District Leaders’ Strategies for Funding and Implementing Community Schools

Research BriefHealthy SchoolsSep 14 2022

Community schools (CS), also referred to as full-service community schools and community hub schools, represent an increasingly prominent strategy to create more equitable and effective learning environments for underserved students and families. CSs are characterized by four pillars of practice: integrated service provision, extended learning opportunities, family and community partnerships, and collaborative leadership and decision making. Through these four pillars, CSs implement a variety of practices that build on students’ and families’ assets and respond to their needs.

Given the breadth of services and programs provided by CSs, implementation of this strategy requires a combination of diverse sources of funding, both public (e.g., federal, state, school district, and city) and private (e.g., local businesses and private foundations). Successful implementation of CSs also requires strategies that build public awareness of these schools, the professional capacity of their staff—especially the community school coordinator (CSC)—and the quality of their practices. To identify funding sources and strategies that can support the expanded implementation of CSs, Child Trends conducted qualitative interviews with CS leaders in four local education agencies (LEAs).[1] The four focal LEAs were purposively selected to represent a range of district sizes, settings, and geographical areas in order to provide insights into different approaches to CS funding and implementation.


We found that the focal LEAs used different context-specific funding strategies but have all been able to scale up their efforts using a combination of district, state, federal, and community funding sources to cover the costs of CSCs and other CS staff, services, and infrastructure. Implementation of the CS strategy has evolved in these districts over time (ranging from 6 to 20 years, depending on the LEA) and has followed a pattern of initiation, expansion, and institutionalization.[2] While each stage has unique features, there can also be overlap between them as the CS strategy expands from a few schools in an LEA to most schools.

  • The initiation stage begins with a few pilot schools and requires one or more champions at the community or district levels to support the strategy in its earliest stages. The CS leaders to whom we spoke identified visionary superintendents and community advocates who worked tirelessly to introduce the CS strategy and philosophy to educators, families, and policymakers.
  • The expansion stage is characterized by the success of the CS strategy in the pilot schools and, over time, by the greater availability of public and private funds—through state, federal, foundation, and agency grants—to increase the number of schools implementing the CS strategy.
  • The institutionalization stage is marked by the development of district or state policies that officially adopt the CS strategy, the hiring or assigning of district-level personnel to oversee its implementation, and the appropriation of dedicated state and local funds sufficient to cover the costs of CS staff (minimally a CSC/school site specialist) and to scale up CS implementation to all or most schools in the LEA.

In this resource, we first briefly describe CS implementation and funding strategies in each of the four focal LEAs, and then offer five strategies for scaling up funding to community schools, based on CS leaders’ insights about sources, roles, and practices.


[1] Child Trends conducted 30- to 60-minute interviews with district leaders overseeing the CS strategy from May 10 to June 10, 2022. We analyzed transcripts and notes from their interviews to identify key themes. Each interviewee reviewed the summary of their district for accuracy. Findings have been anonymized to ensure participant confidentiality.

[2] While we use the term community schools to generically refer to the whole child strategy—which includes integrated services, family and community engagement, collaborative leadership, and expanded learning opportunities—the leaders we interviewed used different terms to describe the strategy in their districts.

Suggested Citation

Sacks, V., Sanders, M., & Okogbue, O. (2022). District leaders’ strategies for funding and implementing community schools. Child Trends. https://doi.org/10.56417/5530q5619k

Our research was funded by a grant from the Richard K. Lubin Family Foundation.

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