Austin's Promise Deferred

Neighborhoods miss out on initial Fed grants

Juan Sánchez:
Juan Sánchez: "It will just take more hard work, effort and love." (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Unfortunate news for two Austin communities: Neither of the two local groups that applied for the new Federal Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grants (the Austin Achievement Zone in St. John/Coronado Hills and the East Austin Children's Promise based in Govalle/John­ston Terrace) have been picked to share in this first round of cash.

The purpose of the money is to allow groups around the country to emulate the successes of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York, where integrated educational, social, healthcare and planning policies are being used to break longstanding cycles of child poverty and urban despair. The two projects were amongst 339 groups that applied for the funds (see Promises, Promises, Aug.6). Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that 21 applicants will share in the opening round of $10 million.

Two Texas groups – Houston's Neighborhood Centers, Inc. and the United Way of San Antonio & Bexar County, Inc. – were awarded a share of the cash. However, just because neither Austin group did, that doesn't mean they're shutting up shop. Allen Weeks of the St. John Neighborhood Association said, "We had anticipated the possibility, or even the probability of not getting the grant, given the odds, so no one was planning in such a way as we'll have to shift gears."

Weeks confirmed that his group will submit their paperwork for a share of the $200 million available for actual programs in the next financial year. There's also new hope in the form of an extra $10 million, announced today by the DoE, for a second round of planning grants. The Feds will also give them a good opportunity to fine tune their proposal before then. Weeks said, "In two to four weeks, they will release all the applications, cleaned up for confidentiality, along with the scoring." All the successful applicants in this round got 96 or higher, and Weeks said the recurrent theme was "a long-term commitment by a broad range of partners. They're not one group trying to do this thing, they're really partnerships."

Southwest Key President Juan Sánchez, whose charter school lies at the heart of the East Austin Children's Promise, said that even before the announcement, "We welcomed a new class of 7th graders to our East Austin College Prep Academy this month; this summer we registered close to 400 local folks to vote, and right now there are 20 job-seekers from the local community downstairs in our community room receiving advanced career training."

Sánchez added, "While this planning grant would have been a wonderful thing, it’s not going to stop us from doing this work and building new partnerships. It will just take more hard work, effort and love."

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Education, Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, East Austin Children's Promise, Austin Achievement Zone, St. John/Coronado Hills, East Austin Children's Promise, Juan Sanchez, Juan Sánchez

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