Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to the Center for American Progress to advocate for community schools, which are schools that extend their hours and partner with non-profits and other agencies to provide a host of non-academic services — including health care and behavioral health services — in addition to standard classroom instruction. The idea is that, by providing these services and being open for longer, the schools will become a valuable resource for students and parents, particularly in poorer areas where parents are working multiple jobs and services are harder to come by.
As Duncan explained in an interview with The Wonk Room, community schools can do a lot to alleviate poverty, but they also improve the education system across the income spectrum:
It’s a different mindset. It’s really thinking that schools open six hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year — the real fundamental question I’m asking people to think about is ‘who do those schools serve well?’ And I would argue that they don’t serve anyone well. All of our children, whether it’s two-parent middle class families, or single moms working one or two or even three jobs trying to make ends meet, or children going home to no-parent families, all of our children need schools open much longer hours. This has to become the norm.
The first time that community school initiatives were specifically funded by the federal government was 2008’s Full Service Community Schools Program, which funded 10 programs for $5 million. However, the United Kingdom has been funding an widespread community schools effort since 2003. The UK allocated ₤840 million ($1.3 billion) in start-up funds for schools to provide extended hours between 2003 and 2008, and has pledged another ₤1 billion ($1.6 billion) through 2011. By 2010, the UK is on pace to have every school in the country offer extended hours. In an interview with The Wonk Room, Blair said that community schools should rightly be the “way of the future”:
Our experience is that community schools work, they become a resource for the whole community. And for a lot of the children, they don’t just have an education issue. It’s much broader than that. It could be health issues, there could be problems getting fed before schools, doing their homework after school. And also there are a lot of adults that can use the school resource. Community school is definitely the way of the future.
Last month, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) introduced the Full Service Community Schools Act of 2009, which would establish a five-year grant program to encourage the growth of community schools.