Promise Neighborhood winners announced; disappointment for NJ

The U.S. Department of Education today launched a new anti-poverty program, Promise Neighborhoods, with the announcement of winners in a $10-million planning-grant competition. The program is intended to foster the creation of 21 versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in cities, towns and Native-American reservations across the country. Winners will receive grants of up to $500,000 each to develop plans for new Promise Neighborhoods.

The Harlem Children's Zone (photo courtesy of Jim Henderson)

Among the winners is another program for Harlem, run by the Abyssinian Development Corporation. Although it is near the HCZ, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a conference call today that “it’s not the same community” as the one covered by the HCZ.

Other winners include Berea College in Kentucky, the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana and Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter High School in Washington, D.C.

By contrast, New Jersey, which launched its own state-funded version of Promise Neighborhoods last year, isn’t anywhere on the list. Two winning applicants from New Jersey’s own version, who also applied for federal money, are located in Newark and Camden, America’s poorest city. Both programs are receiving direct help from the HCZ to implement their plans. In fact, the Camden group, led by Rowan University, is at a training today in New York as they prepare to roll out their plans to improve schools and social services in a particularly poor area of Camden. A second application from Camden, led by Rutgers University, also lost.

Duncan said his department had received 100 grants that they wished they could fund. The deserving losers will be posted on the Education Department’s website, he said, in the hopes that private funders will take up their causes. “We’re hoping the private sector will come in and step up,” he said.

This is only the first round of the competition, so those who walked away empty-handed today could still win in the second round, which will provide money for program implementation rather than planning. The Department of Education has requested $200 million to fund these implementation grants, and officials say they anticipate funding 20 such grants. Winners and losers in the first round, as well as new entrants, are eligible to compete in the second round.

At the moment, however, it appears Congress might reduce the amount that the Obama administration has requested for the grants. Asked what will happen to the grant program if its appropriation is reduced, Duncan said, “If we only get $60 million, a lot of children will lose out.”