The Problems & Progressive Local Solutions
Strong public education is the lynchpin of economic development. Great schools build the skills of future workers and reduce costs of social services and criminal-justice systems. Comprehensive reform in public education hinges on federal and state governments. However, there are many ways in which local governments can improve the quality of public education for their residents.
While much of the funding for K-12 schools comes from the state and federal governments, cities and counties can use various mechanisms to supplement existing resources, including dedicated taxes and levies (see also our Public Finance & Investment roadmap). Local governments are also experimenting with new models to increase partnership and collaboration between school districts and the cities and counties they serve (see also our Regional Coordination roadmap). Additional initiatives and programs focus on transforming public school into holistic community centers that serve various social and civic purposes.
Available Local Levers & Targets of Reforms
As the foundation for learning is established at an early age, local governments should strive to establish universal pre-K programs, which also enjoy significant public support (see also our Affordable Childcare roadmap). Research also shows that investment in early childhood development provides economic, health and social benefits for the individual and the community. Such programs should be aligned with K-12 education systems: researchers and practitioners increasingly believe that a more seamless educational pipeline that addresses a range of academic, behavioral, health and family issues would serve young children more effectively.
Most cities and counties in the U.S. have no direct control over the school systems that serve their residents, as this responsibility is delegated from states to school districts that function as independent special-purpose government. At the same time, municipalities and counties affect school districts through their control of planning, zoning, and transportation. In recent years, local governments have developed new models for partnership and collaboration that have proven useful for extending the school day, improving safety and efficiency, implementing programs to reduce hunger and provide healthier food, and more.
Current Reforms & Tools to Fight for Them
A Seattle 2004 ordinance created a ballot measure to approve a property tax levy to fund educational and developmental services, preschool and early childhood education, middle school support, out of school activities and more. Berkeley’s School District Resolution adopted a 2020 Vision plan that aims to provide all children with equitable education outcomes regardless of race, ethnicity, or income by 2020.
Washington D.C. passed an act to create the Community Schools Incentive Initiative, which will award multi-year grants to create community schools through public and private partnership that coordinates educational, developmental, and after-school care programs. The Kindergarten to College (K2C) program in San Francisco, which automatically opens students a savings account with $50, is for each student in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and incentivizes saving through various rewards.
Taking it to the Next Level
Local governments should consider partnering with school districts to transform selected public schools into “community schools” that also serve as a community center. These initiatives – adopted in Chicago, St. Paul, Baltimore, and many other localities – include broadening the range of services and resources available to students, their families, and the community. Studies show that well-implemented community schools lead to improvement in student performances and contribute to meeting the educational needs of high-poverty areas.
Policy Matters, a non-profit research institute in Ohio, interviewed teachers and administrators from school districts across the state. The results indicate that students are better served when educators work together, sharing successful practices and helping each other improve. Future education reforms should focus on bringing representative groups of teachers, administrators and others to the decision-making process.
Helpers & Allies
- The Center for Cities + Schools at UC Berkeley (CC+S) conducts policy research and cultivates collaboration between city and school leaders to strengthen communities.
- The Coalition for Community Schools is a branch of the Institute for Educational Leadership that promote community schools as an equity-driven, researched based strategy.
- The Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) is a national association of local education authorities in the largest U.S. metropolitan areas that provides information on issues affecting urban and inner city education.
- The U.S. Conference of Mayors Education Playbook provides information about issues and initiatives of importance to the municipal governments
- The Urban Superintendents Association of America (USAA) is a national organization bringing together the chief school executives of major metropolitan school districts to work on issues of common concern.
- The National Rural Education Association (NREA) promotes relations among rural area schools and school districts.