Duncan Bus Tour and Promise Grants
2013 was the fourth year that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan headed up a back-to-school bus tour. The theme this year was “Strong Start, Bright Future.” Over five days this fall, Duncan and other Dept. of Education employees traveled 1,100 miles on the bus. Rallies were held at stops in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California.
The Dept. of Education website announced, “Each stop will highlight the importance of ensuring that all students benefit from high-quality educational opportunities, including Preschool for All, college affordability, ConnectED, first-term efforts, and comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on education.” (8-19-13)
After the final school visit in Chula Vista, California, Duncan joined local school officials, education stakeholders, and community leaders to talk about the Promise Neighborhoods program, which “focuses on cradle-to-career initiatives that call on the entire community to provide comprehensive place-based supports such as high quality early learning, rich after-school activities, and crime prevention.” (ED.gov website, 9-17-13)
According to Arne Duncan, a neighborhood near Castle Park Middle School in Chula Vista “received a five-year, $28 million Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Education . . . [and] the school and community are undergoing a remarkable turnaround.” Duncan stated, “The area’s nonprofit South Bay Community Services, along with 28 local partners, is providing early learning, after-school support, increased access to health and wellness services, counseling and social supports, and workforce development services for children and families in the surrounding neighborhood.” (Christian Science Monitor, 9-30-13)
Promise Grants are awarded to areas described as the “most distressed communities.” Promise Neighborhoods are “now in 20 states and the District of Columbia,” according to the Dept. of Education website. They are awarded using “grant competitions.” In 2011 there was just under $30 million available, but in 2012 the Dept. of Education handed out almost $60 million in Promise Neighborhood dollars.
Arne Duncan summed up his analysis of U.S. education in the Christian Science Monitor: “So, from cradle to career, from countryside to city-side, Americans are working hard to receive the world-class education they need to succeed in today’s knowledge-based, globally competitive economy.”
On the tour, Duncan also touted Common Core as “rigorous, state-crafted,” and “rais[ing] standards and expectations for children, instead of lowering them,” although many cite contradictory evidence. It is noteworthy that the tour bus made no stops in states in an uproar over Common Core implementation. The cradle-to-career, universal preschool, health care, counseling, and immigration focus of the bus tour also reinforces the belief by Common Core opponents that the Dept. of Education is delving deep into areas that go far beyond educating students.
It is fortunate that Duncan, et al. completed their tour before the federal shutdown, a fight brought on by unnecessary and runaway spending by a government that has run out of money.