community school coordinator. Georgia, for example, requires new community schools to establish a school-community partnership team and to regularly convene community school stakeholders throughout the planning process.
Further, many of these bills carry some funding, making an intentional pledge to grow the number of community schools in their states. For example, the Texas bill establishes a competitive grant program that would award two-year grants in the amount of $85,000 per school. Other bills similarly require state educational agencies to establish a grant program for eligible schools and districts to apply to (e.g., California, Missouri, Georgia, and Wisconsin).
Many of these bills were also introduced with the intention of closing opportunity and achievement gaps, reflecting the Coalition’s stance of community schools as an essential equity strategy. Some authorize community schools as an intervention model for high-need, high-poverty, and low-performing schools. The Minnesota bill, for example, requires new community schools to collect and analyze data on suspension/expulsion rates, among other indicators, which will encourage school leaders to pay closer attention to these issues. California’s Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund was specifically designed to fund truancy prevention and other programs that break the school-to-prison pipeline. Community schools is referenced as an effective strategy for tackling these issues.
Even more encouraging, these bills are being introduced in both Republican and Democrat-majority states, with some receiving favorable bipartisan support. For example, the Ohio House passed Rep. Denise Driehaus’s bipartisan bill, which expands Cincinnati’s Community Learning Centers model statewide, with an overwhelming majority vote of 85 to 3. Additionally, the Texas bill was filed by a Democrat of Austin, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, but with both Republican and Democrat cosponsors. These bipartisan alliances demonstrate the viability of community schools as neither a ‘red’ nor ‘blue’ political strategy, but rather a ‘purple’ strategy.
The Coalition supports state legislators as needed to advance their community schools legislation. In Maine, Coalition staff helped organize two statewide community school forums that drew over 200 people to build support for legislation. In California, Senator Carol Liu has long championed community schools including through a statewide community schools bus tour in 2013, an essay she co-wrote with Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), two community schools bills she introduced this year, and her creation of a California Senate Subcommittee on community schools. The Coalition looks forward to providing ongoing support to these states and more through its state policy network and state networks, which had its first convening last fall. The State Networks meeting engaged community school leaders across several states and sectors to discuss strategies for growing community schools in their areas.
This state momentum also occurs at a time the Coalition is building support for community schools at the federal level, particularly through ESEA reauthorization and the recent approval of the Senate’s ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (which contains key community schools wins as seen here). Overall, the state bills illustrate the importance of community schools as a universal strategy for communities regardless of their political leaning or populations served. The Coalition looks forward to supporting the passage of these bills, connecting important partners to this work, and continuing to inform policy that creates meaningful impact on students, families, and communities across the nation.
By: Perpetual Baffour, National Policy Emerson Fellow