Thu July 7, 2011

Education Leaders Push Reform in Denver

Education leaders from around the country are in Colorado debating ways to boost student achievement at a time when states are slashing millions of dollars from their education budgets.

Speaking at the Education Commission of the States policy meeting in Denver Thursday, Hillary Pennington had a pitch for tax-weary lawmakers in cash-strapped states like Colorado.

As education director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pennington said policies that boost college graduation rates will translate to more money for state coffers, because those graduates tend to get jobs that pay more.  

"At a time when state revenues are declining sharply, improving completion can be a huge opportunity to restore stability and growth to state budgets," Pennington said. "Without that stability, we’re facing a perfect storm in higher education."

But charitable and corporate foundations meeting at this conference also said they’re poised to step in and award grants to states that are "taking risks" in finding new ways to teach  young people. 

General Electric’s philanthropic arm is currently funding several pilot projects that look for untapped dollars in communities to provide free higher education and K-12 programs. 

During a speech that followed Pennington’s, GE Foundation president Robert Corcoran offered this advice: "Don’t just ask for their money."

He said businesses are of better use helping schools with the business that surrounds education.

"Demand that they show you how to get more out of their facilities budget," Corcoran said. "Demand that they help you to be smarter about your next procurement in your IT system, demand that they help you  negotiate better rates." 

The Education Commission of the States meeting wraps up Friday afternoon.