Jeff Bryant recounts the story of the revival of Erie, Pennsylvania, which was in the depths of despair, both as a city and as a school district.

Manufacturing was leaving the city, white- and blue-collar jobs were disappearing, poverty levels were rising, the public schools were losing enrollment, and the city and its schools were in deep deficit.

He writes:

As good-paying jobs left Erie, families increasingly left the local schools. By the 2016-2017 school year, the district estimated its schools were 5,000 students below capacity, reported the Erie Times-News, which meant less money was coming into the district from the state, compounding the district’s long-standing funding deprivation from the state—among the lowest in Pennsylvania, according to the Erie City School District’s assessment.

Asking local taxpayers to dig deeper was not an option in a city where almost 28 percent of residents lived below the poverty level, the median home value was significantly below the state average, and an abundance of government-related buildings made almost a third of the real estate tax-exempt.

Erie’s school district was also bleeding money to an expanding charter school sector, one of the largest in the state. In the 2015-2016 school year alone, Erie paid more than $22 million to charter schools.

Students remaining in district schools tended to be the ones who were the costliest to teach. In a 2016 report using data from the 2014-2015 school year, 80 percent of Erie K-12 students were classified as poor, and 17.6 percent qualified for special education services. The district was also in the top 3 percent among Pennsylvania school districts for the number of English language learners.

Jeff explains how a bold superintendent won emergency fiscal aid from the state and launched community schools, before he moved on.

The funding, of course, was crucial, and the community school modeled transformed relations among parents, teachers, students, and schools. As the model become established, it brought hope to a community that had been battered by years of bad news.

Read Jeff’s article to learn how the community schools work in Erie.