Promise Neighborhoods Act provides community-based support for disadvantaged N.J. kids | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on July 11, 2015

By Donald M. Payne Jr.

Promise Neighborhoods is a federal program that supports this community-level approach to education.


For too long, Newark parents, students and teachers have lacked a voice in critical decisions over the direction of the city's public school system.

The problem became more acute under superintendent Cami Anderson's administration, as the traditional Newark public school system was dismantled and the erosion of educational opportunities was masked as reform.

Superintendent Anderson's departure has been met with continued calls for the restoration of much-needed local control over the public school system. Newarkers want the authority to ensure that all students benefit from structured learning environments that meet the needs of each child and young adult and prepare them to succeed inside and outside the classroom.

The calls for local control of schools embody a simple truth: education is a community affair, the responsibility not just of teachers, but of parents, family members and neighbors.

Promise Neighborhoods is a federal program that supports this community-level approach to education.

The program encourages communities and schools to leverage partnerships and evidence-based practices to improve schools, student academic achievement, and social development. These partnerships ensure that children have access to education reforms, community services, and family supports that improve academic, developmental and career outcomes.

We know what happens when children lack the opportunities and resources to reach their potential.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, at age 4, children who live below the poverty line are 18 months below normal learning and achievement for their age group, and by age 10 that gap is still present. Furthermore, a recent study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma.

Promise Neighborhoods improves outcomes for low-income children by making their education a collaborative effort among community partners who best how to address the challenges they face in receiving a quality education.

For example, the Newark Fairmount Promise Neighborhood initiative – led by Rutgers University – Newark, the Urban League of Essex County and the United Way of Essex and West Hudson – identifies and remedies key service gaps in Newark's Fairmount neighborhood, from infant and toddler care to career readiness. Through NFPN, residents of this economically and socially disadvantaged neighborhood are able to access resources and support that have not always been readily available to them. The initiative also provides enhanced coordination with local organizations and efforts that prepare youth for academic and career success, like Rutgers' "RU Ready for Work" program. Additionally, in keeping with Promise Neighborhoods' community-based approach, NFPN has held numerous public sessions to gather input from the community and local service providers to develop plans for improving educational, health, and social services.

However, due to limited resources, only 17 of the 242 cities, rural areas, American Indian communities and other locales that applied for the Promise Neighborhoods program during the last competition in 2012 were chosen as part of the grant process.

That is why, in March, I led an effort calling for the allocation of at least $150 million, the total amount requested in the President's fiscal year 2016 budget, to Promise Neighborhoods.

It is also why I have introduced the Promise Neighborhoods Act of 2015. This legislation bolsters the Promise Neighborhoods program by authorizing competitive grants to support neighborhood-based, cradle-to-career "continuums of care" for disadvantaged children.

Education is the greatest equalizer and fundamental to success. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to equip them with the necessary educational, social, and family learning tools to get to and through college, an increasingly necessary investment in today's economy.

Supporting children and young adults through a community-based approach to education leads to stronger communities and greater opportunities for students. We owe it to our children to provide them with the skills they need to succeed and pursue their dreams—whatever they may be.

Donald M. Payne Jr. is a Democratic congressman representing New Jersey's 10th congressional district.

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