Community school strategies are starting to flourish in the Deep South, jumpstarting a powerful, equitable, and community-informed educational approach that lays the foundation for teaching and learning. The basis for community schools in the South has historic roots that offer ways to practice democracy and build a shared future in the present day.

Today, over one-third of all K-12 students and 56 percent of Black children reside in the South. Meanwhile, education spending per pupil, teacher salaries, college matriculation and completion rates, and math and reading scores are typically below national averages in most southern states. Despite all this being true, only 3 percent of philanthropic investment nation-wide is directed towards the South.

Today, education leaders are working to address these educational conditions that persist throughout the Deep South through community school strategies. The NEA Foundation has made preliminary investments in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi community schools with quarterly convenings for grantees, who have named themselves the “Southern Regional Alliance for Community Schools.” Sneed sees this investment as a way for philanthropies to demonstrate what is truly valued and supported when it comes to equity in education.

The NEA Foundation has a four-pronged approach to supporting community schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi: grants, technical assistance, convenings, and policy change. They make grants that begin with year-long planning—focusing on building relationships that go deep rather than wide—which is why they have grantees in three target states.

When the NEA Foundation launched their Community Schools Initiative (CSI) in 2020, following more than a year of preplanning with people and organizations throughout the region and nationally, to the best of their knowledge there were no community schools in Arkansas or Mississippi, and only one in Louisiana. There are now 16 established and formally named community schools; 13 schools that are under development or slated for transformation into community schools; and seven school districts at a visioning stage that have expressed interest or are developing the community schools strategy. According to Sneed, “Ample research points to up to $15 in social value and economic benefit for every dollar spent in developing a community school.”

Read the full article about community schools by Jennifer Kotting at Brookings.