How You Can Join the Movement to Create Loving Systems

All communities can use the Loving Cities Framework to look holistically at the level of supports in place and determine a local agenda for delivering a system of love and support to help all children thrive. We have intentionally focused on “thermostat” indicators, meaning things that can be readily changed through policies and practices to provide access to those resources and supports children need. And, every one of the thermostat indicators in the Loving Cities Index can be impacted at a local level.

In each city and locality, we know there are community organizers and activists that have been leading campaigns for transforming school and community systems to support racial justice and more equitable outcomes across the various indicators highlighted here. We encourage elected officials, public sector decision-makers, and local philanthropy to come to the table with these community-based leaders to discuss this data, understand their agendas, and establish and resource a shared plan to rebuild systems to be grounded in love, rather than inequity, and ensure all children are accessing supports for care, stability, commitment, and capacity.

This is more important than ever, given the academic, health, economic and humanity crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the public awareness brought on by the senseless murder of George Floyd and scores of other Blacks whose lives matter. Students will be starting the next school year with new trauma and needs from being out of school and isolated from friends for such a prolonged time – especially with changing economic and health situations at home due to unprecedented loss of jobs of parents and experiencing family members getting sick or possibly dying. The need for social-emotional supports, mental and physical healthcare supports, case management, and individualized learning approaches were critical before, and now must be seen as essential. Similarly, the protests across the country around racial profiling and police violence against Black communities, as well as other communities of color, have begun to galvanize greatly increased support for the ongoing efforts in the education justice movement to remove police from schools, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and ensure we are rebuilding school cultures to be humanizing and grounded in youth development and support. The time is now to take bold actions to address these injustices against Black and brown children that have persisted in schools for far too long.

Across the country, we see powerful examples of organizations and community members taking steps to rebuild systems in ways that give all children an opportunity to learn and thrive. While each city may identify their own priorities, there are four key things that all cities can do to strengthen their system of supports. These are outlined below along with promising models and approaches to learn and build from.

Adopt the Community School Model for Delivering a System of CARE to all Children and Families

To address childhood trauma and other mental and physical needs, cities need to equip each and every public school to be a hub for assessing and meeting healthcare and other resource needs. As an essential component of efforts to improve student learning, especially for low-income students and students of color, learning environments need to be integrated with healthcare delivery, as well as social services, and youth and community development. The Community Schools Model is an approach that treats schools as a hub for children and families to access a range of supports, including healthcare. This model is critical to addressing the childhood trauma that children living in poverty experience, especially children of color who face racialized violence and criminalization.

There are currently over 5,000 community schools and the number is growing, with cities like Cincinnati, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and others making significant commitments to transforming their entire public school network into family-centered resource hubs that meet the full needs of children and their families.

Models like Communities in Schools and City Connects equip schools with staff and tools to provide a system for addressing individual student and family needs at scale. Communities in Schools has affiliates in 25 states and the District of Columbia, serving 1.5 million students in 2,300 schools. “CIS places a school support staff in each school who identifies challenges students face in class or at home and coordinates with community partners to bring outside resources inside schools – from immediate needs like food or clothing to more complex ones like counseling or emotional support.” The results of providing integrated student supports are dramatic: 91% of CIS-served seniors graduated or received a GED and 99% of students stayed in school. For more information on CIS’s model click here.

City Connects has a similar approach being implemented across 79 sites in Boston, Springfield, and Brockton, MA; New York City; Dayton and Springfield, OH; Hartford, CT; and Minneapolis, MN. In addition to individual assessments and referrals to community providers, City Connects uses an advanced tracking system so they can continue to track student utilization of providers and individual progress. Longitudinal studies have shown that students are 50% less likely to drop out with City Connects support and demonstrate higher school readiness, standardized test scores, and higher grades on report cards. For more information on the City Connects model click here.

In addition to school models that refer students to providers, School-Based Health Alliance is a network of local, state and national nonprofits working to “complement the work of school nurses by providing a readily accessible referral site for students who are without a medical home or in need of more comprehensive services such as primary, mental, oral, or vision health care. SBHA understands that healthcare for young people, no matter their zip code, is critical to giving them an equal opportunity to learn and grow and that school-based health care is a powerful tool for reaching children who unjustly experience disparities in access and outcomes. As of 2013-14, there were “2,315 school-based health centers that served students and communities in 49 of 50 states and the District of Columbia, 20% growth since 2010-11.” SBHA and its state affiliates help schools establish and effectively run school-based health centers. For more information on SBHA affiliates, click here.

