Many of the most distressed and poverty stricken municipalities in the state will receive a much-needed influx of funds, thanks to the multi-million 21st Century Community Learning Challenge Grant.
“The intent of this grant is to fund the establishment and sustainability of community learning centers that provide additional educational services to students in high-poverty and low-performing schools,” said Education Secretary Ron Tomalis of the landmark, $19.78 million grant. “The entities which were selected to receive funding provide educational opportunities that complement, supplement and enhance the work being done in the classroom.”
More than 100 grant proposals were requested of various community groups by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and awardees were determined through a rigorous vetting process, Tomalis said; the PDE subsequently named the winners.
In all, 61 of the grant applications were selected to benefit from this federally-funded program. Of those, 33 are community-based organizations and 15 are school districts.
Philadelphia has the most grant awardees at 21. Its nearest competitor, Allegheny County, has 12. Philadelphia’s biggest award — $500,000 — went to Communities in Schools of Philadelphia, Inc. and to Education Works.
In total, Philadelphia-area organizations received a little under $6.5 million in grants.
“As a requirement if the grant, the entities which applied for funding offer students a variety of enrichment opportunities that they many not receive at school or at home,” Tomalis said. “In addition to academic programs, awardees may provide cultural, social or artistic activities to students, as well as services to the families of participants.”
Other statewide grantees received large grants as well. Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County received $499,624, and the Morrisville Borough School District, located in Bucks County, Pa., received $499,978.
The Titusville YMCA, Indiana County’s United School District, Lancaster School District, Pottstown School District and the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland-Fayette all received grants of $500,000.
The monies heading to Philadelphia couldn’t arrive at a better time, considering the School District of Philadelphia is forced to rely more and more on alternative and community-centered solutions to the problems created when the School Reform Commission decided to shutter most non-mandated after-school or enrichment programs. Several crucial programs became victims of the austerity measures undertaken by the SRC as it tries to close the monumental budget gap for the approaching school year.
Tomalis, for his part, seemed cognizant of the broken school system here and throughout the state, and the sociological and environmental issues plaguing the youth. Tomalis hopes these monies will reach at least a portion of them.
“Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania there are too many students trapped in schools that are not meeting their academic, social and emotional needs,” Tomalis said. “Though there are promising efforts underway to improve the educational landscape for all students, the education of our young people requires the support of the entire community.
“I am grateful that Pennsylvania’s students have organizations and community leaders who are willing to step up and support them in their educational endeavors.”