Business managers and owners tend to keep a low profile in the debate over public education. During the conversations in and outside of the Statehouse last year about the Department of Education’s reform plan, voices from businesses were drowned out by other stakeholders.
There are, of course, exceptions. One is the Boise-based Idaho Business Coalition for Education Excellence, which supported the Department of Education’s plan, Students Come First, last year. IBCEE hasn’t said much on that issue since last year’s session. It’s working now on ways to make college more accessible to Idahoans.
Another exception is the College of Western Idaho, which has received a huge amount of support from local and statewide business interests.
And still another is the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, where a campaign encouraging students to go on to college is a high priority.
But in general, local business leaders tend not to weigh in much on education policy. Instead, they speak with their dollars, donating thousands and sometimes millions to local education. They also donate their time.
When I heard the Idaho Stampede basketball players would be visiting a class at Boise’s Whittier Elementary School, I invited myself along. I like visiting Whittier, where students from very different backgrounds sit side by side in the classroom and shoot hoops together on the playground. Whittier’s students, many of them refugees, come from 13 foreign countries and speak a multitude of foreign languages. Whittier has many low-income students; some of the kids ride the school bus to and from homeless shelters.
The Stampede is a small, locally owned year-round business with four full-time employees and a roster of 10 to 13 players. Its players come from all over the country. The Stampede has a strong stake in introducing itself to the community and its future ticket-holders.
This week, it was the turn of point guard David Bailey and Assistant Coach DeSean Hadley, who played for the team last year. The two stopped in to a crowded portable building occupied by Michaline Bruyninckx’s sixth-grade class.
David and DeSean showed up ready to deliver a message about the importance of education. David, who has a degree from Loyola University in Chicago, was the first in his family to go to college. DeSean went around the room asking all the kids what books they were reading.
As it turns out, most of the students could tell DeSean what their favorite books were. The kids, too, had plenty of questions for the basketball players: About the most expensive shoes they’ve ever bought (not very) and their shoe size; and about how tall the players were in sixth grade. They asked the two which NBA players they liked best. They had a few queries about dunking, and they asked David, who is 5’8”, how he can compete.
The good-natured David said he’s always the fastest guy on the court.
“A lot of people always said I was too small to do this, too small to do that,” he said. “I never thought I was too small. I can play with the best of the big guys and feel comfortable out there.”
The kids asked about the glamour of professional basketball – the $35,000 watches, the meetings with famous NBA players. In return, they heard about hours and hours of practice, constant travel (with occasional sightings of the NBA deities) and low pay. Stampede players only earn between $17,000 and $25,000 for the season.
Many of the sixth graders pressed the players about college scholarships – academic and athletic. They asked if college is necessary for a basketball career (yes, said the pros – not because the teams require it, but because you’ll need it when you stop playing basketball).
David noted to the students that they had to get good grades to obtain and keep a scholarship.
The students clearly know that college – or some form of education after high school – is important. It’s equally clear they’ve gotten the message that most of them won’t be able to pay for it without help. Easing their way is the next big task for educators and their private-sector supporters.