Four foundations and Gov. Doug Ducey are partnering with a center to lead a program to better marry the state's public education system to the needs of employers now and into the future.
The Pathways to Prosperity program, led by the Center for the Future of Arizona, focuses on four areas seen as key to the state's economic development: information technology/cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, energy, and health/bioscience.
The program has been up and running since 2015, and it received a boost recently with the announcement that the Rodel Foundation of Arizona, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF), the Ellis Center for Educational Excellence, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation have joined with Ducey to make a $1.24 million public-private investment in the group, to be provided over three years.
The money will be used to expand the program statewide. To date it has focused on Maricopa and Pima counties, particularly Phoenix and Tucson, said Jackie Norton, chief executive of the Rodel Foundation, which promotes and develops strategies to improve the state's public education system.
This type of collaboration, which forms alliances with other foundations, is a somewhat new approach for Rodel, Norton told the Arizona Business Daily.
"We have developed our own programs to improve the whole system, but the programs, as good as they are, ours and the rest, are not enough to change the whole system from K-12," Norton said.
Her foundation was aware of the work being done through Pathways to Prosperity, which focuses on trying to make sure there are, and will be, enough skilled workers for Arizona's 21st-century workforce. It has highlighted labor gaps and the potential lack of skilled workers coming through the education system, Norton explained.
"What Pathways to Prosperity has done by talking to industry is to find out what kind of skills do (companies) need, and what kind are projected in the future," she said.
The focus has been on industry in Maricopa and Pima counties, but Norton said those leading the initiative want to broaden it statewide, particularly to more rural areas. One of the underlying philosophies behind this public-private partnership's approach to developing this type of education system in Arizona is to open up avenues for students.
Another challenge the program faces is overcoming the bias against vocational education that has emerged in recent years, Norton said, in contrast to the notion that every high school graduate has to immediately go to college.
This is a way to change the conversation and try to climb out of those old compartments, she added. There should be multiple pathways to good, skilled employment and careers.
Joseph Valdez, communications director with the Center for the Future of Arizona, said the funding will be used on the work that has so far focused on the major metropolitan centers.
Valdez told Arizona Business Daily that the foundations have been involved in the program from its inception in 2015, and their extended commitment will be used to build on partnerships and research carried out.
The governor pledged $500,000, which will be matched by $500,000 in grant funds from the foundations with JP Morgan Chase adding $240,000.
“Public-private partnerships are critical in finding solutions for improving the quality of Arizona public schools,” Ducey said in a statement on the announcement of the funding in January. “The Arizona Pathways to Prosperity initiative has shown to increase educational attainment, career preparedness, workforce readiness and economic competitiveness by giving young people the opportunity to grow into life-long careers.”