Legislation would set up special fund for school innovation

lbonner@newsobserver.comMay 8, 2013 

CEOs and school superintendents are backing a bipartisan bill that would give schools money to try out and advance new ways to prepare students for jobs.

A new state commission would award grants to schools or school districts that meet 10 criteria, including preparing students for high-growth jobs in their regions. The state would provide half the grant money, local businesses would provide 25 percent, and 25 percent would come from businesses statewide.

The plan is to link schools and school districts with businesses and community colleges or universities. The aim is to have businesses more deeply involved in schools and have more students prepared for jobs, earning industry credentials or up to two years of college credit while in high school.

No one knows how much money would go into the fund or the size of grant awards.

“You have to get the infrastructure down before you can then start talking about funding and execution,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg Republican.

But supporters at a news conference Wednesday compared the arrangement to venture capitalists backing Silicon Valley startups.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said it was too soon to ask businesses how much they’d be willing to invest because they don’t know what they’re investing in.

“We’ll be willing to invest where there’s a return,” said Whitehurst, whose technology company employs more than 750 people in Raleigh. What’s exciting about the bill, he added, is that it wouldn’t give money to one group to have them come up with plans, but would encourage new ideas from schools and districts throughout the state.

“Let people generate ideas and end up funding the ones that have the most merit,” Whitehurst said.

North Carolina has been a laboratory for many of the newer ideas linking high school students to colleges and jobs. A few of the superintendents at the news conference talked about their work developing early colleges, where high school students earn up to two years of college credit.

Legislators and business leaders said the grants could produce school experiences that are very different from what is now common.

Business people from in and around Lexington came to brag about Valley Academy, a new regional high school funded with public and private money raised from businesses.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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