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Lesson 5.7

Community Schools:
Services beyond classwork

California is leading a movement to make schools vital in new ways.

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What is a school? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most would have answered this question without much hesitation as a physical place — a set of buildings a where kids and teachers meet for classes, then go home. This answer was never quite right, was it?

Some communities take a broad view of the roles of schools — especially in years when the budget smiles. The general idea is that when schools coordinate the services of the education system with services from other organizations and agencies, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It's a fragile concept with a long history, often described as the community schools movement. This video from Los Angeles County Office of Education explains:

History of community schools

A community school combines support from many sources to address student and community needs. The heart of this strategy is to coordinate efforts among agencies that are separately managed and separately funded, but that have some goals in common. Community schools programs aim to coax these separate organizations into alignment.

Community Schools - Four Pillars.Four Pillars of Community Schools: Click to view the infographic from the Learning Policy Institute.

The idea that schools must contend with the non-academic factors in students' lives is not new. Community schools can be traced to the settlement house movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which began in the US with the famous Hull House in Chicago founded by Jane Adams.

During the twentieth century, when local communities were authorized to raise their own taxes to fund their local schools, some California public schools could afford a wide variety of support services, including nurses, social workers, assistant principals, counselors, art teachers, physical educators and other professionals. After Prop. 13 passed, tax revenue eroded even in the best-off school districts. Support positions began to disappear. Communities looked to other agencies for support.

In the 1980s, education leaders began to talk in earnest about serving the whole child, training teachers and administrators to recognize students’ non-academic needs. The terms wraparound services and case management began to be used.

Not all programs survive.

The state legislature enacted the California Healthy Start Support Services For Children Act in 1991, a year of recovery from economic recession. Under this program, school districts competed for flexible grants to provide support services for students. Many Healthy Start districts expanded after-school programs to include support programs, counseling, tutoring and family services. These grants followed the classic structure of pilot program funding — three years of public funding, with the hope that successful programs would attract outside funding, or that school districts would allocate funds to continue them.

The program didn't survive. As schools struggled to keep their counselors, nurses and after-school programs, as well as to keep up with increased regular costs including teacher compensation, there wasn't enough money to go around. The Healthy Start program met its demise in the market bust of the early 2000s.

The pandemic, Gavin Newsom and community schools

Governor Newsom has been a longtime supporter of community schools — in San Francisco, where he was mayor, substantial funding for community schools is included in the city budget. As Governor, Newsom sought to replicate this kind of collaboration among goverment agencies, notably through Communitity School strategies. During the post-Pandemic stock market surge, Newsom urged a massive expansion of such programs.

Expanded learning

Newsom's support for community schools in California has echoes elsewhere. Community schools enjoyed federal support under the Obama administration's Promise Neighborhoods initiative, a grant program that supported cities in replicating a program that proved successful in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. The program was defunded under the Trump administration, but restored and expanded in the Biden administration.

For schools to do more than educate kids in class, it makes sense to have a vision that extends beyond the school day. After-school strategies for learning are often called expanded learning, as described in Ed100 Lesson 4.7. In the recovery from the pandemic, community support for expanded learning was a key budget priority for both the Newsom administration and the Biden administration.

Designs for after-school and expanded learning programs have been strongly influenced by successful examples that blend the two concepts. One of the most acclaimed is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. This video from Edutopia about New York's Children's Aid Society helps to show some of the possibilities.

Why are Community School programs fragile?

When state funding falters, Community School programs are almost always at risk.

In general, state funding for Community Schools is provided in the form of grants. When budgets permit, funds for programs are created, renewed, or expanded, usually through non-profit agencies or programs. When budgets tighten, the money dries up, either quickly or over time depending on the terms under which the grants were made. Programs that rely on relationships and trust between organizations are hard to build, and they wither easily. Changes in leadership or strategic priorities can also undermine collaboration.

Under such inconsistent conditions, it is difficult for community programs to demonstrate their worth in rigorously measurable ways, which makes sustaining them even harder. The leaders of these inter-agency collaborative programs have to be more than just savvy administrators. They also need to be well-connected, persuasive storytellers to secure funds when the agencies involved are struggling to keep their core funding.

Learn more

A well-run community school doesn’t just happen. Community school leaders have identified best practices, incorporated into the State Board of Education’s frameworks to assist schools in implementing the community school model.

Learn more about community schools in this post on the Ed100 blog. For an example of a community school in action, read the post How to Turn Around a Middle School

The next lesson addresses one of the most important factors driving a school's success or failure: leadership.

Last updated March 2024.


In a “Community School” strategy, schools cooperate with service providers in the community to benefit students and families as a whole.

