Local partnership secures $15M federal grant to support community schools

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded several dozen grants — including one for Shelby County — to support the community school model across the country.

A $15 million grant was awarded to Shelby County Community Schools Partnership (SCCSP) as part of the Department of Education’s Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) Program. The SCCSP is a collaboration between Seeding Success, Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Communities in Schools of Memphis, Memphis Business Academy, Millington Municipal Schools, Frayser Community Schools, and the University of Memphis.

Seeding Success, a nonprofit focused on social and economic mobility, spearheaded the effort. The grant, which will also include an additional $15 million in matching and in-kind dollars, is set to go toward supporting the community school model in Frayser, North Memphis, and Millington.

Funds are scheduled to be distributed over five years; year one funding from the grant totals approximately $2.8 million. Northaven Elementary School, Westside Middle School, Memphis Business Academy, and Millington Primary School, Intermediate School, and High School are set to benefit from the grant.

Over the course of the five-year grant program, the Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP) at the University of Memphis plans to study the program’s outcomes to determine if the initiative should be brought to more schools in the future.

Community schools have received a lot more interest in recent years. This year’s grants saw the most applications ever according to a U.S. Department of Education press release. Seeding Success and its partners note such community schools could provide education solutions in the region.

“The partnership believes this is a model that can be scaled across [Shelby County] to help transform the education system,” Seeding Success’ press release stated. “Politically, this strategy is gaining momentum nationally and locally, and with the Department of Education, which recently doubled its investment in the FSCS to $150 million in the recent spending bill.”

The community school model foresees schools serving as both centers of education and as community centers. Such a model relies on both government funding from all levels and private funds in order to cover operational costs. Other services, such as health clinics or food banks, out-of-school programming, and family or community engagement practices, are often integrated in such a model.

Community school models are also usually targeted toward specific communities, usually the economically disadvantaged, and their unique needs. The Tennessee Comptroller Office of Research and Education Accountability completed a study in 2018 that found that, while national studies identified positive trends in the model, inconsistent data practices prevented a conclusion from being made about initiatives in the state at that time.

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