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While the funding didn’t arrive, the promise is still alive

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education invited communities to apply for a grant from the Promise Neighborhoods Program.  Building off work done by Geoffrey Canada at the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Promise Neighborhoods Program was designed to provide funding to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children in the nation’s most distressed communities. The funding could support efforts that:

  • help leaders and members of the community understand the state of children in their neighborhoods;
  • connect schools, families and the community to support children from the cradle through college to career;
  • help agencies and programs work effectively together;
  • help the public and private sectors work together to spread best practices beyond the pilot neighborhood; and
  • institute a rigorous evaluation of the program.

Grant winners receive a one-year planning grant. In subsequent years, contingent on the availability of funds, the Department intends to conduct competitions for implementation grants, as well as competitions for new planning grants.

Seven of the 339 applications received by the Promise Neighborhoods Program came from Michigan. Data Driven Detroit served as a data resource three of our state’s applicants. Detroit’s Black Family Development applied to help transform the Osborn and Chadsey-Condon neighborhoods. Data Driven Detroit served as a data resource while City Connect Detroit assisted in the project coordination and proposal writing.

Data Driven Detroit also met with the team from Focus Hope which submitted a proposal for their neighborhood, and provided data support to an effort on the city’s east side.

On September 21, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 21 recipients who will share $10 million.  While no Detroit applicant was chosen to become a Promise Neighborhood, the Guidance Center in Southgate received $500,000 to work with the River Rouge School District.  We congratulate the Guidance Center and look forward to learning more about their effort over the next year.

Of course, Detroit feels a deep sense of disappointment at being passed over for a Promise Neighborhoods grant. But while working on the proposals, I was impressed by the dedication and sense of possibility that the communities generated as they imagined a new environment that’s supportive of children. During the proposal writing process, the message was clear among all of the Detroit applicants: the “promise” would move forward, with or without the grant.  

The Promise Neighborhoods Program has served as a key driver for discussions across the country.  The release of the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” coupled with the “Education Nation”   series on NBC News this week, and the education conference in Washington, D.C., have served to raise the level of discussion around education at all levels. We must make sure that this week’s “buzz” does not fizzle but, rather, leads to a clarion call in Detroit, the region, the state and the nation, that educational reform must occur at all levels.