August 03, 2010

Congress Moves to Cut Proposed Promise Neighborhoods Funds

Chances appear dim that President Obama will get anywhere near the full amount of money he requested in next year's budget for Promise Neighborhoods -- the program to help nonprofit groups set up antipoverty projects modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone.

The administration requested $210-million for the effort in 2011. But the Senate Appropriations Committee last week proposed spending only $20-million, while a House Appropriations subcommittee voted earlier to allocate $60-million.

The Congressional budget figures are higher than the $10-million that will be spent on Promise Neighborhoods this year. But the 2010 grants are for planning efforts, while much of the 2011 money would help cities actually put the projects into place over five years. A Senate Appropriations Committee report said the committee would consider the need for more money after reviewing the plans of the winners of the 2010 grants.

David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that the "resources available to the committee are limited," so members wanted to put the most money into efforts that would help workers and families cope with hard economic times and set the stage for economic recovery.

Hundreds of social-services groups and others sent a letter last week to Appropriations Committee leaders in both houses asking them to grant the president's full budget request.

In other Promise Neighborhoods news:

* The Education Department received 339 applications for this year's grants, which will be announced in September. Details about the applications -- for up to 20 planning grants of up to $500,000 each -- can be viewed on this Web site.

* The Brookings Institution issued a report questioning whether the Harlem Children's Zone -- which offers a comprehensive set of medical, educational, and social services in a designated neighborhood -- is any more effective in raising student achievement than comparable charter schools that do not offer such services. The researchers questioned whether taxpayer money should be used to support the more-expensive approach. Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children's Zone, issued a response, and the researchers responded to him.

* United Neighborhoods Centers of America, an umbrella group for neighborhood social-service centers, surveyed 47 local Promise Neighborhood planning groups to find out what they thought of the application process, and Patrick Lester, the group's senior vice president for public policy, is detailing the results on the group's blog. In the first installment, Mr. Lester concludes that the Education Department needs to operate more openly. "Every significant policy decision made by the Department on Promise Neighborhoods has been made behind closed doors, with little or no public knowledge or input," he writes.

See The Chronicle's article about the efforts of other cities to emulate the Harlem Children's Zone.