Mayor Dwight Jones on Monday asked members of the Richmond School Board to back key educational initiatives central to the city’s anti-poverty efforts. Jones and Thad Williamson, director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, implored the School Board to help appoint members to two task forces that would spearhead early childhood education initiatives and a Promise Scholarship program, which would guarantee scholarships to all Richmond Public School graduates accepted by a college or university.
“Underperforming schools is not an option for us,” Jones says. “When we lose a young person, it affects them, their family and everyone in their community.”
In April, Jones tapped Williamson, a University of Richmond professor, to head the Office of Community Wealth Building and coordinate the city’s anti-poverty initiatives. Williamson started on the job in June, and the office opened at the beginning of the month with a $3.4 million budget.
Williamson says that the Richmond Public Schools and School Board need to be “full partners and owners” and help create a “cradle-to-career pipeline” for RPS students.
“Poverty is as much about human development as it is about resources,” he says. “It’s about not being able to be all you can be, which is a tragedy for individuals, but also a detriment to communities.”
What Williamson calls a “two-generation strategy” aims to provide child-care support for working parents in the Center for Workforce Innovation. The city budgeted $182,000 for participating families. An additional $73,000 investment in early childhood development programs will supplement the CWI funds, according to the Office of Community Wealth Building’s budget summary.
“To reach the kids, you have to reach the parents, too,” Williamson told the School Board. “If the parents are struggling, that’ll rub off on the kids.”
The city also budgeted $7,500 to fund a feasibility study of a Promise Scholarship program for Richmond Public School graduates, according to the budget summary. A similar program in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that was established in 2005 led to a near-25 percent increase in college enrollment among public school graduates in the last nine years, Williamson says.
He says it could take six months for a task force, once formed, to make recommendations about the Promise Scholarship program.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden says he’s excited about the Promise Scholarships, adding that the School Board “should probably be the biggest stick” in the city’s anti-poverty efforts.