If Opportunity Zones are to empower residents, then directing OZ funds to education must be part of the investment equation. That’s the message of an in depth article in Education Next (published by Harvard’s Kennedy School) which cites LISC’s work in the Opportunity Zones—and our OZ playbook for community partners—as vital to helping residents reap the promised benefits of the tax legislation.
The excerpt below is from:
The Education Opportunity in Opportunity Zones
By John Bailey, EducationNext
Facilitating the success of Opportunity Zones
Investment is not guaranteed just because a community is designated an Opportunity Zone. It is up to mayors, community leaders, and local business leaders to bring projects to investors, define priorities, and provide additional support. Only then will Opportunity Zones drive inclusive growth.
How policymakers can help
Mayors and governors are well positioned to identify community assets and needs by evaluating current conditions in their Opportunity Zones. To this end, the Accelerator for America and New Localism Advisors is working with cities like Cleveland, Ohio, Erie, Pennsylvania, Louisville, Kentucky, Stockton, California, and South Bend, Indiana, on investment prospectuses that describe local demographic and economic trends, assets and anchor institutions, and potential projects for investors. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation has also released a playbook to help communities with their planning. Education and workforce institutions need to join these discussions to inform the work and potentially benefit from investment.
Policymakers will need to leverage state support through grant-preference points, eligibility criteria, or other state incentives to make projects in their Opportunity Zones more attractive for investors. So far, more than 150 bills addressing some or all of these policy levers have been introduced this year. Proposed legislation in Alabama, for example, would provide $50 million in tax credits to impact-oriented Qualified Opportunity Funds, which benefit projects in rural areas, technology companies, workforce-training providers, and affordable-housing developments.
But state policymakers do not necessarily have to pledge new funds, and, in many cases, can use existing state and federal dollars. The U.S. Department of Education is giving competitive preference to career- and technical-education projects serving Opportunity Zones under the Innovation and Modernization Grant Program within the Perkins Act, a federal law funding career and technical education. States can follow the federal government’s lead by making the Opportunity Zone designation an indicator of need in their own state grant programs. Or they can award bonus points for competitive grants allocated under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
These approaches allow states to encourage the types of development they want to see in Opportunity Zones and prioritize the projects most likely to benefit residents.
A guide for community leaders navigating the Opportunity Zones.