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Why Businesses Should See Public Education As A Wise Investment

The business community is a growing force in the public education debate, as executives recognize that today's students are an investment in the future.
The business community is a growing force in the public education debate, as executives recognize that today's students are an investment in the future.
This article is more than 5 years old.

The recent budget issues facing Boston Public Schools have once again placed a spotlight on how critical education is — both to our city’s economic future, and to our overall quality of life.

Policy talk is often where the rubber meets the road on public education: whether it’s longer school days, lifting charter school caps, universal access to early childhood education or providing more choices for students.

But there’s been too little discussion about the role the business community can play in enhancing our public schools. The problem we face is well defined.

the business community here in Boston is a major resource that we can and should tap into more.

Even in Massachusetts, which boasts some of the very best schools in the nation, about 37 percent of third graders do not read proficiently. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that just one-fifth of black and Hispanic students in the Commonwealth scored well on the recent National Assessment of Education Progress test — often known as the nation’s report card. That test showed that Massachusetts’ results remained largely unchanged, even as other countries leapfrogged ahead.

Funding also continues to be a significant challenge around the Commonwealth. In Boston, just 13 percent of the public school budget is covered by state aid, compared to 31 percent 15 years ago, according to a school system analysis. Boston Public Schools have begun to prepare for budget and staff cuts.

The reality is that the business community here in Boston is a major resource that we can and should tap into more.

Public education is a good investment. And it’s a value investment: in our future workforce; in our community; and in the long-term sustainability of the local, regional and national economies. Good economics can help make better schools. And we are all stakeholders in public education.

The good news is that there are a variety of ways to get involved. Financial support is important — but it’s not the only way to invest in better education.

The value of human capital can go a long way and make a big difference when it comes to enhancing the student experience in our public schools.

Our company, Natixis Global Asset Management, launched an Adopt-a-School program with the City of Boston about a year and a half ago. The program is a true partnership that engages an entire team of employees in mentoring students, while also delivering much needed resources — particularly in the areas of technology, infrastructure improvements and social support.

In the first year, as part of our partnership with the John Winthrop Elementary School in Dorchester, we provided close to 100 computers, iPads and other technology tools — where before that the school had none that were functioning. We also enhanced the quality and safety of the learning environment, improved the school grounds and provided support through a “power lunch” mentoring program and a structured recess playtime initiative.

Our employees — like the students they are mentoring — are benefiting greatly from these new relationships and the ownership they feel for the turnaround underway at Winthrop school.

if we can recognize the potential in every student and invest in ways to help them realize it, we can get our young people on a path to success from childhood.

Teachers, school leaders, education advocates and our elected officials are working hard to improve recent trends, particularly when it comes to early education and grade three reading levels — major barometers for future success. But they can’t do it alone. The business community has a tremendous stake in the future of education in our city and our state.

Public education is a worthy investment with tremendous potential returns, now and in the future. A competitive U.S. workforce that will yield the best minds in everything from the humanities to science begins now in our local elementary, middle and high schools.

Much work remains, but if we can recognize the potential in every student and invest in ways to help them realize it, we can get our young people on a path to success from childhood. Our city and our nation’s students, and our future workforce, deserve nothing less.

John Hailer Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
John Hailer is the president and CEO of Natixis Global Asset Management, and chairman of the New England Council.

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