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NEA News

New Federal Bill Promotes Public Schools as Community Hubs

Integrated academic, health, nutrition, and economic services will transform outcomes for all students.
community school
Published: December 14, 2020

Key Takeaways

  1. The legislation provides resources for school districts to plan for, implement, and expand community schools.
  2. Community schools were critical to helping families during the pandemic and will continue to be as economic hardships stretch into 2021 and beyond.
  3. Community schools help revitalize the neighborhoods they serve.

A new bill in Congress recognizes the foundational role our public schools play in the lives of our communities and would broaden their services to help students and their communities thrive.

U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced The Full-Service Community School Expansion Act of 2020. The bill will help schools and districts serve students, families, and communities by providing resources for public schools to be community hubs and provide integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning opportunities, collaborative leadership, and family and community engagement – including medical, mental, and nutrition health services, mentoring and youth development programs, and continuing education courses.

The legislation would also provide essential resources for school districts to plan for, implement, and expand community schools, and would further develop the infrastructure to support these schools.

Community schools, where a network of local organizations, businesses, and partnerships maintain social services, sometimes called “wraparound services”— proved critical during the COVID-19 crisis as families faced job loss, eviction and hunger. Even as a vaccine is rolled out, the economic impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting with Black, Latnix, and Native communities hit hardest.

“Too many communities – rural, suburban, and urban – face inequities related to food security, healthcare, education, housing, and economic stability,” said Senator Brown.

“School systems that were already struggling to support children and families have been strained more than ever by the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This legislation will invest in public schools and help them meet the needs of the whole child and the communities they serve.”

According to Senator Gillibrand and others who understand the community school model, the home life challenges of students in low-income and underserved communities are carried into the classroom and create obstacles to learning.  The pandemic placed an even heavier burden on these students who were already at risk of falling behind.

“This legislation will deliver critical funding to support the comprehensive needs of students both in and out of the classroom,” said Gillibrand. “By investing in our public schools and strengthening connections to the community, we can help close the pervasive learning gaps in our country so that every student – no matter their socioeconomic status or zip code – can access a quality education.”

Specifically, the Full-Service Community School Expansion Act of 2020 would:

  • Invest $3.65 billion over the next five years to plan, implement, expand, and support full-service community schools serving low-income students;
  • Provide renewable grant opportunities and additional resources to existing community schools to build collaborative leadership structures and strengthen wraparound services that support the needs of students, families, and neighborhoods.
  • Build out community school infrastructure by funding the establishment of state-level teams that provide professional development opportunities and resources for community school staff, work with schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) to develop and implement restorative justice principles, and collaborate with LEAs on integrating supports for community schools; and
  • Set aside up to 5 percent of funds for technical assistance and support to leverage federal, state, and local resources that address healthcare and early childhood education, connect LEAs with other statewide institutions, and inform LEAs of funding opportunities.

The Coalition for Community Schools and its national, state, and local partners, including the National Education Association, support the Full-Service Community Schools Expansion Act of 2020, which reflects the current best practices of community schools and includes funding to begin to meet the high need and demand across the country for this evidence-based strategy.

“All children, no matter their race or ethnicity, gender or gender expression, no matter where they come from or where they live, deserve a safe and welcoming school where they can thrive. Community schools play a critical role in delivering tremendous educational opportunities for students while also offering hope, opportunity and transformation to entire communities,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.

“The National Education Association commends Senators Sherrod Brown, Chris Van Hollen and Kirsten Gillibrand for their leadership in introducing the Full-Service Community Schools Expansion Act of 2020, which would improve and increase the federal investment in the community schools program. They understand and share in the vision that every student must be prepared to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world, and this federal legislation helps put students on that path.”

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.