Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Polytechnic plan makes sense

March 8, 2014

One of the most promising planks in Mayor Greg Ballard’s agenda for the coming years is a new school his staff is calling Indianapolis Polytechnic.

The plans call for a new-to-Indiana type of charter program that allows students to earn both high school and college credentials—tailored to fields with the most promising job prospects. It’s a wise approach that acknowledges both that a well-trained work force demands postsecondary education and that not every career requires a four-year college degree.

This is one area where the mayor is wise to follow in the footsteps of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who have led the way on corporate-backed polytechnic schools in their respective cities.

One such school—the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago—was showcased in a recent Time magazine cover story. The school’s students tackle an intense six-year curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math courses, and leave with a high school diploma, associate’s degree and a minimum $40,000-per-year position at IBM, the school’s corporate partner.

Jason Kloth, Ballard’s deputy mayor for education, is hard at work building a similar offering, with a targeted opening by 2016. The school would need a local not-for-profit to run it, a university partner to administer the postsecondary offerings, employer partners to help provide equipment and instructors, and a physical location. The goal would be to focus on middle- and high-skill jobs where workers are few and wages are attractive—no less than $30,000 per year.

The case for a third way on high school education is compelling: The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects that two-thirds of the 47 million job openings from 2008 to 2018 will require some postsecondary education, Time reported.

Indianapolis Polytechnic could create funding challenges for the state and other K-12 schools. The issue: Indiana’s charter school law is not designed to fund postsecondary education. But there’s a straightforward fix. The Legislature could set up a separate funding mechanism for polytechnic schools. State law already allows separate funding for dropout recovery schools that educate adults without high school degrees. Or a polytechnic offering could be launched with a traditional school district.

There’s precedent for such a partnership: Wayne Township schools works on a popular program with heating and air-conditioning giant Carrier Corp., which provides equipment and often hires graduates directly. Similar programs include facilities operated by unionized tradesmen, including ironworkers and electricians.

Indianapolis Polytechnic would help companies find qualified employees, but it also fits neatly within Ballard’s larger effort to boost the Marion County tax base. A more educated and employable work force earns more money, and pays more taxes.•

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