Opportunity Zones? What Are They and How They Affect Your Grants

Opportunity Zones is a status for certain distressed communities. They were created under the Federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Opportunity Zones are specific economically-distressed communities where new investments, under very specific conditions may be granted tax exempt status, in order to drive new jobs and opportunities into these communities. The first set of opportunity zones covered only 18 states, but now there are designated opportunity zones in all fifty states. Now, students, teachers and parents in these areas may be receiving extra support from the Department of Education’s new initiative. 

U.S Department of Education Secretary, Betsy Devos has announced that prioritization will be given to grant applications from “Opportunity Zones” in order to support teachers, students, and parents in those areas. This is important as many schools in these areas are underfunded, leaving students without many resources they need to succeed. 

In a press release from the U.S Department of Education, Secretary Devoss had this to say about the new focus on Opportunity Zones: 

“We want to ensure federal dollars have the maximum positive impact on the students and communities that need it most,” said Secretary DeVos. “Through the Opportunity Zones priority, we can focus our discretionary resources on projects that will spur innovative approaches to education in areas of the country that are all too often left behind. I am grateful to the President for establishing Opportunity Zones and for his commitment to fighting for every student, no matter their ZIP code, to have access to the education that works for them”.

In the last fiscal year, the U.S Department of Education supported projects in nine different grant competitions aimed at giving support to students in Opportunity Zones. 238 projects were funded through these competition with over half of applicants listing on their applications that their projects were aligned with the Opportunity Zone Initiative. In four of these grant competitions, bonus points were either awarded to applications stemming from opportunity zones, or a completely separate track was created for those projects focused on improving outcomes for opportunity zones. 

Below are projects funded that were mentioned in the press release: 

  • In the State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grants Program, the Department awarded $6 million to the Indiana Department of Education to enhance an existing per-pupil facilities aid program for charter schools, with a focus on charter schools located in Opportunity Zones.
  • In the Charter School Developers program, the Department made three new awards totaling $1.1 million to support the opening and expansion of charter schools in Opportunity Zones.
  • Under the Perkins Innovation and Modernization program, the Department made nine awards totaling $1.5 million to support grants in Opportunity Zones to improve Career and Technical Education program effectiveness and alignment.
  • In the School Climate Transformation Grant Program, the Department made 37 awards totaling $23 million to school districts overlapping with Opportunity Zones to support schools implementing a multi-tiered system of support for improving school climate.

The creation of these Opportunity Zones, along with the funds being distributed to them for further community improvement projects paint a bigger picture. These communities have been underfunded for a number of years now, and with these new available funds through the grants presented by this program. With further grant programs being created, these communities are set to turn a new leaf and grow new community advancement projects exponentially.