Testimony of PSBA CEO Nathan G. Mains, presented before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, Workforce, Community and Economic Development
Good morning Chairman Browne, Subcommittee Chairman Eichelberger, Chairman Hughes, Subcommittee Chairwoman Schwank and members of the Senate Appreciations Subcommittee on Education, Workforce, Community and Economic Development. Thank you for inviting the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to present testimony regarding community schools. I am Nathan Mains, PSBA’s Chief Executive Officer.
PSBA commends Senator Browne for his support of the community school model and his willingness to sponsor PSBA priority legislation that would begin to foster this concept in Pennsylvania via his co-sponsorship memo dated August 2017. We also would like to thank Representative Seth Grove who introduced PSBA supported House Bill 995 as a starting point for these conversations. This innovation is supported by so many providers and groups that implement community school programs across Pennsylvania and we are thrilled to see so many of our school districts reaching out to begin to use the community school approach on their own initiative.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a directive that states must identify low-performing public schools and focus efforts to begin to improve these schools. Pennsylvania’s state ESSA plan identifies the lowest performing 5% of Title I schools, as well as schools with low high school graduation rates or chronically low-performing subgroups for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI). The CSI designation targets academic intervention, financial, and planning resources towards these schools with the goal of improving student outcomes. While this is a start to addressing the needs of these schools we must do better.
Lower student performance on standardized tests and other academic measures is clearly shown to be related to high poverty rates in these school communities. They typically are in places of economic decline without the ability to generate local funding because of low property wealth. As a consequence, these schools deal with varying issues that for the most part stem from the challenges of poverty. While our new school funding formula begins to change the financial responsibility of the state, we need to begin to address in a holistic way the challenge of poverty which previous plans and strategies seem to completely ignore. Poverty impacts student performance and contributes to barriers that impact students’ daily lives as seen in the State of Education report graph below. Those barriers include a limited access to technology at home, lack of access to medical and mental health care, a lack of permanent housing and struggling to keep food on the table.
Community schools, or innovation schools, focus on developing full service schools that are community hubs. These schools concentrate on partnering with the community to address their challenges by becoming the center that provides the resources the community needs to make education once again a priority. Regional United Way organizations, local governments, businesses and especially families who have a stake in the public school community develop the approach in concert with school administration and invest together to address student needs. This all starts with an administration that reaches out to these groups and coordinates planning sessions/needs assessments that productively focus on community needs. Partnership in a need assessment planning effort is key to these schools – not only do they research what academic and nonacademic barriers students have, but they help focus the skills in the community toward addressing the problems the students face.
Innovation schools place students at the center of all this planning and begin to address the barriers to their learning through a result-oriented plan. These schools may deploy services for students that include consistent tutoring, in-school healthcare services that cover families, counseling for students and families, employment assistance for students and families, mentor program for students and families as well as college and career prep. Linking students and their families to medical and mental health care and supporting families via parent education, counseling, food banks and employment begins to address the obstruction to learning that poverty creates. While these services go beyond the typical scope of our public schools and contain additional costs, they are drastically needed in our struggling schools. This approach does not base its results on the feelings of participants but is designed to focus on metrics that are aligns with research on the factors that promote education success.
There are a few studies that have begun to measure the effect of this approach that have begun to show that innovation like this has a return on investment:
- “The Economic Impact of Communities in Schools,” completed in 2012 by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., estimated a return of $11.60 for every $1 invested in a Community School program, over 53 years. The investment is estimated to reach a break-even point after nine years.
- “Measuring Social Return on Investment for Community Schools —A Practical Guide,” completed in 2013 by The Finance Project, provides a case study of the Children’s Aid Society’s community school. It estimates a social return on investment of $10.30 for an elementary school and $14.80 for a middle school.
- “Oakland Community School Costs and Benefits: Making Dollars and Cents of the Research,” prepared by the Bright Research Group in 2013, provides two distinct ROI estimates of the Elev8 Oakland community school model. Considering all investments made in the program, not just the initial foundation investment, the return on investment is $4.39.
My colleague presenting with me today, Rick Amato, Principal of the Broughal Middle School in the Bethlehem Area School District has seen significant changes in his students since implementing a community school approach. He will elaborate on the reduction in truancy, student discipline cases and other positive results that have occurred in his school. This is a wonderful example of how this program can address the barriers to learning and turn schools around.
PSBA has been working with legislative staff and will continue to offer assistance as this concept begins to develop into a viable proposal. We believe this is the way to address schools that need additional help. We strongly believe that this innovative approach provides the key to supporting our struggling students and communities with the academic and social guidance, tools and services they need for success.
On behalf of PSBA, I want to thank you for your attention and this opportunity to provide input. I will be happy to try to answer any questions you may have.