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Roger Boughton -- promise to students would make Austin better

Robert Frost wrote his famous poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" in the early 1900s. The expression "Promises to keep" is just as relevant today as it was back then.

The community of Kalamazoo, Mich., is keeping its promise. That promise is essentially a pledge to keep all qualifying students in the city’s public schools, ensuring that they go to a state university or community college. The city is offering scholarships that cover 65-100 percent of tuition and fees, depending on how many years the student has been enrolled in the school system. Reports indicate that close to 80 percent of those eligible have used the scholarship in each of the last two years.

It is too early to gauge results, but enrollment in the Kalamazoo public schools has increased by about 1,200 students after it had been declining for decades. Real-estate values have increased 4 percent along with new construction. This is happening at the same time that the state and community are experiencing a deep economic downturn with high unemployment rates.

Kalamazoo is not alone. Three other communities have started similar programs. Pittsburgh, Denver and El Dorado, Ark., have made promises to their residents.

Austin could make a similar promise. It could be a catalyst to making Austin an even greater community.

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We are ensuring that our teachers are well-educated, trained and motivated to provide a quality education. Now it is time to direct our attention to our students. They need to be prepared for the 21st century. Tying it in with a high-grade expectation could lift the expectations and success of the students now attending the public schools. Free tuition for the first two years at the local community college or a state university could be the springboard to a four-year college or university degree.

A college guarantee could attract home buyers to the district. Other states such as Georgia, Arizona and Arkansas have initiated similar programs.

The most successful and first program of its kind is the Hope program in the state of Georgia. The lottery-funded HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship Program provides Georgia students with grant money to cover tuition, mandatory fees and books at any of Georgia’s public colleges, universities or technical colleges. Georgia high school graduates with a B average in core-curriculum classes are eligible to receive a HOPE grant.

The most common question that is asked of the Kalamazoo program is where did the money come from? The answer is that the Kalamazoo Promise is an offer made by anonymous donors to help pay college tuition for high school seniors.

Austin is fortunate in that we have an employer and two foundations that have a deep interest in the betterment of the community.

What better way to build a healthy community and ensure the success of the community than to invest in our children.

We in Austin have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.

Roger Boughton is a longtime Austin resident and former city council member.

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