NATIONAL INITIATIVE LAUNCHED TO INCREASE COLLEGE ACCESS AND CAREER READINESS FOR 100,000 LOW-INCOME STUDENTS
Local Education Funds Throughout U.S. Pledge to Team with School Districts and Other Partners to Enhance College and Career Prospects for Low-Income and Minority Students

Washington, D.C., November 7, 2011 - The Public Education Network (PEN) today announced a plan for grassroots local education funds (LEFs) in low-income and minority communities throughout the nation to increase the numbers of college- and career-ready high school students by 100,000 by 2013. The announcement was made at PEN's national conference in Washington. This work is an effort by community-based LEFs, working with school districts and other partners, to increase U.S. college matriculation and completion rates, which have fallen behind those of 15 other developed countries. PEN, a national network of 77 LEFs that is marking its 20th anniversary, also adopted new organizational standards for LEFs. The standards originated with the National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education, and set a high bar for organizational accountability and ethics.

"We are calling on Americans from all walks of life - with and without school-age children - to hold ourselves, our political leaders, and our school officials at all levels accountable for ensuring equal opportunity and outcomes for all children in our nation's public schools," Richard W. Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education and co-chair of the Commission, said.

Education and political leaders, as well as business and civic groups such as LEFs have prioritized dramatically increasing the number of students with high-quality high school degrees. LEFs build public support through alliances with many of America's other 26,000 nonprofit, citizen-driven public education assistance organizations such as parent-teacher organizations and school foundations to improve the quality of public education.  They also work with public officials, school districts, higher education, business, and other public and private sector organizations.

"An active, vocal constituency is vital to ensure that every child in every community benefits from a quality education, especially in the current fiscal climate, when public schools are financially stretched to meet even basic needs," Wendy Puriefoy, PEN's president, said. "Civic investment in high-needs schools and students is critical for our democracy, our children's future, and the country's economic strength."

The theme of PEN's conference, from November 6 to 8, 2011, is "New American Revolution: College and Career Readiness for All." Speakers are highlighting strategic program and other interventions to ensure that every student has the skills and opportunities to attend college and/or embark on rewarding careers. The multi-faceted plan that was announced will ensure that more low-income and minority students in danger of academic and workforce failure have the capacity to succeed in college and careers. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PEN is partnering with its LEFs to increase the number of prepared youth by:

  • monitoring low-income students' progress toward college readiness;

  • ensuring completion of college prep curricula (e.g., algebra in 8th grade);

  • boosting completion of accelerated learning courses (Advanced Placement/dual enrollment          in colleges);

  • improving scores on college entrance exams (ACT/SAT);

  • increasing FAFSA (financial aid application) completion rates; and

  • tracking college enrollment and persistence data.

The conference, which brings together education policy experts and activists from across the country at the Washington Fairmont Hotel (2401 M Street, NW; Washington, DC 20037), features addresses by Massachusetts Education Secretary S. Paul Reville on the importance of community support; Demos fellow and nationally known former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert on improving educational outcomes; Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin; Gates Foundation executive Vicki Phillips (director of education, College Ready) on Foundation college-readiness efforts; Governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education; James H. Horney, vice president for federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; John H. Jackson, President and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education; New York University education experts Carol Gilligan (author of In a Different Voice, Joining the Resistance, and Birth of Pleasure) and Pedro Noguera on the role of education in civil society; and Executive Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation Ralph Smith on public supports for early childhood education.

Sessions focus not only on the value of public demand for high performing schools to ensure that all young Americans have access to college and good jobs, but also on federal policy, the changing economics of public education, minority, low-income, and first-generation college students, and other topics. The PEN conference includes the Washington, DC premiere of "American Teacher," a new documentary film about the lives and sacrifices of the nation's 3.2 million teachers directed by Academy Award-winner Vanessa Roth and narrated by Matt Damon. The screening is today at 6 p.m. at the Fairmont.

The civic investment commission's standards for LEFs, detailed in the report, "An Appeal to All Americans," provide guidelines for education funds in their mission, programming, and resource allocation to schools and districts. The report also makes recommendations on evaluation, transparency, legal compliance, stewardship, and other practices. Building on the commission's work, "Civic Investment in Public Education" is the subject of the winter 2012 issue of Voices in Urban Education, the quarterly journal of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, to be released at PEN's conference.

PEN's mission is to educate the public to demand and mobilize resources for quality public education. PEN and its network of local education funds, which serve eight million students, works to break down academic, financial, and information barriers to college access and success, and seeks to enhance the prospects of low-income young people preparing to be first-generation college students.

For registration and additional information about the conference, contact Amanda Broun at (202) 719-9751 or abroun@publiceducation.org. Conference information is at http://transaction.publiceducation.org/conference/main/home.cfm.