San Francisco Chronicle
State schools poised for financial windfall
Several Bay Area school districts and charter schools are poised to receive tens of millions in state grant funds to create and expand “community schools” that aim to assist needy students by providing a comprehensive menu of health, social and academic services.
The State Board of Education is expected to approve $635 million in grants at its Wednesday meeting, a big slice from a $3 billion program approved by the Legislature last year to create more schools that provide coordinated “wraparound” support for students in poverty.
The California Community Schools Partnership Program, as it’s called, is likely to grow. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget calls for adding $1.5 billion to the program amid a $97 billion surplus that will balloon the state’s budget to a record $300 billion.
The Bay Area’s two largest school districts will benefit from the program. Oakland Unified is slated to receive the
biggest chunk of grant funding statewide: $66 million. San Francisco Unified will get $33 million. Both already operate community schools.
Oakland, in fact, was one of the first large school districts in California to create a network of community schools when it first rolled out its program in 2011. Currently, more than 50 of its 80 school sites are community schools.
When the district first got started, it did so by partnering with community groups to give targeted students access to eye, dental and mental health care and several meals per day, according to Troy Flint, a California School Boards Association spokesperson who helped launch Oakland’s program. The services at some Oakland community schools extend beyond the students. Some, for example, also provide English-as-a-secondlanguage classes to parents and training in how to become more involved in their kids’ learning, Flint said.
School administrators and education officials welcomed the news that the state plans to increase funding for community schools, given that applications submitted to the state have exceeded the money that’s available. West Contra Costa Unified will receive $29.5 million in funds. Hayward Unified will get $19.5 million, as well.
“It’s good that the state is providing an additional allocation for community schools,” Flint said. “If the ultimate goal is to make the majority of schools in California community schools, then that will require orders of magnitude more funding that what we’re seeing now.”
Education researchers have long pointed to these school models as a promising approach toward bridging the disparate learning outcomes between the state’s neediest students and the rest of their peers.
“A community schools initiative is not a ‘program’ to be adopted,” said Milbrey McLaughlin, an expert on community schools at Stanford University. “It embodies an approach to education that extends beyond traditional academics and roles to address the needs of the whole child.”
As such, McLaughlin said, this investment in California schools is an exciting “opportunity for participating schools and districts to make significant change in their relationships with students, their families and community partners.”
But she also added that participating school districts should address the question of sustainability — how to deal with it when the state funding runs out.
Under a state framework, these schools are allowed to develop their own curriculum with the idea that it might be more tailored to students’ specific needs. The schools can also partner with community groups to offer services such as health care, and provide additional tutoring and after-school programs for kids.
The funding comes at an urgent moment for the state’s students who are grappling with the aftermath of nearly two years of remote learning during the pandemic.
Most school districts continue to see significant declines in student enrollment and high rates of chronic absenteeism. Many researchers and school officials have said the pandemic further disadvantaged low-income students who may have lacked the resources and home environments to keep up academically during remote learning.
The community school funding is expected to help pay for the additional personnel and services and supplies, such as meals, to prop up community schools. San Francisco Unified’s community schools include extra social workers and nurses “to support our students’ social-emotional and physical well-being along with their intellectual growth,” district spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in a statement.
“We appreciate the opportunity to deepen our practices to serve our students and connect with community resources,” Dudnick said. The district hasn’t finalized plans for how it would spend its potential grant funds, though the school board will discuss the topic at a Wednesday committee meeting.
Oakland Unified did not respond to a request for comment.