Last Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller was joined by former Virginia Governor and Mayor of Richmond, Douglas Wilder, and 25 African-American community leaders in Richmond, Virginia to discuss the importance of community-led education reform efforts. The roundtable discussion included leaders from faith-based organizations, local schools, and small businesses and was hosted by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) at the Fresh Anointing Cathedral.
Governor Wilder kicked off the event and stressed the need for urgent action to tackle the education crisis and to support reform efforts vital to improving the educational outcomes and the financial futures of the African-American community. Deputy Secretary Tony Miller then pointed to the bleak attainment and achievement levels for African-American students — one out of every three students in minority communities fails to graduate on time and only thirty percent of minority students between 25-34 years of age have associates degrees or higher, which is worse than the attainment levels for students in 23 out of 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Tony explained that while “there is value in education for education’s sake, we also must understand that we must prepare our students to compete in the global economy and we are falling behind the rest of the world.”
Community members came with questions about the issues weighing on the minds of their friends and families in Richmond. One gentleman described the extreme pressure his three grown children face carrying the burden of large student debt and wanted to know what the Obama Administration was doing to help keep college affordable. Tony emphasized the Administration’s commitment to keeping college a possibility for all students, explaining that in 2010-2011 the Department of Education awarded almost $767 million dollars to students at 123 colleges and universities in Virginia, including $747 million dollars in Pell grants to almost 200,000 students. Tony also explained the Administration’s pursuit of more aggressive actions to curb rising tuition costs and outlined proposals to freeze interest rates on student loans; extend or make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit that provides refundable tax credit for undergraduate college education expenses; preserve Pell grant investments; and double the number of work-study jobs.
But the dialogue didn’t stop there as the group engaged on the alarming dropout rate particularly among African-American students. Tony applauded everyone’s desire to take an active role in the community’s education stressing that with nearly 13 million students estimated to drop out over the next decade at a cost to the nation of almost $3 trillion dollars, it’s going to take civic and business leaders, parents, educators, and faith-based activists to help create school environments that keep students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the school and graduating from high school ready for college or a career.
Tony thanked the Church of God in Christ and the community for their continued dedication to improving education for African-American students and applauded the group’s refusal to accept the status quo in their community, claiming “this truly is the civil rights issue of our time, and the single greatest investment we can make is in the education of our nation’s children.”