A Publication of WTVP

At the annual State of the City address last January, I announced my intention to promote our answer to the Kalamazoo Promise. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a small group of private donors pledged to pay up to 100 percent of the tuition at any college or university in Michigan to graduates of Kalamazoo’s public schools. Unbelievably, the endowment to finance the program is estimated to be between $200 and $250 million dollars!

Realizing that many of the problems we face here in Peoria are related to educational opportunities for our children (or lack thereof), I am committed to establishing the Peoria Promise in a unique partnership with our outstanding community college at ICC.

It would take several pages to fully explain the theory behind the Peoria Promise and why it is critically important to our community. Quite a bit of information explaining our goals for the program will come out in the next several months. We have significant challenges, the biggest of which is our lack of a quarter-billion-dollar endowment for our school kids. Because our district is twice the size of Kalamazoo’s, we would need almost twice the amount of their endowment.

However, I can’t believe that our business community and private citizens will not recognize how important the Peoria Promise is to healing the growing social problems in our city. I believe they will also see that we must provide a highly educated workforce for employers in our knowledge-based economy. Everyone is looking for the silver bullet to answer the problems being faced by cities across the country, but there are no silver bullets, folks. There are opportunities such as the Peoria Promise, through which we can give kids hope at a very young age. If they work hard in school and stay out of trouble, they’ll be able to get a college degree from ICC and gain employment or go on to a four-year program. If we’re extremely successful, we would like to open the program to all Peoria-area residents attending all schools. We would also like to form partnerships with Bradley and our state colleges and universities to continue the Promise after two years of education at ICC.

First things first, though. Currently, some community members are hesitant to invest in the program. The need to be confident that the Promise will be funded and sustainable in the long term is understandable. Rules and eligibility may be modified to best fit our needs. Dr. Erwin’s staff at Illinois Central College has done an unbelievable amount of work preparing for an influx of new students beginning in the fall of 2008.

Here’s the “down and dirty,” my friends. We need about $800,000 to fund our projected need for the inaugural class next fall. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again—we have many outstanding capital campaigns going on in Peoria right now: the museum, zoo and Bradley expansion, among others. If we don’t place the education of our kids at the top of that list, then none of the others will succeed.

We have established a board of directors comprised of community members from various fields, and we are registered as a not-for-profit organization. Under the leadership of Julie Hammond and a strong support group of finance and marketing professionals, we have begun soliciting funds from the business community and other communities. What we are asking for is your confidence that the Peoria Promise will be as successful as Kalamazoo’s was. To begin that effort, we need the community to help us secure the first year’s funding by the end of this calendar year. If we aren’t successful in obtaining funding for the first year, I am concerned that we won’t generate the momentum to fully fund the program and make it sustainable in the future.

Please understand that Peoria Promise is not a social program. It is an economic development tool designed to bring homeowners back into the city of Peoria because of this opportunity their children will have to receive free or discounted tuition at ICC. In the first couple of years of the Kalamazoo Promise, indicators show a rise in housing prices, growing enrollment within the school district, an increase in graduates who attend college and an explosion of interest from developers looking to invest in Kalamazoo.

If we haven’t knocked on your door yet, we will. If you want to be proactive, call or contact us. We need everyone to participate. For more information you may contact Dr. Bill Collier, Education Liaison, at [email protected], the ICC Educational Foundation at [email protected] or (309) 694-5530 or myself at [email protected].

The clock is ticking, folks, and we need you to help get over the first hurdle—funding next fall’s class. Please contact us today. Don’t wait for others to take the lead. There is nothing more important than our children’s education. IBI