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The last $100 million should fund the creation of ten additional Promise Neighborhoods. These proven initiatives target our nation’s most pressing urban problems: poverty, low student achievement, and child health. Studies show staggering empirical results, including the elimination of otherwise intransigent student achievement gaps. These investments would tap the potential of historically underserved Americans and catalyze the rejuvenation of our cities and our economy.
Promise Neighborhoods are modeled on the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which one Harvard researcher called the “most ambitious social experiment to alleviate poverty of our time.” Unlike most other interventions, the HCZ takes an inclusive cradle-to-career approach that provides training for families, community support services, and intensive educational programs. The impact is dramatic. HCZ raised student achievement in math an average of thirty-five percentage points, enough to close the black-white student achievement gap that has plagued this country since desegregation.
Because each child should have an opportunity to succeed, the racial achievement gap — which starts at age two — is a national disgrace. But it is also our greatest untapped potential. A more educated populace will spur innovation and create jobs. Increasing student success will decrease the nation’s widening inequality gap, with attendant improvements in crime, health, and levels of trust.
The Promise Neighborhoods initiative was launched in 2009 by the Department of Education, and currently plans to distribute $200 million through a competitive grant process. There is ample room for scaling upward, as only 21 of 339 applicants received grants in 2010. Our nation’s last $100 million could expand this successful program to ten new cities, bringing new hope to a new generation of Americans. The grants are few but large, to ensure a substantial impact in each neighborhood and a cost-effective use of remaining federal funds.
In a time of national crisis, it is tempting to provide temporary salve to those worst hurt by the economic downturn. But $100 million is insufficient to make a meaningful nationwide difference in areas like unemployment, foreclosure, and economic stimulus. Rather than inadequately mending the problems of today, we should invest in the promise of tomorrow.
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