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Belk Foundation focus on education right call

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Katie Belk Morris: 'There is opportunity and a lot of need.'

We applaud the Belk Foundation for putting a laser focus - and much needed resources - on a vital issue to this community: the education of at-risk students. The dollars and attention toward strategies to help struggling public school students achieve to their potential, graduate high school and continue their learning afterward will be a boon to this area.

Others should take note. This is the kind of commitment desperately needed for students to get the education they'll need to compete for jobs and become productive taxpaying citizens.

We know what happens when students don't get what they need: They wind up in jail, on drugs, in unemployment lines and on the public dole receiving welfare. All of us lose in those scenarios. For many poor and other at-risk students, life doesn't have to end up that way.

But to prevent those outcomes, more of us must step up to intervene. Help from foundations such as the Belk Foundation is especially needed. The work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows how transformative such help can be when it is targeted on education issues. The Gates Foundation has been instrumental in promoting strategies and school innovations that have become national models for improving educational outcomes for struggling students from economically disadvantaged homes.

A recent report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Schott Foundation highlighted again the problems, noting in its "Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education" that the graduation rate for black males nationwide was just 47 percent in 2007-08, 46 percent in North Carolina and 39 percent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Those rates increased for 2010; it's 59.6 percent in North Carolina and 53.4 percent in CMS.

That's still insufficient. Changing such outcomes is crucial to keeping our city, state and nation healthy and thriving.

Bill Anderson of Communities In Schools, a dropout prevention program, praised the Belk Foundation's move: "If we can increase graduation rates, and get more from challenged communities into college, we all win," he said. "Otherwise, they become everybody's financial responsibility."

The foundation has a history of giving to educational causes, and this will build upon it. Nearly half the $27 million given out the past decade went to support learning programs. They join other groups such as the C.D. Spangler Foundation in such giving. The Spangler Foundation gave CMS nearly $4 million in December.

The Belk focus will be on education initiatives across the Southeast though most will go to Charlotte-area groups, officials said. It is timely help since the recession has resulted in teacher layoffs and program cuts as more and more students need help to succeed.

We're aware of the nonprofits who will no longer receive Belk funding. As a community, we must open our wallets wider to help them as well.

But the Belk Foundation has made the right call. As Katie Belk Morris, board chair of the foundation, aptly noted: "There is a lot of opportunity in education and a lot of need."

We applaud their willingness to step up to help meet those needs. We'll all benefit.


Charlotte Observer Editorial

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