Address Segregation and the Effect of Gentrification on Neighborhoods and Schools to Increase Community STABILITY and Equitable Allocation of Capital

To address community and school segregation, we need to build a mainstream understanding of the history of policies in the U.S. that created segregation and wealth inequity and come to terms with the damage those policies continue to have on communities today. In his book The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein recognizes that we as a society have largely “forgotten the history of how our government segregated America,” and schools widely teach curricula that have been white-washed, failing to educate the public on our history of oppression and racial segregation. The lack of a broad understanding of how we created opportunity gaps affects the ability to build political will around solutions that meet these root causes of inequity in outcomes. So, shifting the narrative to raise consciousness is critical to addressing inequality in income, homeownership, inter-generational wealth, and political power, all of which are created intentionally by the system of policy and practice rooted in racism and racial and economic inequality.

The Color of Law outlines several examples of affirming policies that could be adopted if there were a greater political will to reverse the damage of past policies and supports rooted in racism. One key policy change community can adopt is inclusionary zoning policy, which can “require housing developers to set aside a portion of the homes they build at below-market rates, and reserve the right for the public housing commission to purchase one-third of those units to operate as subsidized public housing.” Montgomery County, Maryland is a local example that has such policies in place, and the connection to improved educational outcomes is clear. “The program’s success is evidenced by the measurably higher achievement of low-income African American students who live and attend school in the county’s wealthiest suburbs.”

Reforming the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program can also lead to greater community integration. Section 8 is by far the nation’s largest low-income housing program with 2.2 million vouchers authorized to date to help extremely low-income families live in lower-poverty neighborhoods. Because of practices in place for calculating the maximum subsidy and rules that allow discrimination against renters using vouchers, families generally only have the ability to move to incrementally higher-income neighborhoods, and as a result, this program has contributed to the maintenance of economic and racial segregation. Increasing subsidies to be on par with housing costs in more affluent neighborhoods and increasing the number of vouchers allocated to serve all families that have been harmed by historically racist policies would be a large step in beginning to heal and restore justice to communities.

Make a COMMITMENT to Student Success, with Learning Environments Designed for Humanity, Democracy, Education, and Opportunity, not Injustice

American public schools, as our nation’s only mandatory network of institutions for children and families, are a lifeline to opportunity in every urban, suburban, and rural community. That’s why we believe the public education system is also the lifeline for advancing our democracy.

For young people, our public schools are where they often experience their first engagement with society or initial feelings of being pushed out. It’s also where they are first protected or overpoliced, learn about justice, or experience injustice. And it’s where parents and everyone else in the community have the best opportunity to advance efforts to create a more just society, whether that is by putting pressure on local school boards or dealing with local control of state funding.

At the top of the list of practices to create a humane, constructive, positive climate for students is to remove police from schools and end zero-tolerance policies. Restorative justice and police-free schools has been a key demand of community-based organizations and national alliances that Schott is proud to support, such as Journey for Justice (J4J) and Dignity in Schools Campaign—and the groundwork they have laid is the foundation for the accelerated movement by cities such as Minneapolis, Portland (Oregon), and Denver to end police contracts following the police murder of George Floyd. The policy guide produced by Schott in partnership with the Advancement Project, NEA and AFT, Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in School, is a helpful tool for educators and communities to design alternatives to police intervention that have proven effective in providing safety and healthy learning environments.

Racial differences in rates of suspension and expulsion and data on levels of harassment that students are confronted with at school can give us some indication of the discrimination that students face from peers and adults. These “invisible forces” are hard to measure, but are becoming clearer through research from groups like GLSEN and Georgetown Law Center that put data to the implicit biases and harassment that students, teachers, administrators and other adults within the system inflict against girls and boys of color. For recommendations on practices for increasing inclusion and reducing bullying in schools see GLSEN’s report click here.

