Kalamazoo Promise Succeeds With Students and Cities
There is a vital link between education and economic development. Cities across America are investing in students to revitalize their neighborhoods as well as their school systems. One of the most visible methods has come to be known as “The Promise.”
The Promise launched in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2005. Anonymous donors put up enough money to seed a college scholarship guarantee for any qualifying student graduating from Kalamazoo public schools. Within four years 2,000 high school graduates were receiving an education previously beyond their financial reach. Sixty had graduated, according to an update by the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Since then at least five other cities have launched similar programs designed to educate their citizens and draw middle class families back to declining neighborhoods and shrinking school districts.
As designed in Kalamazoo, students who have attended Kalamazoo public schools since kindergarten are eligible for a full scholarship to a Michigan state college or university. The minimum benefit is a 65 percent scholarship and is available to qualifying students who have attended all four years of high school in the public school district and graduated.
Enrollment rose almost immediately, within the first five years by 16 percent.
The program is accomplishing one of the most important requirements to revitalize a city, a growing base of middle class families. And it is successful in much smaller locales as well.
El Dorado, Arkansas, with a declining population of fewer than 20,000 residents, launched a promise program in 2007 established and funded by Murphy Oil Corporation. In 2012 the program reports an increase in enrollment, improved testing scores, increased high school graduation rates and increased college enrollment.
There is no reason a program targeting Lexington Park public schools would not work just as well. Not only do The Promise programs enhance the public schools’ ability to motivate students to graduate and succeed beyond graduation. The increase in enrollments demonstrates that most important revitalization element: adding more middle class families to the community’s neighborhood.
We need this in Lexington Park. Already we are seeing the growth of more urbanized lifestyles in the 8th District with the growth of contemporary apartment complexes. We also need families coming into the 8th District. Families and growing neighborhoods draw economic investment. And young families boost the very important housing re-sale market.
There are certainly plenty of details to consider, but the ability of Lexington Park schools to create such a magnet is definite. There is no question that the schools in the 8th District are top-notch. I would like to encourage conversations about how our community can use this excellence to help revitalize St. Mary’s County’s most urbanized area.