As most parents know, educating a child is a 24-7 job; it's not just when school is in session. It involves everything from the meals they eat, to the guidance they receive at home, to the support they get from the community. The basic premise is a child can't learn if he or she is hungry, ill or lacks direction.
That's where full service community schools enter the picture. They provide more than just after-school programs. They provide comprehensive academic, social and health services for students, family and community members who need them, which will improve educational outcomes for children. That's why last week I introduced the bi-partisan Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2011, which aims to expand the success that we've already seen at Nebraska schools where this structure exists.
By communities working together, our nation's schools can better become the community hub for not only learning, but also vital services and support for families so that students come to school ready to learn and teachers can focus on the job of teaching.
We can improve student achievement by helping schools use resources more efficiently and improving the coordination of services for children and their families. This will improve the quality of services they receive, eliminate unneeded duplication, and save taxpayers money.
Productive partnerships in the community result in students and parents receiving job training and career counseling services; nutrition services and physical activities; primary health and dental care; improved access to social service programs and programs that promote family financial stability; mental health services; and adult education, including instruction of adults in English as a second language.
The public school district in Lincoln adopted the full service community schools model more than 10 years ago and is now operating the program in 25 schools. Lincoln Public Schools has cited the model in its work to narrow the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Other schools with the full-service community schools model in place have seen student performance and attendance rates go up, while dropout rates and the need for disciplinary actions have decreased.
Of critical importance in these difficult budgeting times for state and local governments, community schools can streamline various social service programs and spend less money by leveraging their communities' resources to provide better results for their students.
Given the obstacles rural school districts face in pursuing competitive grants, and because research indicates the full service community school model could be particularly effective in rural communities, the legislation includes dedicated funding for rural applicants.
After the legislation was introduced, Nebraska education leaders praised its increased focus on rural school districts. "Nebraska's rural school districts face obstacles when competing for federal competitive grants, but this is the type of program that could be a natural fit for some rural communities," said Jeff Cole, associate vice president at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
Because of its leveraging of limited resources for better outcomes and because it pays attention to the needs of rural school districts, the Full-Service Community Schools Act is a bill that both Republicans and Democrats support. I look forward to working with the rest of my Senate colleagues to advocate for passage of this significant legislation.