In My Mind, I’m Going To Carolina

say-yes-guilford

We’ve been writing about this since January, but now we can officially say it — Welcome and congratulations, Guilford County!

Say Yes To Education — founded by George Weiss in 1987 in Philadelphia — made the official announcement today that Guilford County, which is home to both Greensboro and High Point, is its newest partner.

Led locally by the Guilford Education Alliance, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the High Point Community Foundation and Guilford County Schools, the region has already raised $32.5 million toward its $70 million goal to fund the endowment for last-dollar tuition scholarships. The district — which has a whopping 72,000 students — is comprised of largely low-income and minority students.

“They often have the smarts, they have the GPA, but the money is not there,” said Felicia Andrews, a parent and local Say Yes organizer.

The current class of seniors — more than 5,000 in total — will be eligible for the funds, although details regarding scholarship eligibility are still being finalized. More than 100 private colleges and universities are part of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact, which also serves students from Say Yes programs in both Buffalo and Syracuse.

Why Guilford County? “We had roughly 130 different cities and counties that we looked at, and we winnowed the list down to literally three, and Guilford County just blew everybody out of the ballpark,” Weiss told Katie Arcieri of the Triad Business Journal. “What made the county stand out? Every time we had a board meeting, Guilford County was just shining like a star. There was really no discussion. What we need is people to put aside their differences and just help the kids, and that’s what Guilford County did.”

So it was easy to say yes.

A Stadium, A Promise Or Both?

atlanta-stadium

Last month in Atlanta, it was announced that Mercedes Benz had purchased the naming rights to the new football stadium which will replace the 23-year-old Georgia Dome in 2017.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the naming agreement was its length of term. It will expire in 2042. If recent history is a guide, that will be about the time that the stadium — despite this cool fly-through — will be imploded. Washington Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder is, in fact, talking about a new stadium even though FedEx Field just turned 18.

Maybe I shouldn’t pick on Atlanta, because as Richard Florida notes, it could just as well be Dallas or Minneapolis or Buffalo or Cleveland or the Bay Area.

But there is something special about taxpayers footing $600 million in the construction of this new stadium for the mighty Atlanta Falcons, a team that has won 44 percent of its games all-time and has such a notable “Ring of Honor” with the likes of Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, Gerald Riggs, Jeff Van Note, Jessie Tuggle, Tommy Nobis, Mike Kenn, Claude Humphrey and Deion Sanders. Let’s call them “Neon and the Eight Who’s?”

Yes, $600 million… for a stadium that will likely last 25 years. What is a building’s legacy once it is demolished? Memories?

Is it possible to use this opportunity to float an idea that would truly leave a lasting legacy?

The person getting the most from the taxpayers’ $600 million is Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank, the Home Depot co-founder who is worth about $3 billion. He has also founded the Atlanta United FC soccer team, which will use the Mercedes-Benz Stadium until its inevitable demise.

The 72-year-old Blank signed the “Giving Pledge” in 2012, thus committing to give away at least half of his fortune someday.

Here’s a start. If he developed a city-wide Atlanta Promise program, beginning in 2017, which — in combination with federal financial aid — made college affordable at in-state institutions for every city high school graduate with a 2.5 grade-point average, it would take more than 25 years to spend $500 million (which is less than 20 percent of Blank’s assets).

It’s pretty simple — changing an academic culture by incentivizing and investing in its people would provide a double benefit for the city and the Falcons. After all, a Promise program could substantially increase the number of residents who could afford a visit to the stadium.

A Tale of Two Cities… Maybe Three

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Say Yes to Education has been in the news locally in its two well-established New York cities as well as a potential third location in Greensboro, N.C.

First the good news. In Buffalo, school officials have reported that the college-going rate among students from Buffalo City Schools is on the rise since the launch of the Say Yes Buffalo initiative in 2012. In just that short time the percentage of graduates who enroll in college has jumped from 57 percent to 64 percent.

“It shows that this investment is working and year over year,” SYB Director Dave Rust told WKBW reporter Desiree Wiley. “How it’s about an additional 250 graduates that are choosing to go on to college or post-secondary programs.”

But Dave Tobin of the Syracuse Post-Standard recently reported that the promise of free tuition at New York’s public colleges may be coming to an end in Syracuse. While partnerships in Buffalo have proven successful in its early fundraising efforts, Say Yes Syracuse has fallen far short of its goals.

The national office of Say Yes to Education has covered costs for more than 2,500 students in Syracuse, but does not plan to continue that funding. Organization president Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey said that the city received unique benefit because it was the first to adopt the comprehensive city-wide approach and, in that role, it served as an incubator for learning.

But now Syracuse officials and business leaders will need to step up to keep the scholarships in place. Tobin’s story also mentioned an additional point of contention — that Syracuse Schools have been either unable or unwilling to implement a monitoring system which is in place in Buffalo and deemed vital by Say Yes. The absence of the system leaves the funders unable to assess the program’s success, leaving it with “one arm tied behind our back,” according to Schmitt-Carey.

Despite the concerns in Syracuse, the folks in Greensboro remain uber-excited about the potential of Say Yes launching in Guilford County. On Tuesday night soon-to-be presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson spoke at a sold-out fundraiser with proceeds benefitting the Say Yes initiative, which has generated about $10 million in short order. Officials there will learn this summer if Say Yes will officially launch its first non-Northeast program in the region.