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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Economic Development: Leaders say education improvements necessary

Read Fort Worth


Corporate, education and civic leaders got together last week to discuss reading – and economic development.

The talk wasn’t just about improving reading scores and graduation rates. The focus was also on economic development and how the education is a key component.

Fort Worth business and civic leaders are concerned that – as fast as the city is growing – key businesses are checking the city off their list for relocation and expansion because of concerns about the public school system.

That includes the biggest economic development gorilla in the room: Amazon.

“I haven’t talked to Jeff Bezos [CEO of Amazon],” said Matt Rose, executive chairman of BNSF Railway and a leader at Read Fort Worth. “I know I will at some point, but I promise you, they’re not coming to Fort Worth, Texas. It’s not because Fort Worth doesn’t have a great community, it’s not because we don’t have low taxes and it’s not because we have low regulatory environment.

“They’re not coming here because our public school system isn’t working,” he said.

“We have great private school systems. They’re unbelievable. We’re going to have charter schools in Fort Worth. They’re going to be unbelievable, too. Big corporations don’t believe that they should have to go to a place and put all their kids in a charter school or in a private school. They really do believe that they ought to be able to enjoy a public school system that works.”

Read Fort Worth was founded in 2016 by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner and business, civic and philanthropic leaders to align partners in support of the district’s 100 x 25 Initiative – an effort to assure that 100 percent of third-graders will be reading on grade level by 2025.

Rose serves as chairman of Read Fort Worth’s 11-member executive committee.

Education isn’t the only issue hindering big corporate relocations to Fort Worth, Rose noted.

“While I’m on this topic, [corporations] also believe in public transportation, which is another issue that we’re out here talking about today,” he said. “That’s what big corporations think. We all may say, ‘Well, we don’t believe one, big, corporation’s going to relocate in Fort Worth.’

“I think that’d be a mistake. I really think we need a big corporate relocation for Fort Worth,” he said. “We’ve got the space to handle it. We’ve got commercial space for it.”

Scribner told the attendees that business need to recognize that education and economic development work hand in hand.

“Those of us in this room who hold a bachelor’s degree, or a post-secondary degree, we are a minority in the city of Fort Worth,” he said. “This is economic development work that we’re talking about, making early literacy a priority is key.”

The Fort Worth business community raised more than $100,000 for the Classroom Library Campaign, one of Read Fort Worth’s programs, during the breakfast Sept. 17 at the Fort Wort Club hosted by Darien George, managing partner at Mackenzie Eason & Associates.

The Rainwater Charitable Foundation matched the day’s gifts, bringing the total contributions to more than $200,000.

The Classroom Library Campaign is a community strategy to advance early childhood literacy by placing 100 high-interest, high-quality and culturally relevant books in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms across the Fort Worth Independent School District, starting with elementary schools most in need. So far, the campaign has delivered more than 4,000 books to four elementary schools.

Mayor Betsy Price said the city is taking steps to improve reading skills among area students.

“We’re going in the right direction,” she said. “To continue, we have to continue to keep our foot – or in Texas, our boot – on the accelerator and keep driving this further.”

Read Fort Worth recently named Anel Mercado, former director of programs at Arizona Center for Youth Services, as Read Fort Worth’s next executive director, replacing founding executive director Kristin Sullivan.

On North Texas Giving Day, Sept. 20, 100 percent of donations to Read Fort Worth were used to purchase books, and every dollar donated was scheduled to be matched by an anonymous donor.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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