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March 24, 2010; Washington Post | Some readers might see this article from the Washington Post as an interesting example of the quiet philanthropy of the Buffett family. In this case, Susie Buffett, Warren’s daughter, has decided to establish an early childhood education center in the Parkside neighborhood of D.C.’s Ward 7—one of the more challenging neighborhoods of the city. The center will be funded through the Buffett Early Childhood Fund along with money from the M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

Perhaps those readers might be interested in the notion that the $12 million center, slated to get its $3.3 million operating budget from Head Start, other federal, and “state” programs (nice of the Post to elevate the District to state status), will be run by a “new, local nonprofit agency”—the high risk maneuver characteristic of too many philanthropists who decide that no existing organizations are up to snuff and an entirely de novo nonprofit is needed.

But another interesting theme is how this initiative, like many across the nation, is predicated on capturing funding from the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program, an effort to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone. For those of you not intimately familiar with the Harlem Children’s Zone, one of its characteristics that may be hard to replicate is its capacity to attract capital from high level donors. Apparently, this Educare facility in Ward 7 (one of 10 sponsored by Susie Buffett across the nation, in cities such as Omaha, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Denver) will be the centerpiece of a Promise Neighborhoods pitch involving the D.C. government, America’s Promise (founded by Colin Powell), and private developer Alan Novak.

Though long promised, the Promise Neighborhoods NOFA (President Obama has requested $210 million in implementation funds for the program in the FY2011 budget on top of $10 million already appropriated as planning grants) has yet to be released by DOE, but that isn’t stopping D.C. and many other communities from trying to get a head start on the HCZ-modeling process.

Other cities recently announcing incipient PN preparatory efforts include Flint, Michigan, Savannah, Georgia [see Savannah Morning News, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Savannah Morning News], Kansas City, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois, just to name a few in the news in the past month.

Why has the White House delayed the Promise Neighborhoods NOFA? There are lots of theories, none dispositive. But for any successful applicant desiring federal incentive funds toward replicating the fabulously well-funded Harlem Children’s Zone, it’s going to take a consortium of players and some heavy commitments from private funders. Having Susie Buffett’s philanthropic largesse in your plan helps.—Rick Cohen