U.S. Education Secretary Announces Grant Competitions to Encourage Diverse Schools

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U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. today announced a new grant competition to support districts and their communities in preparing to implement innovative, comprehensive, collaborative, and locally-driven strategies to increase diversity in schools. King also announced the 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance Program competition, which will provide districts with funds to help create integrated public schools and support high-quality, theme-based educational programming.

“Today, we are taking another step toward helping schools create and maintain diversity,” said King. “We must support local communities in their efforts as diversity is critical for a well-rounded education. Together, our nation can choose a better future for our children—one that prepares all students to live, work and compete in our increasingly interconnected, global economy.”

Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities is a new grant competition that will support districts in increasing socioeconomic diversity in schools, improving student academic achievement, and improving schools by increasing student diversity.

As part of this new competition, the Department will invest $12 million in up to 20 districts or groups of districts to fund the development of blueprints for increasing socioeconomic diversity in schools and complete pre-implementation activities focused on student diversity. Grantees may also seek to promote student diversity by considering additional factors beyond socioeconomic diversity, including race and ethnicity, in their efforts to diversify schools. Grantees will use funds to, for example, engage the community on the best approaches to promote student diversity, conduct data analysis, set measureable diversity goals, and take preliminary steps toward implementation of school diversity efforts (e.g. piloting activities such as admissions lotteries or redesigned school assignment boundaries). Rural districts and those that wish to exploreinter-district diversity efforts are strongly encouraged to apply and will receive priority. All districts with schools that receive or are eligible to receive School Improvement Grant funds may apply to the competition, which is open until Feb. 13, 2017. The Department anticipates selecting the grantees by Spring 2017.

The 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance Program provides resources for district efforts to create schools that effectively serve students from varied racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. These five-year, $15 million grants represent an increase in both the grant duration and the total grant amount in order to help schools undertake the longer-term efforts that can successfully improve a school’s diversity integration and academic performance. Applications are due by April 11, 2017.

King made these announcements today during a visit to Goldsmith Elementary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was joined by Congressman John Yarmuth, Mayor Greg Fischer, Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens, district and community leaders, students, parents, and educators. Louisville has become a leader in school integration following a court ruling in the 1970s that required more diverse schools. Since that ruling, communities in Louisville have committed to maintaining racial and economic diversity.

From Louisville to Omaha to Cambridge, Massachusetts, communities across the country are voluntarily and intentionally pursuing diversity because they recognize its impact on strong teaching and learning. But there is more work to be done.

Research shows that diversity in schools and communities is associated with positive academic and life outcomes. But schools are only one aspect of increasing diversity in the nation’s communities. Communities can and should work together across local education, transportation, and housing and community-development agencies to help create and sustain access to high-quality educational opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and well-connected public transportation networks and safer streets.

In July, King addressed the National PTA and noted the importance of diversity “…not just in schools, but also in classrooms within those schools. It’s not just enough for kids from diverse backgrounds to pass each other in the hallways or on the playground. True diversity requires students to actually learn alongside one another. That’s not something that will happen by itself. That requires decisions by policymakers at every level…”

King continued, “The benefits of diversity extend beyond academics. In today’s world, your boss may not look like you, your office-mate may not worship like you, your neighbor may not speak the same language as you, and your customer may not live on the same continent as you.”

Schools today must prepare students for this new reality. Diversity in education—cultural, racial, linguistic and socioeconomic—can help boost empathy, reduce bias, and increase the chances that low-income students will attend college without compromising the academic outcomes of their middle class peers in any way. It exposes students to new perspectives and a healthy exchange of ideas that will help enlarge their world views. Diversity also increases the likelihood students will succeed and become leaders in their careers and communities by working with individuals with different lived experiences. Studies show that companies reporting the highest levels of racial diversity brought in nearly 15 times more sales revenue on average than those with the lowest levels of racial diversity.

President Obama’s FY 2017 Stronger Together budget proposal supports the voluntary development and expansion of new and existing, community-driven strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity in America’s schools. Additionally, as states are implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation has an opportunity to advance equity and reclaim the promise of an excellent education for students from all backgrounds.

The Department has supported school diversity in a number of ways:

  • Along with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, the Department issued a joint letter to state and local leaders calling on them to work together to create real economic mobility and provide access to opportunities for every child in every community by identifying and addressing barriers in their communities that hinder socioeconomic growth and racial diversity.
  • The Department’s recent Charter Schools Program, Investing in Innovation, and Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant competitions include a focus on fostering diversity in schools. The Department also published a new supplemental priority that will be used in future Department grant competitions to support socioeconomic diversity strategies.
  • Socioeconomic diversity is now a focus area of the Department’s Equity Assistance Centers. These regional centers provide technical assistance to school districts to promote equal educational opportunities.