Feb 252013
 

NEWS-LEDGER EDITORIAL — FEB 13, 2013 –

What can we all do to help West Sacramento’s schools?

Well, one of the top strategic goals now being put forward by the local school board is to “foster a culture of high expectations.” And that is something that the City of West Sacramento, and the rest of us, can all help with.

For inspiration, consider this:

About 500 students graduate every year from the high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And each of them does so knowing that unknown donors have pledged to pay their full college tuition in the state’s public college and university system. The “Kalamazoo Promise” was announced in 2005, and it was intended not only to help local kids, but also to help the local economy.

  Students who enter the local school district part-way through their education get partial assistance, and those who are in it for the entire ride get the full “Promise.”  Knowing that their kids must stay in local public schools to qualify, families have an incentive to stay put in Kalamazoo. The city is meant to benefit from its ability to attract and retain families.

Announcement of the new program was greeted with celebration and also a degree of skepticism – how could somebody really be willing to pay for every local kid’s college education? But reality has set in, and the kids and their families are now starting to develop college expectations from a student’s early grades.

Local teachers and schools bought into the ambitious program, adding instructional hours and increasing college prep.

Too ambitious and expensive for your tastes? There are plenty of other college fund programs to look at.

Among them are those created by the City and County of San Francisco as well as the County of Cuyahoga, Ohio. These locales are going about the same thing, but on a much smaller scale.

Cuyahoga expects to spend $2 million a year putting $100 into a college fund for every new kindergartner. The funds can be redeemed by graduates towards college or vocational training.

The City and County of San Francisco are chipping in with the first $50 contribution to a college fund for every one of its new kindergartners. (For information, see http://www.k2csf.org/)

These smaller funds, even with compounding interest, may never pay for a big chunk of a student’s college education. But the accounts can be supplemented over the years with other donations from friends, family and a student’s own savings. And they’re not just about the money; they’re about the idea of going to college.

Just the existence of a college fund in a student’s name, even if it’s a modest one, can help  shape the expectations of a family and its kids. A family that may not have expected to send its child to college might begin to raise its sights.

West Sacramento is a city of challenging demographics, like Kalamazoo and San Francisco. Not every kid now going to school here believes that college or other higher education are realistic options. Funding a college account for each young child would be one way to chip away at that kind of defeatism.

A college fund program in West Sacramento need not rely on the cash-strapped Washington Unified School District for dollars. The program could be a partnership, using funds cobbled together from the city and from private donors to help. After all, encouraging kids to stay in local schools and then go to state colleges and universities (like the local Sac City College branch) would be good for West Sacramento’s economy.

It’s one way the whole city can help the local school district “foster a culture of higher expectations.”

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke

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