When A Public School Closes



July 28, 2015; National Public Radio, “nprED”

In large cities across the country, public schools districts are consolidating schools. Sadly, once the schools close, many of the buildings remain vacant, breeding crime and hemorrhaging resources.

Over the last decade, many major cities from Chicago to Tulsa lost large numbers of families with school-aged children. As these families moved to the suburbs, the infrastructure that supported them also emptied, particularly the schools. Many city districts consolidated and closed schools. In the 2010 school year alone, two percent of all public schools in the U.S. were closed. As schools close, one question rarely considered is what happens to the abandoned buildings afterward.

Over the last 43 years, the number of students in the St. Louis, Missouri school districtfell almost 80 percent from 115,543 to 24,000. This drastic drop led to the closing of 43 out of the 111 schools in the city, most in the last ten years. Virginia Savage understands this trend too well. Her area is filled with vacant buildings, including the school she went to as a girl, Marshall Elementary. It was shuttered in 2004. Over a decade later, the building remains abandoned and little is done to protect it from the drug dealers and users who have replaced the students.

Virginia knows that a closed school does not automatically turn into an eyesore. She volunteers in a church that is located in a closed school. The school district sees the potential of these once-stately schools as well. They contracted with architects, real estate developers, and others to explore the opportunities.

Repurposing these abandoned school buildings often has a domino effect on the entire community, according to Jessica Eiland, president of Northside Community Housing, Inc. in St. Louis. The organization creates affordable housing in the city. Its first housing project was the renovation of an old school into twenty affordable apartment units for seniors.

What Virginia’s community is experiencing is going on across the country. In December of 2012, Philadelphia announced what was then the largest single-year closing of public schools in the nation. A total of 37 schools, or fifteen percent, were closed. Chicago followed less than a year later with the decision to close 50 schools.

In 2013, the Pew Trust completed a study documenting the consolidation, abandonment, and repurposing of public schools in twelve cities: In addition to Chicago and Philadelphia, the study comprised Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City (MO), Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Washington (DC). Throughout the twelve districts, 301 former schools remain vacant and 267 were sold, leased, or repurposed. The typical school for sale is located in a residential area and is over 60 years old and larger than 50,000 square feet. Those sold were purchased for a price between $200,000 and $1 million, often well below initial projections. In some cities, public school buildings for sale compete with shuttered parochial schools. Additionally, Pew noted that the sale of an abandoned school does not always lead to reuse.

The study found that more than 40 percent of the buildings sold, leased, or reused went to charter schools, but this option is controversial. One reason is that as charter schools expand into bigger buildings, they often attract additional public school students, leading to further reductions in the population of the public school district. To prevent this, many districts, including St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, limit, refuse, or are legally unable to sell closed school buildings to charter schools. In Chicago, there’s a shift in this trend as buildings remain vacant. In other school districts, like Tulsa, charter schools and other organizations with a mission of teaching and learning are given first priority.

Refraining from selling these buildings to charter schools does not seem to prevent student flight, either. For example, in St. Louis, public charter schools enrolled 42 percent of all public school students in 2014. In 2006, the district listed the Hodgen school building for $1 million. A charter school offered to buy the building, but the district refused. The charter built a brand new school across the street for $7.5 millionand spent an additional $774,279 to demolish Hodgen and use the land for a parking lot and playground.

The longer a building remains vacant, the harder it is to sell and repurpose. Additionally, school districts often choose to close schools because the buildings themselves are in poor condition. Tearing one down could cost a district half a million dollars at least.

Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2015/08/03/when-a-public-school-closes/


Nonprofits Step into Gap on Curing Childhood Cancer



July 20, 2015; Newsweek

The average age of a child diagnosed with cancer is six. Although those suffering from more common cancers have access to breakthrough medications, those with less common forms have little hope. Nonprofits are working to change this deadly diagnosis.

On Friday, Nonprofit Quarterly examined the high cost of cancer drugs and how these drugs’ high price tags do not always correlate to life saving results. Here, we examine the lack of medications available for many childhood cancers.

In the United States, more children die from cancer than any other disease. Each year, one in 285 children are diagnosed with the disease and an estimated 2,000 will eventually die from it. Worldwide, more than 175,000 children are diagnosed, or one every three minutes. Two-thirds of those treated will suffer long-term effects; by the age of 45, 80 percent suffer severe life-threatening conditions.

Four-year-old Penelope had neuroblastoma, a form of cancer originating in nerve tissue. Suffering since the age of one, she received all of the conventional therapies, including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and a bone marrow transplant, but the cancer continue to grow unhindered. Her father, John London, refused to give up and turned to the Internet. He learned of a study at the University of Vermont using an anti-parasitic drug. The drug was originally used to treat an unrelated infection, but it also seemed to affect neuroblastoma tumors. After learning of the unexpected occurrence, Dr. Giselle Sholler did a specific study and found the drug reduced tumor size in cell lines and mouse models by up to 75 percent.

