Obama Developing Baby Colleges to Combat Poverty
Obama laid out the proposal in a July 2007 campaign speech and followed through earlier this year by including the public-private venture in his budget outline.
At the president's direction, officials at the Department of Education are currently working on the Promise Neighborhoods initiative with the White House's Domestic Policy Council and an assortment of other government agencies.
Obama's goal is to begin taking grant applications next year. The program does not yet have a price tag but Obama said as a candidate that he expects it to cost the government "a few billion dollars a year" with half of the funding coming from philanthropies and businesses.
"The philosophy behind the project is simple," said Obama in his July 2007 speech. "If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works."
Obama's model for the Promise Neighborhoods, the Harlem Children's Zone, is a holistic system of education, social service, and after-school programs addressing the needs of more than 8,000 children and their families who live in a 97-block area of New York.
Before the kids ever get to school, the program offers parenting classes for new moms. The program operates two intensive public charter schools. It also offers a "Harlem Gems" pre-k program, provides free tax assistance, and teaches community organizing techniques.
Canada, the president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, recently spoke with ABC News about President Obama, his experience in New York, and what it would take to replicate the program's successes around the country.
You met Barack Obama five months before he publicly pledged to replicate your program around the country. How did that initial encounter happen?
"Obama had been invited to a small gathering of Wall Street finance folk and my board chair, Stan Druckenmiller, asked me if I wanted to come, and I said 'Yes.' And I met him there and surprisingly enough he said he knew both me and about the work. He had actually been keeping tabs on what we were doing in Harlem it seems for some time."
During the recently completed presidential campaign, your program was touted not only by Obama but also by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate for president. What do you think accounts for the bipartisan popularity of your approach to changing the lives of poor kids?
"Republicans loved the fact that I wanted to fire lousy teachers, hold ourselves accountable, tell people that if we don't do the job, don't give us the money. So they were like, 'Yeah, Geoff's my man.'"
"The Democrats loved the fact that I said teachers were woefully underpaid, that we really need to make investments in our communities and children, and government really matters and could make a difference and they would say 'Yes, that's my man, Geoff.'"