College could soon be free for some Rockford Public School students because of something called the Lincoln Promise Zone Act.
Twenty-five other cities around the country, including Peoria and St.Louis already have Promise Zones in place. Here in Rockford, the measure would award full scholarships to public school students, good towards an associates degree at Rock Valley College.
Matt Vosberg, RPSD 205 Assistant Superintendent, says "If the goal is for students to go to college, but nobody in their family has ever gone to college, or they know there's a financial barrier to go to college, it may not be completely realistic for some kids and so we want them to know this is a realistic goal for everybody."
Typically, students who want to go to college wait until their junior year before thinking about secondary education. District administrators want to change that.
"We'd like them to know in the 4th grade that college will be paid for and hopefully that'll change their course direction and our community as a whole will benefit from that," says Vosberg.
It could even make Rockford a destination city for the college bound. "Potentially, when you look at what happened to Kalamazoo, their enrollment went up 24% in the first 5 years, the school district's enrollment," says Vosberg. "So for our community that would roughly equate to about 5,000 people moving to Rockford, families."
Money to fund the promise zone will come from many different sources. School district administrators say they are exploring the possibility for some state funding. But since that is no guarantee, private donations from businesses an individuals will need to be a big part of the program.
"So for every dollar that's invested in a program such as this, 131 dollars will come back to our community in increased earnings, those earnings circulated in our economy and then a decrease in social service costs, like policing because of the higher level of education for our community," says Vosberg.
The law made it out of the Illinois General Assembly yesterday, and is waiting for Governor Pat Quinn's signature. The program would begin with the graduating class of 2015, this year's sophomores.
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