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder November 17, 2022 at 6:58 am
If you have money and energy to invest in building community connections for your schools, where should you put it? This policy and practice guide from PACE reviews the field, with recommendations: Healing-Centered Community School Strategies. (Aug 2021)
user avatar
Carol Kocivar August 3, 2022 at 8:33 pm
Community schools funding
To further support the implementation of community schools in communities with high levels of poverty, the state 2o22-23 Budget includes additional funding of approximately $1.1 billion one-time Proposition 98 General Fund to assure that eligible local educational agencies interested in applying on behalf of its high-needs schools have access to the community schools grants.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar May 13, 2022 at 1:40 pm
California Community Schools Partnership Program: Cohort 1 Implementation Grants
The following is the proposed list of 2021–22 California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) Implementation Grant Cohort 1 grantees.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder February 7, 2022 at 8:07 am
Community schools received additiinal support from M. Scott
user avatar
Carol Kocivar October 19, 2021 at 1:14 pm
The California 2021-22 budget includes $3 billion Proposition 98 General Fund, available over several years, to expand and strengthen the implementation and use of the community school model to all schools in communities with high levels of poverty.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder February 13, 2021 at 12:56 pm
The governor's proposal for the 2021-22 budget includes $265 million for community schools. The state legislative analyst (LAO) has provided useful background and analysis.
user avatar
Susannah Baxendale January 25, 2019 at 4:14 pm
I believe that any school district that focuses on the whole child (using whatever terminology it chooses), there are positive results. Healthy, well-fed children do better in school; attending to their physical and mental well-being, ensuring that they have school supplies and clean clothes (I believe this came up in an earlier chapter-having clothes washing facilities improved school attendance) and so on. There goes that 'it takes a village' but how true!
user avatar
Caryn January 30, 2019 at 9:42 am
Thanks for your comment, Susannah. Yes, students who attend schools that are able to build those community partnerships can reap tremendous benefits. Screening tests for hearing and vision already exist. Yet, how does one screen for hunger, mental health issues and adequate hygiene without caring adults inside and outside of school on constant watch? We need to be more vigilant about our most vulnerable students if we believe every student in California deserves a great education.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 15, 2016 at 10:10 am
Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools
This report outlines six essential strategies for Community Schools and the key mechanisms used to implement these strategies.
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder October 19, 2015 at 10:24 am
In Schools as community hubs: Integrating support services to drive educational outcomes Michael Horn et. al. suggest that schools could build meaningful integration with social services through "rotations" of staff early in their careers. "...[E]nabling school leaders to learn about other important fields and institutions early in their careers, from the local health care system to the delivery of social services and housing assistance, would give them
a better understanding of how they could integrate these
services into the school."
A shortcoming of this sort of investment is that school leaders often move on.
user avatar
Elaine Weiss April 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Creative funding supports a broad range of strategies that help children, especially disadvantaged students, succeed in school. Community schools, for example, which exist in various iterations across the country, draw on state and local foundations, local business, in-kind provision of after- and summer-school programs, and Title I funds, among others. Indeed, making a school a hub for both students and their parents and bringing those services in-house can free up scarce dollars that would otherwise to go overhead, a boon in tight times. An even more ambitious example, Say Yes to Education, gets support from Syracuse University and over 100 other higher education institutions, agencies, and other sources.

While federal, state, and local budgets are very limited, we need to remember that this is a wealthy country that, at the very least, should be able to provide for all of its children's needs and enable them to fulfill their potential.
user avatar
Serena Clayton April 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm
I agree that health services should not be competing for resources with education - that's not where the opportunity is. All signals are that we are moving toward a health care system that WILL reward improved health outcomes, or at least improved delivery of services believed to impact health outcomes. This is an opportunity for education stakeholders to join the conversation about health care reform and advocate for health services to be located on school campuses.
user avatar
Serena Clayton April 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm
I believe that when we look across the landscape of services for kids, health care emerges as the sector with the most promise for supporting school health services. Health care reform is going to result in more kids getting coverage through Medicaid or the new insurance exchanges. The vast majority of these kids will be enrolled in managed care plans. These plans, and the providers they contract with, are increasingly going to be rewarded based on how well they do on indicators of service delivery and health outcomes. School health services can help health plans and providers get better outcomes for their pediatric patients - more screenings, higher immunization rates, more well-visits, better management of chronic disease, reduced ER visits, reduced teen pregnancies, etc.

One of the areas of work of the California School Health Centers Association is to make the case for school health in the health policy arena. We need to build a bridge between these two very different policy worlds - health and education - to make the case that if each deploys some resources toward school health services (as described in the Oakland example), it's a win, win.
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