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5 Key Strategies for Financing Your Community School Initiative

When staff from San Mateo County, Redwood City, Redwood City School District, Sequoia Union High School District, community-based organizations, and private funders realized that they were meeting multiple times about different issues affecting the same children and families, they decided to formalize their partnerships through the creation of Redwood City 2020. Through this, the partner organizations created a vehicle for having more comprehensive conversations, setting priorities more strategically, and ultimately implementing programs with greater impact. Redwood City’s community school effort is an initiative of Redwood City 2020 and represents a pooling of partner resources. Despite declining budgets during the recession, Redwood City 2020 maintained support for its community schools, citing the significant return on investment they see each year.

In the recent era of tight public agency budgets, the community school approach has offered a strategic method for making tough budget decisions – making the most of existing resources. The following are five key strategies for financing your community school initiative. This information was pulled from a brief by the Partnership for Children & Youth, profiling five different community school initiatives.

1. Community schools are a community-wide investment
A common misconception about community schools is that this work is the district’s responsibility, when schools and their teachers are already stretched to the limit. On the contrary, the community school approach is about school districts turning to the community (especially county and city agencies) to help provide services and programs outside the expertise and beyond the resources of schools. The funding matrices in the Community Profiles section of the brief will show that school districts are contributing much less than 50% of the total resources. In Sacramento City Unified School District, for example, 85% of the overall budget for the initiative comes from partners or outside grants.

2. Don’t rely on a specific grant
While many communities successfully use competitive grants, such as the Full Service Community Schools or Promise Neighborhoods grants, this funding is often not sustainable. While additional funding may be helpful, it is important to note that many community school efforts have been launched in response to severe budget shortages as a way to use existing funds more strategically. Funding for community schools comes primarily from its partners, not from a specific grant or funding stream.

3. Align existing resources by leveraging partnerships
The core tenant of the community school approach is that the partnering entities combine resources. In many cases, successful community school efforts have been started with little to no new resources, but rather through partners re-deploying and re-allocating existing resources. This includes not just funding, but also time, personnel, and/or other assets. Through a coordinated system, a community school offers more effective programs and services than any one of its partners could offer on its own and eliminates duplicative efforts.

4. Set up clear structures for partnerships
Adopting a community school approach means that all partners must adopt a new way of doing business. Partners must commit to shared decision-making and put real resources on the table. The success of a community school effort is directly correlated with the strength of the infrastructure supporting its partnerships. While developing these relationships and systems takes time, it is a critical step in developing community schools. Discussions about filling service gaps, and determining which services should be offered, need to take place after each partner understands the purpose and role of the collaboration. In other words, decisions about how to work together are made before decisions about what to do. A full list of important characteristics of this governance infrastructure can be found on page 5 of the brief.

5. Invest in coordination of services
To ensure that a comprehensive and integrated set of services and programs is developed and functions well, the collaborative must make an investment in coordination. Without staff in charge of coordination, it is not possible to maximize the resources brought together by the partner agencies. While very few public funding streams are dedicated to such coordination, there are several federal, state, and local public funding streams that can be used for such costs, including Medi-Cal Administrative Activities (MAA), Title I, and general funds (see the Community Profiles in the brief for examples of funding streams most commonly used to pay for coordination and administration). Some successful community school efforts have pieced together cash and in-kind resources from each of the partners within a collaborative to cover the costs associated with coordination. To ensure adequate coordination is in place, community school efforts should prioritize obtaining policy and fiscal commitments from each partnering entity.

But you haven’t even mentioned LCFF or the new grant opportunity under SB 527.
Local Control is the perfect context in which to start making these kinds of systems and programmatic decisions and investments. However, we are not proposing that you use LCFF funds right off the bat. There are key funding streams that should be maximized and leveraged before LCFF funds are tapped. There is an exciting new grant opportunity for community schools under SB 527 that will be coming in late winter or early spring of 2017. But some of the most important work you can do in using a community school approach is to figure out how to make the best use of the funding you and your partners already have.

This financing brief provides evidence and ideas from successful, longstanding efforts that school districts, counties, cities, non-profit organizations, and other public entities can use to begin exploring how to form community school partnerships that support student success. Click here to read Community School Financing: Aligning Local Resources for Student Success, and learn from five different communities about how they financed their community school efforts in the midst of the recession.