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Contact: Ed Walz
Phone: (202) 657-0685

Cutting Academic Achievement Gaps is Aim of New Papers

Housing & Homelessness
Poverty & Family Economics

Washington – The bipartisan children’s advocacy group First Focus released two new papers today, offering ideas to reduce racial and income disparities in student academic outcomes. One proposes making federal housing funds available to reduce school funding disparities. The other proposes to accelerate progress in establishing “community schools” that marshal resources from community partners to reduce barriers to student success. The papers are included in First Focus’s new publication, Big Ideas – Pioneering Change: Innovative Ideas for Children and Families, a compendium of more than a dozen papers addressing issues ranging from asthma management to intergenerational poverty.

“Education reform debates too often focuses on how to get kids into schools that work, ignoring the factors that determine academic success” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “These proposals address the underlying problems, with the aim of making every school a place where kids can succeed.”

Success Starts at Home: Using the Federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule to Tackle Education Inequalities for Minority Children is authored by Mitria Wilson at the Center for Responsible Lending. The paper observes that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) already recognizes “quality schools” as an indicator of fair housing. It argues that HUD should use school funding inequality data to identify impediments to fair housing, challenge cities and states receiving HUD funding to develop initiatives that generate greater property tax revenue in communities with underfunded schools, and make HUD funds available to implement those initiatives.

“If good schools are already part of what HUD means by ‘fair housing,’” said Lesley. “HUD must invest making good schools available where children already live.”

Community Schools: A Vehicle for Educational Equity is authored by Congressman Michael Honda (D-California) and California State Senator Carol Liu (D-Los Angeles). Community schools coordinate a community’s support systems to address barriers that impede students’ academic success, like hunger, unmet health needs, and domestic violence. A 2014 Child Trends report reviewed national evaluations of integrated student supports and community school initiatives, finding that community schools reduce grade retention and dropout rates, while increasing attendance, math achievement, and grade point average. The paper cites federal legislation as an opportunity to incentivize adoption of the community schools approach, by providing federal funding to seed school-community partnerships.

“Congressman Honda and Senator Liu understand – what happens outside the classroom has a huge impact on a child’s potential inside the classroom,” said Lesley. “To accelerate progress on the problems that hold kids back, the federal government has to be part of the solution.”

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First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit