By James R. Allen
A few years back, a skeptical observer of Kentucky’s political and policy landscape made a comment that got some attention. The state’s business community, he said, had developed “a bad case of laryngitis” when it came to speaking out about important education issues.
In my view, the individual and collective efforts of employers on behalf of education over the years contradict that assertion to a significant degree. Still, there was some validity to the point: Kentucky’s employers on a statewide level seemingly were less involved in – and had less to say about – school improvement efforts than in the past.
Perhaps it was business’ prominence in earlier education debates that highlighted the contrast. The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act was arguably the most prominent example of business engagement, when leading employers helped carry the fight for changes that put the state on the right path toward improving its schools.
Vocal business support was again in evidence in 1997 when the state passed major reforms of the higher education system. And there have been numerous, lower-profile examples at the community and state level since then.
But Kentucky is once again at a critical place in its quest for educational excellence – a reality that has prompted employers from across Kentucky to come together to create the Business Leader Champions for Education. Our agenda: to push for dramatic improvement in the state’s schools and to support educators and students as they work to achieve excellence.
Business Leader Champions is a joint initiative of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Our group is made up of corporate executives and other business leaders from across the commonwealth who will serve as the employer voice in urging the state to provide an education of the highest possible quality for Kentucky’s citizens.
Our initial focus will be support for the new, tougher academic standards now being taught in Kentucky’s classrooms. These internationally benchmarked standards are focused on better preparing students for college and the workplace, something of critical importance to the state’s employers.
These changes hold great promise for helping Kentucky develop better-informed and engaged citizens and a more highly skilled workforce that is better equipped to meet the needs of employers and ensure economic growth.
Kentucky’s schools have completed their first year operating under the new standards, tests have been given, and the scores are expected in the fall.
Business Leader Champions for Education will communicate to educators, students, parents, policy leaders and other Kentuckians about the vital importance of staying the course with the new standards – and the challenging work they require – to build a world-class education system in the state.
This effort is part of an initiative of the Chamber Foundation, working in partnership with the Prichard Committee, to raise employer awareness of and support for the new standards. The initiative has the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Business Leaders Champions for Education plans to speak up publicly about developments that it believes will help, or hinder, the state’s progress toward excellence.
We believe it is time for Kentucky’s employers to make ourselves heard, in an organized, positive and constructive way, about what we need our schools to be to ensure a prosperous future for the state and all of its citizens. We plan to be vocal in our support for schools, students and teachers as they work to make that stronger future a reality.
James R. Allen is CEO of Hilliard Lyons and chair of the Business Leader Champions for Education.