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11.03.16 – Luncheon Notes and Photos

SPOKES Notes written by Roger Morgenstern

Our speaker was a banker, but he promised not to bore us with “bank-speak.” Sean Welsh, executive vice president of PNC Bank, didn’t disappoint, as he explained the efforts Talent 2025 and other business leaders are making to improve the region’s and Michigan’s public education system.

Welsh, a Grand Rapids area resident and PNC’s regional president for Western Michigan, is among the more than 100 executives who make up Talent 2025.

Business leaders across West Michigan came together in 2010 to form Talent 2025. They are supported by more than 100 business leaders representing over 75,000 employees and a wide variety of industries across 13 West Michigan counties. Employers are key to a region’s economic prosperity and the group’s member CEOs want to help craft solutions.

The concept is to look at the talent pool as consumers. Those consumers need a strong educational system with an investment up front in early childhood development.

“The first steps need to be in early childhood development and how we get the (educational) journey started the right way,” said Welsh, who added 35 to 60 percent of children now entering Kindergarten are not considered ready for school.

At a high level, the milestones are quality preschool to have students ready for Kindergarten, reading by third grade and “college and career ready” when they graduate high school.

This upfront investment will help reduce other costs, such as students who repeat grades. Welsh said put in business terms, this is “rework” because of the system cost for repeating students. It costs Grand Rapids Public Schools $7,026 a year for a child to repeat a grade; $13,029 for a special education student.

As Talent 2025 is a collection of CEOs, it’s helpful to put things in economic terms to help them encourage lawmakers and other policy leaders to take action, Welsh said. “Many of these individuals are in manufacturing and they think about rework and they would say ‘fix what you’re putting into the machine,’ which refers to early children investments.”

Quality, affordable child care is also important, Welsh said. “We have to make it easier for these folks to go to work.”

In addition to advocating—and getting—more state investment in early childhood development, Talent 2025 is looking to replicate other successes across the U.S., Welsh said. This includes the possibility of promoting a “social impact” bond campaign, where a community will make an investment in quality preschool programs with the idea that it will reduce other government costs, including incarceration.

“We’re a group of 100 CEOs and our job is to talk about this and get this stuff done…our job is to knock down barriers,” Welsh said. This action led to an additional 2,520 preschool slots across West Michigan, with a pilot project that began in the fall of 2013. “We are now the No. 1 state for investing in early childhood.”

The focus now is to preserve this funding from annual state budget cut discussions, he said. “If we don’t educate lawmakers we’ll be paying for it 10, 15, 20 years down the line.”

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