Building Mile-High Strength On Pennies

By Patricia Melton

Perhaps it is the nature of election cycles, which usually focus on immediate needs. But it seems that taxpayer dollars are far more often apportioned to a “quick fix” campaign promise than applied to address a long-term sustainable investment.

But folks in Denver are counting on the success of the Denver Scholarship Foundation as a reason to buck that trend. For, if not, the organization may have to make a tough choice to reduce the number of students it serves or cut the level of support per student.

cop-people-marquezThe Foundation — established more than eight years ago thanks to a remarkable seed gift of $50 million in stock from Timothy and Bernadette Marquez — has helped more than 4,000 low-income students afford college, but its reliance on its investment nest egg has pushed the conversation about sustainability.

“(The Marquezes) stuck with us until we were able to stand on our own two feet,” DSF Executive Director Nate Easley recently told the Denver Post. “It’s time for Denver to adopt this.”

The Foundation has been polling citizens to gauge their appetite to pay an additional cent in sales tax for every $10 spent. Given the success of the scholars and the programming, which focuses on college readiness as well as success, it would seem to be a small price to pay for the potential of enormous returns. More than 75 percent of those funded have graduated or remain in school, well above the national average for first-generation students (which typifies 80 percent of the scholar population).

What happens in Denver could have resounding implications for the Promise movement. In a recent study out of Boston University, local economic development — an important talking point in most Promise programs — was a much higher priority among major-city mayors than education. If city officials, local industry and residents could fully understand the value of the investment, let’s hope they’d be willing to “leave a penny” with their purchase.

Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise

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