Motivate companies to pay for workers’ education
At Cook Group, workers without a high school degree can take classes part time toward a high-school-equivalency certificate while receiving full-time pay. And Cook also pays the college tuition costs of full-time employees—up to a master’s-degree level. (It provides the payments upfront, so that lower-income workers don’t have to wait for reimbursement.) It’s a program that, as of May, had resulted in 190 people achieving a high school diploma or equivalency or a college degree—and 900 more workers are enrolled, writes Marsha Lovejoy, global communications manager for Cook Medical. “This program has seen massive success,” she writes. “Hoosiers are seeking career changes that require different degrees more than ever before, and our continuing education model is built for the future workforce.” Cook’s program can be replicated in companies across Indiana, and the state can seed the program with tax credits or grants. “For employers, increased earnings lead to less turnover and improve worker productivity,” Lovejoy writes. “For employees, increased earnings allow for increased spending, which stimulates the economy. … Together, we can create a workforce that can adapt and learn as the demand for workers in Indiana grows.”
Make preschool mandatory for all 3-, 4-year-olds
In Indiana, school is not mandatory until first grade. Kindergarten is optional. So, of course, preschool is optional as well—and even less-well-funded. Currently, the state uses a voucher system to pay for pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds in low-income families. Jane Lommel says that’s not enough. The community volunteer says it’s time to make preschool mandatory for all Marion County children, starting at age 3, and pay for it. And she wants to turn those preschool programs into learning opportunities for college students training to be teachers.
Provide free wireless service across Indy neighborhoods, commercial districts
In the Indianapolis Public Schools district alone, some 30% of students don’t have internet access at home. And in some neighborhoods, as many as 50% of households don’t have high-speed access, according to Indiana Public Radio. It’s a problem exacerbated by the pandemic, not just for students but for thousands of adults suddenly working at home as well as those who rely on wireless access to participate in the gig economy. So Teresa Browning, president of Browning Business Strategies LLC, suggests making free wireless internet service available across the city for residents. Doing so would “take a small burden off small businesses (where people buy one cup of coffee and take up a table the entire day) and lift the image that Indy is trying to promote that it is the next great tech area.” And she said that “helping people connect more easily in the area would benefit more residents than adding another hotel and/or making the convention sector more attractive to conferences.”
Create an Indiana program like AmeriCorps
Indiana could help more students pay for college and develop a culture of service by creating a state-funded program modeled on AmeriCorps. The program would provide full-ride scholarships to Indiana colleges and universities to young Hoosiers willing to dedicate two years of their lives to public service—through projects developed by or assigned by the state. “Young adults from different backgrounds would get to know one another while doing important service in advance of earning a four-year degree,” writes Nathan Ringham, the director of research and insights at the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, who suggested the idea.
Develop a shared library of electronic resources for schools
Jackie Nytes, CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library, proposes a single shared library of electronic resources that all schools would contribute to and have access to “so that they can offer a richer array of materials for online learning to our teachers and students.” The pandemic has exposed the disparities among schools and the wide variation in the quality and quantity of the resources available for teachers to use with students and to create lesson plans, she said. “A shared platform would even the playing field for all schools,” she said. “Much of the current conversation is about devices, but the schools lack access to content and this would help them all.” She said the public library system has the resources to manage the project. Already, the library is working on a pilot system with about a dozen schools in Indianapolis. And a similar system is in place in Kansas City. •