The promise, revisitedWritten by Jim Blue | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It seems everyone is rushing to slurp up as much of the government bailout plans as they possibly can. But I want to talk about a privately funded program to invest in young people. It’s a plan that is already working in some nearby communities. And it’s a plan that could revitalize Toledo.
A few months ago, I wrote about “The Kalamazoo Promise,” a program that offers tuition in Michigan’s state colleges and universities to every Kalamazoo Public School student who can qualify for admission. I visited Kalamazoo and I learned how “The Promise” had helped reverse the school system’s declining enrollment.
As a result, property values were increasing, and students were encouraged to perform better in school. No longer could any parent or student make the claim that higher education was unattainable because of cost.
Kalamazoo’s plan was paid for by a group of anonymous private donors. It has become a model for other communities and other states hoping to duplicate the magic.
I recently interviewed one of the foremost researchers of these “Promise” programs. Noel Radomski, a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, contacted me after I first wrote about Kalamazoo’s plan. Radomski is helping determine the best way to spend a $175 million gift from the former Chairman of Cisco Systems to provide scholarships for Wisconsin’s public high school graduates. Radomski is also working with the mayor of Racine, Wis., to implement a program similar to the Kalamazoo Promise.
Radomski favors statewide programs although he takes care to applaud locally based programs like Kalamazoo’s. He points to Indiana’s two-decade-old 21st Century Scholars Program. Central to the Hoosier State plan is a requirement that students take challenging courses.
Radomski says tough courses in math and reading are the No. 1 predictor of a student’s success in college.
Indiana has recruited hundreds of volunteer mentors to encourage students to take the right courses and prepare for college entrance exams. The plan has elevated Indiana from one of the worst education states in the country to one of the best.
I asked Radomski about the effort by Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop to get a Promise program under way here. As you might remember, Konop stirred things up by proposing to cut back the county employee work week and use the savings to pay for the Promise scholarships. Predictably, Konop’s plan provoked resistance from conservatives and from his fellow commissioners. Like everything else in Toledo, it got political.
Radomski acknowledges that the Promise programs can be sabotaged by politics. In fact, Racine’s mayor faced the same problem. So, backers there are involving a major local corporation as well as media and everyday citizens in building support.
Radomski advised Toledo to slow down in trying to implement its own Promise program. He said supporters should look at a variety of options to arrive at a solution. Davenport, Iowa, for example, used a city sales tax to fund the program. Lexington, Ky., is using a combination of public and private funds.
A “Toledo Promise” program would be costly. As I noted before, Kalamazoo, a much smaller school district, will pay $16 million a year on scholarships. But the payoff would be huge.
Increasing TPS enrollment would bring more state funding. Students would become more motivated and that would motivate teachers.
And, although the jury is still out, the ultimate hope is that the expenditures will justify themselves in economic development.
Radomski says, “Crisis brings people together.”
He’s right. What better reason to set aside politics than to invest in our children?
E-mail columnist Jim Blue at Jim@JimBlue.com.