Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was at the White House Monday to attend an education roundtable. General Powell and his wife, Alma, are co-chairs of "America's Promise Alliance," which drives awareness to provide children the key supports to graduate from high school.
At Monday's meeting, "America's Promise Alliance" announced a new philanthropic fund focused on solving the nation's high school dropout crisis which currently stands at 25 percent. The Grad Nation Community Impact Fund will raise $50 million to provide grants to stimulate community engagement and investment to help transform the nation's lowest-performing schools and surrounding communities. "[O]ur children are the future," Alma Powell said. "If they are not prepared for the future, there is no future for this country. And so we are heavily engaged in stemming the dropout rate." The goal is to cut the rate in half by the year 2020.
The White House hosted the meeting with the Powells and several business leaders to discuss building upon strong industry-led partnerships to transform the American education system. President Obama has always touted education as one of his administration's top priorities. "A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can outcompete countries around the world," Obama said in a statement.
Speaking to reporters, Colin Powell said the message to the business leaders is straightforward. "Youngsters are your future employees and your future customers. It's as simple as that." But Powell added, fixing the problem is not as simple as the message. "We have a challenge in front of us and all of America has to come together to work on that challenge."
CEO's like Glenn Britt of Time Warner Cable, Steve Case of America Online and Brian Gallagher of the United Way Worldwide attended the roundtable. Other corporate partners in attendance were representatives from the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Through their combined efforts, the White House hopes the private sector responds not just with financial support, but with commitments that take advantage of their areas of expertise and the skills of their employees.
The company heads who attended agree this is an important obligation. Bill Green, the chairman of Accenture said in today's world, the countries and companies with the best people win. "The business leaders that are here recognize we have talent in this country," said Green. "We have to make sure we have a system that gets that talent in the game."
Mr. Powell warned their challenge is not easy and it isn't something that could be solved with a snap of the finger. He asked for a long-term commitment from state governments to get every single business involved in their communities to help solve this problem. "Education is not just skills," Powell said. "It's giving kids character education. It's giving them a sense of purpose. It's getting them to believe in themselves."