A new federal program presents the potential to improve education by investing in distressed communities. Created as part of the 2017 federal tax law, the Opportunity Zones program offers up to $6 trillion to jumpstart economic development in over 8,700 communities across the country. A recent post by the creator of the original proposal explains how the program can support education and workforce development initiatives.
In The Education Opportunity in Opportunity Zones, published in Education Next, John Bailey outlines the challenges faced by distressed communities, and the potential for the new program to spur improvement. Bailey—an advisor to the Walton Family Foundation, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and previous Bush White House advisor—notes that millions of Americans live in distressed communities, defined by higher rates of poverty and lower levels of income, educational attainment, and workforce participation.
How might communities attract and leverage investments to bolster education? Bailey identifies several areas for impact:
- Early-childhood and afterschool care: Funds could be used to purchase or build new facilities or rehabilitate existing ones for providers
- Elementary and secondary schools: Funds could be used to renovate and build school buildings, start mixed-use community centers, and even finance workforce housing for teachers.
- Charter schools: Communities could use funds as a source of facilities funding, much needed for the nearly 70 percent of Opportunity Zones that are located in “charter deserts.”
- Workforce-training programs: Funds could help states and communities create or expand workforce-development programs, and could help businesses provide mentoring and job training directly.
- Colleges and universities: Institutions could use funds to commercialize research, incubate student startups, and expanding student housing.
To learn more about the current lack of investment in distressed communities, the bipartisan support behind the program, and other opportunities in Opportunity Zones, read Bailey’s full piece here.