The Promise Of Better Education

January 6, 2006
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KALAMAZOO — Tuition across the state may be rising, but Kalamazoo Public School students will not have to worry.

The district’s Nov. 10 announcement of the “Kalamazoo Promise,” a program which will pay for four years tuition at any Michigan public university or college where a graduate is accepted, allows them to focus on other aspects of their education.

“Come to school every day, listen to your teachers, do your work and do your homework and the rest will take care of itself,” is the advice that Janice Brown, Kalamazoo Public Schools superintendent, gave middle school students about getting into college after the Promise was announced.

The donors of the Promise have remained anonymous, but the program has created a buzz both within the state and across the nation, causing other communities to ask the question: “Why not here?”

Brown said the scholarship program had been discussed for a while before the announcement was made to the public.

“It was just a series of conversations with very key donors over the past several years,” she said.

Beyond giving students a chance at higher education, the Promise is also “the best example of equal opportunity,” Brown said. The scholarship program brings together people of different races and socioeconomic status in one school system by giving them the same benefits.

“You have to give them a reason to be together,” she said. “And this is the reason.”

Brown said that even before the Promise, Kalamazoo has fought back against economic hardship brought on by loss of manufacturing and other industries throughout the years.

“We are really fighting to create a stable, economically diverse, educated population of citizens,” Brown said. “The Kalamazoo Promise is intended to make that fight easier for everyone involved.”

Brown said the Promise is already causing people to move their residence and businesses into the area, which she hopes will help bring students back after graduation.

“We’re expecting an educated work force to feed into those businesses,” she said. “I think that has to be a part of the goal.”

The feedback from the community has been overwhelming, Brown said. Students who had no hopes of higher education now are learning about their options, and those who gave up dreams of more costly schools now have the option of attending if they are accepted.

“I have never heard in my entire life stories that are more joyful than the stories I have heard from my parents and students,” she said. “It had a tremendous rippling effect through the community.”

Full scholarships will be extended to those who attend schools in the district from kindergarten through high school graduation, with stratified scholarships to those students who come into the system later. Students who begin attending school in the district by third grade will receive a 95 percent scholarship, fourth grade 90 percent, fifth grade 85 percent and so on, with 65 percent as the minimum scholarship for those who enter the district in ninth grade. Those who begin after ninth grade will not receive a scholarship. The students also must live in the district to qualify.

“Every opportunity I have, I always want to express my humble and sincere gratitude to the donors who have made this possible for our community,” Brown said.

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