Friday, May 08, 2009

Kalamazoo Promise Diaspora

Racine, Wisconsin is looking to emulate the Kalamazoo Promise. Among the solicited advice as to how to proceed is Pittsburgh:

Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, which started just one and 1/2 years ago, had a similar story. The scholarships, he said, "are just the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae." The program has brought a public school reform agenda: "we no longer say Pittsburgh public schools are excellent for an urban school district." No qualifier, thank you very much. And finally, Pittsburgh sees safer neighborhoods, despite economic difficulties that afflict 60% of the school population. Pittsburgh's scholarships, too, are paid on a sliding scale: 75% for those who just attended local high schools;l 85% if the student also went through local middle school; 95% for elementary school and 100% for K-12. Pittsburgh, a city of 310,000 people (down from 700,000 a few decades ago), has 28,000 school students.

Pittsburgh's scholarships started at $5,000 a year maximum, but in 2012 will go to $10,000. They can be used at any public or private college in the state, including faith-based, trade or community colleges. Or even at the University of Pennsylvania. It started out paying only tuition and fees, but now covers books, room and board, etc. ...

... Interestingly enough, the negativity that greeted the program here in Racine was matched in Pittsburgh. Ghubril recalled jumping up when he saw a picture in the local newspaper with the mayor and school superintendent announcing the program. "I said, 'This is the most important photo ever appearing in the paper.' " Others, he said, were less excited and gave the announcement "lots of mockery." As in, "Ha, ha, ha, the mayor and superintendent are talking out of their a--."

So the city hired McKinsey and Company, the management consulting firm, to get an independent report on what the program might provide -- or not. "After nine months, the city concluded it had to do it."

I find the above snapshot of the Pittsburgh Promise experience useful. There is a candor you typically don't get in local coverage of local issues. I'm speculating wildly, but I get the impression that Ghubril doesn't expect that statements made in Wisconsin would ever get back to Pittsburgh. Not that the quotes are damning in any way.

The cynicism about Pittsburgh politics is anything but all that special. The introduction to the Racine Post story about the exploration of a Promise program for its city is quite telling:

When Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Greg Helding first proposed something called the Racine Promise -- a proposal to pay the college tuition of all graduates of Racine high schools -- the comments on the Journal Times' website came fast and furious. Seventy-three comments were quickly appended to that first story, on Nov. 3, 2008, most of them negative. They're still there.
It's "preposterous," said one. "What a joke," said another. And, "Here's a promise for you, Wisneski -- you are so out of here in the next election." "Understand one thing. Free education does not bring jobs here. You need a lesson in economics," said another. And, "The only thing this idea will do is draw people to Racine who can't afford to send their kids to college in the first place. Basically, just moving more economically depressed people into the city for the freebie." And so it went...
It's too bad the folks behind those opinions couldn't all have been at Wednesday's Wingspread briefing, and heard from representatives from three communities that already have created such programs. They would have had to eat their words.

Since I spend my days reading Rust Belt news coverage in a number of shrinking cities, I find the carping about lousy leadership annoying. Stop waiting for Mayor Steelerstahl to get a clue and busy yourself making the city you desire. Political corruption isn't why industrial cities are struggling. All the bitching is just an excuse to continue to do nothing.

No comments: