New Community School Grant Opportunity

By Ed Honowitz, Education Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Carol Liu

Governor Jerry Brown signed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success program into law Friday. This program will fund model practices that improve academic success, strengthen families, and build healthier communities.

The Learning Communities for School Success program is focused on implementing research-based strategies to improve school climate and address the school-to-prison pipeline. The bill directs savings from the prison sentencing reform initiative prop 47 and additional one-time funds to ensure that schools and community partners coordinate strategies to support our neediest students and families.

The grant program will fund successful strategies, such as community schools, which align support services including health and mental health providers to remove barriers to learning and address the underlying causes of chronic absence and trauma. These strategies include supporting social-emotional learning and alternative discipline approaches which strengthen the capacity of students to focus on academic success. SB 527 (Liu) and the accompanying bill AB 1014 (Thurmond) are funded at $28 million in the current budget.

These research-based approaches to serving the “whole child” are supported in the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaces the failures of No Child Left Behind. ESSA requires states to develop measures that address both the academic and non-academic needs of students. SB 527 reflects the framework developed by both houses of the Legislature in conjunction with the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Finance, and stakeholders. By authorizing grant funds for evidence-based, non-punitive programs and practices to keep our most vulnerable students in school, the program enhances the actions and services in school districts’ local control and accountability plans.

This targeted funding will support additional model programs that can help districts learn and implement national best practices to keep students in school and on a productive path. Implementing activities and strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, and advance social-emotional learning, positive behavior interventions and supports, culturally responsive practices, and trauma-informed strategies, have shown results for our most vulnerable students.

The grant program will be administered by the Department of Education and moves our state further along the path of implementing community school strategies, including defining this approach in education code. Using schools as hubs, community school strategies foster intentional collaboration and alignment among schools; state, county, and city government; post-secondary education; community based organizations; non-profits; and business.

We continue to see the growing recognition that our schools and students succeed when we meet the broader needs of the whole child. There is a growing movement across the country that recognizes the effectiveness of combining rigorous relevant instruction with strategies that provide access to personalized support and services. This is the approach we need to keep our kids on the college and career track and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.