Cities Recognize School-to-Work Transition as Economy Booster

By McGraw, Colleen | Nation's Cities Weekly, October 3, 1994 | Go to article overview

Cities Recognize School-to-Work Transition as Economy Booster

McGraw, Colleen, Nation's Cities Weekly

A prepared and well-educated workforce is vital for moving into high national and local economic performance. Stengthening education, and particularly the transition from school to the workplace, is critical in worforce development. Building a school-to-work ion's also important in addressing transit is also important in addressing poverty, in that it helps prepare disadvantaged city residents for skilled jobs offering liveable wages. City governments are taking leading and supporting roles in local economic and human development strategies to make school lead to work, and to improve the quality of local education in general.

The School-to-work Opportunities Ad of 1994 (STWO) provided a window of opportunity and seed money that legitimized such grassroot efforts. The first year of grants have been awarded to eight states and fifteen local applicants, with recipients of high-poverty area grants to be announced in late October. Through STWO, grants will be awarded over the next four years to additional states, localities and high poverty areas. Three high-poverty urban areas provide examples of how cities can begin building a school-to-work system as an economic development strategy.

The Flint Roundtable

Genesee County, which encompasses Flint, Mich. and its suburbs, is working to recover from the economic distress caused by auto industry downsizing. After the blow of major plant closings, the community, which relied on low-skill, high-wage jobs, began to look at how to develop a high-skill, highly educated workforce.

The First Roundtable was created in 1990 on the premise that human investment and human capital development are key levers for economic growth, and educational system change necessitates significant "extraschool" ownership, involvement, and investment in reform.

The Roundtable brings together community players including business, schools and higher education institutions, community- based organizations, and city government to support 21 school districts, 145 schools, and approximately 80,000 students. Districts range from wealthy suburbs to some of the poorest urban communities in the country.

The creation and funding of the Roundtable was guided by universities, and the effort gained momentum from a four-year Department of Education grant for business/school partnerships. Funding now comes through foundations, employers, and community groups.

The Roundtable's agenda is to change school organization, teaching methods and subject matter to improve learning outcome; link students' education to the demands of the new workplace by creating a comprehensive school-to-work transition system in the county; integrate health and human services to children through a network of school-based centers in poverty-impacted communities, ensuring kids are "ready to learn;" and increase public awareness of the new realities of knowledge-based economic competition and the implications for preparing a diverse current and future workforce. The Roundtable's school-to-work goal will be aided by an STWO grant which has been awarded to the state of Michigan, which will aid local partnerships including Flint's.

According to John Austin, Executive Director for the Flint Roundtable, city government has been heavily involved from the outset. Matt Collier, mayor when the Roundtable was formed, and the city's community development director joined the business community and community groups to visit school sites. The city supported the Roundtable's early activities with $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

Austin says regionalism is an important structural tenet of the Roundtable's 21-district school-to-work system. Current Mayor Woody Stanley, a strong advocate of regional thinking, holds public forums to campaign for the concept that the region must be "all in it together" for workforce improvement. The system of school-to-work programs seeks to bridge city-county boundaries, because "employers do not look at the local labor market through the lens of school district lines," says Austin. …

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