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September 21, 2010; Source: Building Neighborhoods | One of the Obama Administration’s most eagerly anticipated programs has now reached the planning stage. The Department of Education announced 21 winners of planning grants ranging from a low of $312,000 for the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County to highs of $500,000 for 12 grantees.

These replications and adaptations of the Harlem Children’s Zone program will be getting hefty planning grants, but the implementation money is hard to envision, especially in a budget constrained Congress. All but three of the winning applicants were nonprofits (as distinguished from institutions of higher education). Two grantees were identified as rural and another was a tribal applicant.

Remember that Promise Neighborhoods is a program aimed at vastly improving outcomes for children and families with a kind of cradle to grave approach, with schools—generally charter schools—at their core. Two of the grantees are United Way agencies, at least two are well known Community Development Corporations that have added educational facilities to their neighborhood strategies, and one grantee is the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, a comprehensive community initiative of widespread renown.

These are not all charter schools fishing for community camouflage, and some of these cases seem quite authentic as comprehensive community strategies. Given the possibility of only a pittance of implementation money to carry out what gets planned here, we may be watching several examples of groups for whom the value of their planning process will be as much as they get from the Department of Education.—Rick Cohen

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