“When you lose, someone will get blamed.” So said one of the 47 anonymous Promise Neighborhoods applicants we interviewed back in July after their applications had been submitted. Sadly, the prediction is already coming true.
Dan Rodericks, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s paper criticizing Baltimore’s mayor for favoring a single Promise Neighborhoods applicant in that city, the Center for Urban Families. Unfortunately, CFUF was not subsequently chosen as one of the grantees. In Baltimore, as in many other cities that were not chosen, the criticisms are now becoming public. In some cases, including the Sun column, these criticisms go too far.
CFUF is an UNCA member (along with four of the grantees). However, as a national organization, our membership fell on both sides of this divide. Some of our members were favored by the local political establishment and some were not. That has given us insights into both sides of the argument, but it has also given us a larger sense that we need to get beyond the argument, come together, and move forward.
A Complicated Decision
On the one hand, as we wrote in August, the Baltimore situation was actually quite common. The application process was inherently political. Mayors and others played similar roles in many cities. Moreover, before the Department clarified its policy in its first webinar and FAQ, the idea of a single application per city held some appeal. Resources in many cities were limited. Given that each winning applicant was expected to scale up, if any neighborhood in a city won then the whole city might benefit.
On the other hand, there were also arguments for more than one application per city. The competition for grants was fierce. Under such circumstances, if a city could sustain more than one fully financed, quality application, it made sense to have more than one go forward to increase the city’s chances. The key phrase here, however, is if a city could sustain more than one. After all, the two cities that won two grants, New York and Los Angeles, are the two biggest cities in the nation.
In the end, this was a strategic decision, one that may seem clear in hindsight, but that was not so clear many months ago. No doubt there were important lessons learned in every city, not just Baltimore. After absorbing those lessons, however, it is important that we look forward, not back.
Rodericks ends his column by calling for collaboration. On this point we agree. It is an important take away, not just locally but nationally. It is the driving force behind the National Neighborhood Alliance.
Both nationally and in each of these communities, there are countless good-hearted and incredibly talented people who are determined to change outcomes for children. Let’s not cast blame. Let’s get to work.