The Alliance for Quality Education’s (AQE) report outlines one step in developing a comprehensive restorative justice program: creating an effective in-school suspension program that entails discipline in school and offers appropriate services for the student to overcome the reasons for misbehaving and gain the supports they need to succeed in school.
Cities like Baltimore have made strides in adopting policies and practices that create a culture of inclusion within schools and end the cycle of push-out. In 2016, Baltimore had a nearly 20% drop in the number of suspensions, a reflection of the increased focus on positive behavioral interventions in city schools, and of recognizing the need to understand what’s going on in a child’s life that may be manifesting as behavioral issues and providing students with supports rather than removal. Building on these efforts to shift school culture, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, in collaboration with Baltimore City Public Schools, Family League of Baltimore, and the Baltimore School Climate Collaborative, adopted a plan in 2017 to implement restorative justice practices in all Baltimore City Schools within five years. “The use of restorative practices in schools has been shown to support effective leadership and engaging classrooms; develop positive relationships among all stakeholders; and create engaging classrooms and welcoming and safe school communities.”

Increase Public and Private Financial Investment to Build the CAPACITY of Public Schools

Educating a young person requires active engagement, and our federal, state and local resources must show up in a major way to assist educators in addressing and removing from our education systems centuries of inequities. If we do not provide our money, our voice, our advocacy, and other resources during the critical years of educating our children, we will find that our silence and lack of investment will be far more costly than the alternative.

For children to succeed, capacity must include the ability to provide high-quality early childhood education. However, despite the overwhelming evidence of its positive impact on academic success and other long-term outcomes, access to early childhood education continues to be out of reach for roughly 40% of children nationally, Federal programs that provide access to early childhood education need increased funding to meet the scale of need that exists. For the early childhood programs that do exist, they are in many ways further along than K-12 in adopting a holistic, whole-child approach to development. The BUILD Initiative is one of the leaders helping states build systems to support early childhood development. Their approach emphasizes building systems that provide access to quality early care and education as well as primary and preventative healthcare and early interventions. BUILD provides tools, resources, and data to help families and communities build coordinated, systemic responses for each of these early childhood development needs to ensure all children are on a path for a lifetime of learning. For more resources click here.

We need to invest resources equitably in schools to ensure that all schools can provide a system of supports for all children, particularly those living in poverty. In the report Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card (NRC), research shows that “the majority of states have unfair funding systems with “flat” or “regressive” funding distribution patterns that ignore the need for additional funding in high-poverty districts.” Seventeen states have a “regressive” school funding policy, where less funding is provided to school districts with higher levels of student poverty, fueling deeper opportunity gaps in access to educational supports and failing to correct for the opportunity gaps in living environments. The NRC also labels many states like California, Utah, North Carolina, and Tennessee as “low effort” states, because they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems. For data and resources to advocate for fair school funding, click here.

In the report Confronting the Education Debt, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) documents the severe underfunding of Title 1 and IDEA, highlighting that since the inception of those federal laws Congress has failed to appropriate the funds that low-income students and their schools are legally entitled to. As a result, the country owes billions of dollars to Black, brown, and low-income students and their schools, contributing to the inequity in financially resourcing schools to provide high-quality education.

Addressing school financing needs and ensuring public education is adequately resourced at federal, state, and local levels, requires supporting community organizing capacity for education justice. Unfortunately, philanthropy dramatically under-resources community organizing and activism, especially when it comes to education justice work, and that lack of resources for the base-building, advocacy, and organizing work means that the voices and wishes of parents, students, and educators of color get overpowered by special interests, with education spending often being the first to get cut. In Massachusetts, the Schott Foundation has worked with Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Hyams Foundations and other funders to resource a coalition of organizations leading the charge to bring local communities together under a single, statewide umbrella for education equity. This resourcing supported the launch and ongoing collaborative organizing by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA), the only statewide community and labor alliance in the country with local chapters in several “Gateway Cities” and regions singularly focused on education justice. MEJA was a critical force in passing the landmark Student Opportunity Act in Massachusetts in November 2019, that guaranteed an additional $1.5 billion in funding for K-12 public schools, and is working to pass the Fair Share Amendment to address formula adjustments to increase the proportion of dollars going to schools serving low-income students. This same work is needed in states all across the country, and will require investment from philanthropic organizations to seed the organizing and advocacy work across communities of color that is needed to create major wins in public funding changes.