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Universal Companies loses out on grant for Promise Neighborhood implementation

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Universal Companies, which was in the running to receive a chunk of federal money to establish a Promise Neighborhood in South Philadelphia, has lost out on receiving an implementation grant.

Philadelphia was not included in the list of five awardees released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education. The five organizations received between $1.5 million and $6 million each from the U.S. Department of Education.

Promise Neighborhoods are a key Obama administration initiative that would provide cradle-to-college educational and social services to young people in underserved neighborhoods. It is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone founded by Geoffrey Canada.

Last fall, Universal received a $500,000 planning grant to investigate feasibility of starting a Promise Neighborhood in Point Breeze and Grays Ferry.

Even though winning the implementation grant was a longshot from the start – more than 200 organizations applied – Universal and former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had touted the idea and used it as one rationale for turning over Audenried High School and Vare Middle School to Universal to be run as charters.

The Promise Neighborhood program is funded at $60 million this year, but some Republicans have tried to kill it entirely.

The School Reform Commission voted to turn over the schools, despite some misgivings about what would happen should Universal not receive the implementation grant. It approved an amendment requiring the company to provide all promised programs and services regardless.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard noted that provision in a statement from the District expressing its disappointment.

"We are disappointed but nonetheless our expectations are that the turnaround work at Audenried and Vare will continue unimpeded. The resolutions granting the charters to Universal specifically note that the programs and services that they agreed to provide will move forward whether or not they would get the Promise Neighborhood grant dollars. We look forward to sitting down with Universal in the near future to review the next steps now that we know the grant dollars are not going to be part of this program."

The Notebook has asked for a statement from Universal and will update the post as soon as we receive it. At the time, Universal Executive Vice President Shahied Dawan said he had "no concern" about fulfilling its obligations under the charter agreement with or without the federal grant.