Mr. London wanted the drug for Penelope, but it was not approved in the U.S. for this use. Although Bayer, the manufacturer, did not have any immediately available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had stockpiled the drug for possible outbreaks of Chagas disease, a potentially deadly infection occurring mostly in Latin America but increasingly seen in parts of the U.S. After two months of calling Bayer, the CDC, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—which possesses the power to grant compassionate-use approval—Penelope received it. Six weeks later, she was active again.

According to the American Cancer Society, less than one percent of all cancers affect children. But, more children die from childhood cancer than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital abnormalities, and diabetes combined. And since 1975, the overall number of cancer patients is increasing. While children suffering from more familiar types of cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, have access to new treatments that have made significant improvements, those like Penelope who suffer from less common cancers have few new options. Part of the reason is the cost pharmaceutical companies incur to develop new drugs: around $1.4 billion. In addition, childhood cancer receives less than four percent of the entire National Cancer Institute’s research budget. This translates to $185.1 million, or forty to fifty therapeutic trials across the country. What’s more, the amount the Institute spends has been decreasing over the last four years.

Because of the lack of interest from Big Pharma and the paltry amounts of government funding, nonprofits have stepped in to fill the gap. Mr. London and another father, Scott Kennedy, whose son, Hazen, also died of neuroblastoma, began Solving Kids Cancer. The organization continues to be led by parents whose children suffered from cancer. Its mission is to “proactively drive the creation of innovative treatments to help kids that are sick right now. By using small, nimble trials, [they] discover new treatment options at revolutionary rates.” Currently, the organization is sponsoring twenty-six trials and raised $650,000 at their 2015 spring event.

St. Baldrick’s Foundation is another nonprofit leading the search for a cure. Started in 1999, the organization raises most of their critical funds by shaving volunteers’ heads for charity. Between 2005 and 2012, the organization raised one hundred million dollars in additional childhood cancer research.

Since less than five percent of children survive relapsed neuroblastoma, developing new drugs and therapies is crucial. Clearly, there is much work to be done for the Penelopes and Hazens of the world.

Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2015/07/27/nonprofits-step-into-gap-on-curing-childhood-cancer/

Little League Championship Team Stripped of Title


America’s Little League championship team, Jackie Robinson West (JRW), was stripped of their title last week by Little League International. Officials determined that team staff expanded the team’s residency boundaries without receiving required approval from neighboring teams. The team questioned whether they were being held to a higher standard than other teams and hired counsel. As the two sides query the other party’s activities, it is clear the feelings and actions of the young players are being ignored.

The Jackie Robinson West team thrilled many as they won game after game and progressed to the Little League Championship in Pennsylvania in August of 2014. The team, made up entirely of African-American players from the South Side of Chicago, was particularly newsworthy at a time when many African Americans have lost interest in baseball. Before progressing to play in the Championship against the team from Seoul, South Korea, JRW beat the Mountain Ridge team from Las Vegas. JRW was the first Chicago area team to progress to the international final since 1967. Although they lost to the South Korean team, JRW was beloved and even traveled to the White House to celebrate with the First Family.

Sadly, the excitement was not to last. In December, allegations surfaced that some of the players were recruited from outside of JRW’s geographic boundaries. Little League International has strict rules on where players can live. These rules are meant to create community teams where players often know each other from school and build friendships that continue off the field. The League allows neighboring teams to approve of the geographic expansion before players from these areas can play on other teams.

At that time, Little League International dismissed the complaints, stating that neighboring teams approved of the expansion. The vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association was the first to voice claims of suspicion. The team began investigating members of JRW after the Evergreen Park team lost to JRW in a sectional playoff game called after a little more than four innings. The score was 43-2. The Evergreen Park team pulled up public records, including voter and vehicle registration, to determine residency of JRW players. Evergreen Park is a mostly white suburb surrounded by the City of Chicago on three sides.

Although these initial claims of unauthorized expansions were dismissed, additional claims surfaced. Recently, officials from three neighboring teams, including the team from Rosemoor, came forward to state that they did not approve of JRW encroaching into their geographic area. The Rosemoor team’s geographic area is made up of the largely African American far south side of Chicago. After this additional evidence was revealed, the League fired JRW and district staff and stripped JRW of their championship, awarding it to the Las Vegas team.

In response, JRW hired attorney Victor Henderson to investigate whether other teams were similarly investigated. Mr. Henderson is part of the Henderson Adams Law firm. The firm has defended musician R. Kelly and government leaders including former governor Rod Blagojevich. The legal team will not only explore whether there is evidence JRW staff violated residency rules, but also whether the team is unfairly being held to a higher standard.

This is not the first time Little League teams have been stripped of their titles. In 1992, a team from Zamboanga, PA, was stripped of their title because players were from outside of their geographic area or over the age of 13. Similarly, in 2001 a team from the Bronx, New York, was forced to forfeit its games after its pitcher was discovered to be 14.

Clearly, the current controversy is far from over. But as investigations continue, questions remain whether the punishment hurts the adults responsible for any wrongdoing or whether it hurts the young players, whose integrity has never been questioned.


Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/25616-little-league-championship-team-stripped-of-title.html

Data? It Depends! Counting Homeless People Depends Upon Your Definition


The Great Recession led to an explosion in the number of people experiencing homelessness. Many turned to relatives and friends before turning to shelters or the streets. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for defining and tracking the number of homeless people. It currently does not define people “couch surfing” or living in motels as among the homeless. New legislation proposes to expand the definition of homelessness, but without increasing resources to support a system that’s over capacity and drastically underfunded, the bill fails to address the underlying problem.

Katie Jeffery’s 17th birthday present from her mom was the streets. Katie’s mother kicked her out of the house; the youth traveled from friends’ couches to cars, motels, and even a shed for the next four months as she battled to graduate from high school. Because she was never forced to live on the streets, HUD never counted her as homeless.

The nation’s public schools identified over 1.2 million students as homeless last year. Eighty percent are not defined as homeless by HUD and therefore are ineligible for essential services. States with smaller populations, like Wyoming, where Katie was living, are seeing some of the biggest increases; unfortunately, they also have the fewest resources. More than half of HUD-funded emergency shelters are located in major cities.

Last week, bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress to expand the definition of homelessness. TheHomeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 was introduced in the House by Representatives Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA). Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced it in the Senate. If passed, it would identify homeless families and youth without regard to where they are staying. It would also give localities more power over how to spread their limited and grossly inadequate federal resources dedicated to these critical services.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness agrees that HUD’s definition of homelessness is out of date. But currently, only 14 percent of the approximately 380,000 unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 who “experience a runaway or homeless episode lasting more than one week” every year are served. For the nation’s system of shelters and other nonprofit service organizations to have the capacity to serve all of these youth, resources would need to be expanded by a factor of seven.

According to the Alliance, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 would add an additional 7 million people eligible for services. Without additional funds, the organization is concerned that scarce resources will be shifted away from people living on the streets to those that have someplace to stay, however insecure.

One can only hope that a more accurate number would further strengthen the argument for additional resources. But given that slightly more than one in ten homeless people are currently being served, one wonders how much larger the inadequacy would need to be for our nation to allocate the resources needed to fund these crucial programs.

Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/25539-data-it-depends-counting-homeless-people-depends-upon-your-definition.html

Outcomes Evidence Proves Case for Youth Employment


Youth employment is recognized as a solution to decreasing the summer spike in crime, but is it worth the cost, and does it have impact beyond the summer months? A new study of Chicago youth living in thirteen high violent school areas documented a 43 percent drop in violent crime during employment plus the thirteen months afterwards.

The study explored the effect of part-time employment on 1,634 youth from thirteen high-violence areas of Chicago. Students participating in the program were almost entirely minority and more than 90 percent were enrolled in free or reduced lunch during the school year. About one-fifth of the students had been previously arrested and about a fifth had been a victim of a crime.

Students participating in the study (ages 14-21) were randomly separated into three groups. One group was employed for 25 hours a week for eight weeks at minimum wage ($8.25 per hour). A second group was employed for 15 hours a week, along with participating in ten hours of social-emotional learning classes intended to educate participants on understanding and managing aspects of their behavior that might interfere with successful employment. In addition, both groups of students were matched with an adult job mentor to assist them in managing employment barriers. The third control group was not offered employment through the program.

The objective of the study was to answer the question, does summer employment have lasting impact on youth? It was overseen by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Sara Heller. The 2012 study was a collaboration between the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, the University of Chicago Crime Lab, and One Summer Chicago, a local and county government partnership created in 2011. The program, named One Summer Plus, employed students in diverse positions, including as camp counselors, community garden workers, and assistants in city aldermen’s offices.

The study documented a lasting impact on youth behavior. Administrators worked with the Chicago Police Department to identify results both during employment as well as thirteen months after employment. The study found that students in the first and second groups were arrested for violent crimes 43 percent less than the control group. Students were slightly more likely to be involved in property and drug-related crimes, but the amount was statistically insignificant. The study did not document any differences in behavior between students in the two employed groups.

The 2012 study results were even more significant given the high rate of unemployment among youth. The 2010 employment rate for low-income black teens in Illinois, nine percent, was less than one-fourth that of higher-income white teens, at 39 percent. During that summer, youth employment was at a 60-year low, particularly for low-income minority teens. Additionally, in 2013, One Summer Chicago received 67,000 applications for 20,000 employment opportunities.

Often, leaders measure impact of these types of programs in monetary terms alone, leading to drastic undervaluation. In the 2012 program, each employed student cost $3,000, including $1,400 in wages plus $1,600 in administrative costs. Societal benefits of reduced crime are estimated at $1,700 per student. But youth living in areas of low employment and high criminal activity experience other benefits, including learning the importance of work as well as good habits they can use throughout their lives.

With the recession ending, employment is rising, but youth are often the last to find employment. Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall youth unemployment rate is 14 percent, down only two percent from a year before. This means there are an estimated 5.6 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 that are neither enrolled in school nor employed.

Original Cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/25348-summer-jobs-for-youth-decrease-crime.html