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AT&T Makes $250 Million Pledge to Fund Education Programs

AT&T announced today it will pour $250 million into programs to promote high school graduation and career readiness over the next five years.

The company will give the money through grants to schools, community organizations, and others helping at-risk students graduate and prepare for college and careers. The focus will be on supporting innovative programs that leverage technology to promote educational attainment.

"As we look out in the projections for the future, to remain competitive, education is so key," says Beth Shiroishi, vice president of sustainability and philanthropy, and president of the AT&T Foundation. "We view it as a business issue."

This pledge is on top of AT&T's $100 million Aspire initiative for education over the past four years. In that first round, the company helped extend the reach of established programs to serve more students at risk of dropping out.

The company also provided job-shadowing opportunities to 100,000 students. Through this program, one or two students would be matched with an employee, usually at an AT&T site, to follow him or her for a few hours and then have lunch together to talk about careers. "We learned our employees loved it, and they wanted more," say Shiroishi, who says job shadowing, internships, and voluntary efforts will continue in the next stage of the initiative by the company.

But the new emphasis in the next five years will be on funding approaches that have the potential to make major changes in the way education is delivered. That might include mobile app contests, interactive educational games, social media, or e-mentoring. "We are a technology company and we live in a world of gadgets," says Shiroishi. "We think about disruptive technology."

There will also be an added consumer component to engage the broader public. AT&T will ask customers to support the goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate. For every customer who joins the movement through Causes.com, AT&T pledges to give $2 to America's Promise Alliance, the national campaign to increase high school graduation, says Shiroishi.

The company is accepting applications until April 27 to fund programs working to improve high school graduation rates, especially those that use social innovation to reach out to underserved populations and those at risk of dropping out. Grants between $100,000 and $300,000 will be awarded for a 24-month period starting this fall. Among the eligible entities: school districts, campuses, and educational foundations. For more information about the request for proposals, go to the AT&T Aspire Local High School Impact Initiative.

The AT&T announcement comes in conjunction with the release of new figures today showing a modest improvement in high school graduation rates. See story for more details here.

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