For nearly an hour Tuesday night, students, parents and educators pressed the Waco City Council to nix a proposal ending funding for Project Promise, a transformative summer program that not only bolsters academic resolve in low-income gifted and talented students but expands their potential in college, careers, cultural appreciation and business. All who spoke were eloquent in their pleas to continue the funding, students past and present especially. They were concise, articulate, smart and, rare for this day, civil. No surprise there. One of the Project Promise classes offered to its 60 students this summer: citizenship.
Only problem? Their aim was a bit off.
As Mayor Kyle Deaver explained, the funding cut is to the city, not by the city. Funding for Project Promise comes from Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — and President Trump has proposed gutting the grant program. While this is unlikely given bipartisan favor shown these grants, the trend has been to shrink funding. This year grants of $3 billion went to state and local governments to provide affordable housing; upgrade infrastructure such as sewers and streets; encourage commercial redevelopment in economically struggling neighborhoods; and, finally, provide “life-enriching services” such as recreational services for youth, job-training for adults and center- and home-based assistance for seniors. While our city determines where much of local CDBG money goes, needs are great and resources from the federal government are fast dwindling. Also, they are to a degree regulated in purpose.
“As federal funding through the block grant program has continued to decline over the past several years, the city of Waco has faced increasingly difficult decisions as to which local organizations will receive funding,” Councilman John Kinnaird told us. “Choosing between domestic abuse victims, impoverished children, homeless individuals or recovering drug addicts is an unenviable and unwinnable situation. Tragically, if the current [presidential] administration has its way, funding through this grant program would disappear completely, as would support for the arts, scientific endeavors and a number of other initiatives that benefit all of us. Our communities would suffer and those most in need would find vital resources taken away from them.”
Factor in state legislators now pushing more restrictive revenue caps on cities throughout Texas, undermining efforts to locally fund such worthy programs, and one sees the dilemma, even as Project Promise officials contest city scoring that leaves the program uncertain. (CDBG funds for it have dwindled from $62,500 at program inception in 1999 to $36,934 this summer.) And officials acknowledge the challenge of securing funding from major foundations, given the program’s modest size. National foundations seek big bang for their bucks. Local funding sources might yet save the program by summer 2018, but if it’s to be viable long-term, students, parents and educators would be wise to plead their case before Congressman Bill Flores during his town-hall meeting Monday. Unfortunately, they’ll have to make their case by phone.