Guest Commentary

Kansas City business leaders must lead the fight for educational equality

Dan Fromm and Bill Gautreaux
Dan Fromm and Bill Gautreaux

Kansas City does a good job recruiting talent from outside the city. Our businesses have strong teams and tactics that help attract workers from around the country to move here and stay here. However, Kansas City currently has a negative net migration of college-educated students. We need everyone focused on attraction and retention to grow talent in the region.

Our long-term success as a city depends on our collective ability to develop our future workforce right here in town. Simply put, the business community has an incentive, and an obligation, to champion education in our city.

The World Economic Forum calculates that roughly 65 percent of kids in school today will enter careers that don’t exist yet. We must come together to better equip all of the students of Kansas City to thrive in the workforce of the future.

That requires new thinking in our current educational system. We can start by raising our expectations. Our city deserves great schools, excellent teachers and an endless supply of opportunities for students to fulfill their dreams. In addition to the hard work that many advocacy organizations, school districts and teachers are doing, more businesses need to stretch themselves creatively and show up for Kansas City kids in new ways.

Bill Gautreaux and I are co-chairing the 10th anniversary celebration for Teach For America Kansas City because it is addressing the education equality gap in classrooms throughout the metro area, and because it has a tremendous track record of attracting future leaders to Kansas City.

Over the last 10 years, Teach For America Kansas City has recruited, trained and mobilized over 1,000 leaders in Kansas City to serve more than 150,000 low-income students. Almost 70 percent of these leaders did not call Kansas City home before beginning their two-year commitment. But this is still not enough.

Developing the next generation of talent is also a key strategy of KC Rising, a collaborative effort of business leaders and civic partners to increase prosperity across our region. School districts throughout the area are reimagining many of their high school programs to allow students to explore career interests and earn post-secondary credit and industry certifications before their diplomas. KC Rising is exploring additional ways to accelerate this work and for businesses to assist, advise and advocate for these students and schools.

As we find more ways to support remarkable teachers like Teach For America Kansas City alum David Persley, who started the computer science program at University Academy charter school, we’re increasing the number of talented people who want to stay and work in Kansas City. We can all do that by sharing our professional talent with students in and around the city’s urban core.

Volunteer to read in a classroom. Participate in a career fair. Mentor a teacher or a student. Get to know the smart, courageous and adaptable students in the heart of Kansas City.

We can’t afford to miss the opportunity to grow our city with passionate, skilled and tenacious leaders. We can lead the way in developing a workforce of the future — or we can get left behind. This isn’t just a path to the most talented workforce. It’s our opportunity to create a better community and it’s our moral obligation to all the children in our city.

Dan Fromm is president and COO of Kansas City-based advertising agency Barkley. He has served on the Teach For America Kansas City board of directors for the last 10 years. He co-authored this with Bill Gautreaux, managing partner at MLP Holdings, board chair of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and co-chair of KC Rising.