President Obama hosted a meeting at the White House today with top business executives to highlight the role of corporate cash contributions to K-12 education. The White House packaged the event as a way to reinforce its message of tying educational progress to the nation's economic future.
"There's no other group that better understands the importance of increasing excellence in America's schools than our business leaders," said Melody Barnes, White House domestic policy adviser, in remarks after the meeting.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan followed up on the economic theme, saying that millions of high-paid, high-skilled jobs remain unfilled and that "business can be an amazing partner in driving reform."
Already, three companies are announcing new pledges totaling $66 million toward education initiatives: $50 million from Bank of America for programs targeting low-income students; $15 million from Microsoft Corp. for research into initiatives such as game-based instruction; and, $1 million from the Nike School Innovation Fund to improve schools in Oregon. (Interestingly, the shoemaker's innovation fund website isn't very current, as its top story is from 2010 and touts the leadership skills of ex-Atlanta Public Schools chief Beverly Hall, who is now embroiled in a cheating scandal that has enveloped her former district.)
In addition to the three corporate pledges, America's Promise Alliance Grad Nation Community Impact Fund announced it will raise $50 million to help deal with persistent, high dropout rates. America's Promise was started by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and now chaired by his wife, Alma J. Powell. Both were at the White House meeting.
Also on the list for today's meeting were: Intel, Time Warner, America Online, United Way Worldwide, Accenture, ING, Fidelity Personal Investments, State Farm, AT&T, Raytheon, Target, and Discovery Communications.
The dollar amounts unveiled today aren't as eye-popping as, say, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark Public Schools in New Jersey. Of course, Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder, has his own foundation, which invests heavily in education. But cash-strapped states and school districts will surely appreciate any extra money they can find.
If you'll remember, the Education Department last year helped organize an announcement from a coalition of philanthropic organizations in which they said they planned to donate $506 million toward education last year. Except little of that was new money specifically tied to that announcement. We're told that the pledges announced today are all new pledges, made specifically in conjunction with the meeting with the president.
Photo: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founder of the children's advocacy group America's Promise Alliance, leaves the White House on July 18 following the education roundtable President Obama hosted for business leaders to discuss the role of corporate contributions to K-12 education. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)