Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Baldwin Promise

Cheers to the community for being the first in the state to advantage of the Michigan Promise Zones legislation. Modeled loosely after the Kalamazoo Promise, it was designed to help facilitate funding between school district, the state government, and private donors, to set up guaranteed college scholarships for high school graduates.

Lake County is one of the most impoverished areas of the state, and they found the money to make this happen.

The community must raise the $120,000 needed to fund the scholarship for the first two years. After that, it will be able to collect a portion of the state education property tax revenue that residents and businesses pay. It also plans to look for outside funding.

"Baldwin doesn't have a multimillionaire who can do this with writing just one check, or at least they haven't found that person," said Chuck Wilbur, special education adviser to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Instead, the people and businesses in Baldwin have pumped in nearly $100,000 toward the project so far, including $17,000 pledged at school employees' meetings just this week.

"We've had an outpouring of support from businesses and private individuals and graduates," Howes said.

Few communities need the boost for students as much as Baldwin, where the town's largest employer, a privately owned prison, shut down in 2005 after the state ended its contract there. Lake County's unemployment rate is 18.7 percent, higher even than the overall state rate of 15 percent.

Interestingly enough, the prison (this used to be the infamous "punk" prison) is planning on re-opening, which makes you wonder just exactly who they were planning to house there. Anyway, that would be another bit of good news for the area if it happens.

If the Baldwin school district can pull this scholarship program off - anyone can. Nine more districts were authorized (see link above for the list) this time around, and it sure would be great to see this go statewide.