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May 2008
A Bold New Plan for a "Charlotte Promise"
By John Paul Galles

     As business owners and managers in the Charlotte region, we have all articulated concern for our public school systems at one time or another. We all know that a healthy public school system is important to our economic health and to the success of our communities. And we all know that a high school education is wholly inadequate in preparing students for successful careers in our global economy.

     It may be time to consider a bolder and more substantial undertaking that changes the mindset of every parent and every student participating in our public school system. It may be time to challenge our public school systems to prepare students for higher education that will enable them to compete successfully in our global economy.

     I would like you to consider the potential of a NEW IDEA for Charlotte and the regional public school systems that is based upon an idea first launched as the “Kalamazoo Promise” in Kalamazoo, Mich., and recently adopted as the “Pittsburgh Promise” in Pittsburgh, Pa., and is under consideration by numerous other communities across the country.

     It is a simple, clear and clean promise to provide all students graduating from public schools the opportunity to attend post-secondary education with up to 100 percent tuition scholarships. Scholarships would be provided for up to four years of education at any state university or community college.

     While North Carolina currently provides a number of scholarship programs that guarantee academically qualified N.C. students who come from families making less than 200 percent of the poverty level ($42,000 in N.C.) at least their first two years’ tuition free, this offering is too complex. The truth is that students should be able to graduate almost completely debt-free—including costs for tuition, room, board and fees—but families and school counselors don’t understand this. That in itself is a shame. It is also true that if your family makes more than $42,000, you are eligible for almost zero federal, state or campus aid.

     If we truly believe that a high school education is inadequate, then we must seriously encourage more students to pursue higher education. Money is always a problem, but I urge you to think about the alignment of incentives for students, parents, teachers, administrators and business interests if a “Charlotte Promise” were to be implemented. It would certainly be incredibly exciting for more families and their children to contemplate and choose to take advantage of advanced learning beyond high school. In fact, we would want all children to look for schooling beyond 12th grade. Over time, we could improve performance at public schools as well as respect for the graduates of our public school system. This program could also stimulate greater economic opportunities at the same time by providing a more educated work force.

     Why not create a “Charlotte Promise” or an “N.C. Promise”? It is a big idea that merits serious consideration, planning and forethought! It will not change education overnight, but as students graduate each year, more and more students will pursue higher education.

     If we are serious and really want to prepare our children for the challenge and competition that approaches from around the world, we must find leadership and benefactors who can guide this idea and make it happen. Together, we can raise the necessary funds to make this promise something very real that can boost our students’ expectations and ambitions and our economic vitality for many years into the future. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can make this reality. Let’s get started.

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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