Reps. Steny Hoyer, Aaron Schock Seek Bipartisan Support for Bill to Fund Full-Service Community Schools: 'America Must Compete Better'

Reps. Steny Hoyer, Aaron Schock Seek Bipartisan Support for Bill to Fund Full-Service Community Schools: 'America Must Compete Better'
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House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) are slated to introduce legislation today that will authorize funding for public K-12 schools that bring together various educational and social service programs.

The Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2014 seeks to offer five-year grants from the Department of Education to localities that implement the collaborative schooling model. It’s a model that’s been around for decades but has only recently gained traction as other reforms to address achievement gaps and income inequality have sputtered.

Full-service community schools seek to help students learn and succeed while strengthening family and community involvement. They are public schools that integrate in-house health and social services for children in efforts to better prepare them for learning by improving their physical, emotional, and social well-being, and include partnerships with community organizations and services that offer programs for parental education and participation in student learning. Full-service community schools tend to also serve as community centers that provide after-school and early childhood education. There are 21 community schools in New York City, 64 in and around Portland, Ore., and 31 in Tulsa, Okla., among many others.

The legislation comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s announcement Monday that 60 of the country’s largest school districts are signing on to his $200 million initiative to better the educational outcomes of Black and Hispanic boys. The districts represent around 40 percent of America’s Black and Hispanic boys living below the poverty line.

The Hoyer-Schock proposal also includes dedicated funding for rural school districts, which the lawmakers say particularly benefit from the full-service community school model. Rural and lower-income areas tend to face greater challenges with social and economic opportunities, including less access to adequate health care and nutrition, according to a report by the Education Testing Service. A 2003 paper by the Coalition for Community Schools reported that students in full-service schools tended to show larger gains both academically and non-academically, and families of those children saw more stability and involvement. Still, critics have cautioned that the data on full-service community schools is not yet extensive enough to be conclusive.

The Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2014 does not currently seek a specific dollar amount in funding for full-service community school grants, but proposes that 85 percent of the dedicated funds go directly to school districts, 10 percent of which are specifically reserved for rural districts. Another 10 percent will go toward state collaboratives, with the remaining 5 percent for program technical assistance and evaluation. RealClearEducation's Emmeline Zhao talked Wednesday with Rep. Hoyer to discuss the proposal.

Why do you think full service community schools are important?

They give better services more effectively to children than do non-aggregated, non-coordinated services. It’s a more efficient, better use of taxpayer money with a better result. Children will have better educational outcomes because you’re not just dealing with their education but also their health, nutrition, and young parents’ ability to help their children in school. This allows schools to coordinate the services they have presently available in a single location so it’s more accessible and more likely to be used with a better result. They produce children who are learning more, performing better, and can move into higher grade levels with more success.

You were once on the Maryland State Board for Higher Education. Your late wife Judy was also an advocate of early childhood education and there are many child development learning centers in Maryland named in her honor – how much of that relates to this piece of legislation?

Judy and I had a lot of discussions about this when she was alive, she died 17 years ago. Back then she was starting a full service school and, particularly for people who are in a large district or low-income, it was our belief that if you centralize services and make them accessible, the services would be more effective and there’d be better communication between providers of how to better solve problems that families with young children face. It allows them to be successful in their educational experiences.

How have you seen that unfold in the community schools that are currently in service across the country?

I’ve been working on this for years and years. Warren Buffet’s daughter Susan has participated in Omaha, [Neb.]. I’ve also visited one in Tulsa funded by a billionaire and they’re very successful because they coordinate and make accessible services across a broad spectrum, including health, dental services for kids so they are healthy. A kid who is healthy and well fed learns better than a child who is not. Judy and I both believed that this was a very significant step forward to better make use of money and get a better result.

I was a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee for 23 years, so I’ve talked to lots of Departments of Health and Human Services and Departments of Educations about this and introduced a similar bill in number of Congressional sessions that we haven’t passed. Congress has passed a total of $30 million for full-service community school grants since 2008 that were very much oversubscribed, so obviously there is great interest.

How optimistic are you that this particular piece of legislation will pass?

This Congress is not doing much, although it did just pass the Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was a bipartisan agreement. So it can be done. Aaron Schock is an effective Republican, I look forward to working with him on this piece of legislation. We’ve spoken to a number of Senators on the Democratic side but we wanted to get a bipartisan sponsor and we’re still looking for one.

What about your Make It In America jobs plan? Why is this plan important and how do full service community schools tie into it?

We talk about a 21st Century workforce. That’s one of the four planks of the Make it in America plan. That means not only from a college standpoint but also a skills standpoint, where a welder can make a six-figure income. These jobs need certain basic skills so if you start early, with a program like full service community schools and maximize the impact of skills training, then you’ll be successful making it America.

In an era where we are in competition worldwide, that competition will involve educating our citizens and getting them ready to compete in a global marketplace. Full service schools can have a really positive impact on that as a necessity. This is a way in which we can compete better.

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