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West Virginia Establishes First Statewide Education Foundation

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West Virginia has formed the first statewide "education foundation" to promote a formal partnership between business and public education.

The West Virginia Education Fund, although initiated by the state board of education, will be a nonprofit, private organization governed by a board of directors, which will include 21 leaders from business and industry. The state board of education will contribute one voting member to the fund's board; the state superintendent and a member of the board of regents will be nonvoting members.

The education-foundation movement, designed to heighten private-sector involvement in public schools in a time of declining funding and increasing concern about the quality of education, is gaining momentum rapidly at the community level, according to speakers at a recent meeting on the subject sponsored by the Ford Foundation. (See Education Week, Nov. 3, 1982.)

Currently, about 100 local foundations exist, the speakers said. Other states are said to be considering the formation of foundations, but West Virginia is believed to be the first actually to do so.

Like its community counterparts, after which it is modeled in large part, the West Virginia fund will seek support--financial and in-kind--from the private sector and from community groups.

To date, the fund has received $90,000 from the Pittsburgh-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Its goal is to "establish a much better cooperation and understanding between business, industry, and the public-school system," said Charles H. Wagoner, the state board of education member who, along with Roy Truby, the state superintendent of education, was one of the early proponents of the notion.

"I think that the business community is beginning to understand that our future is not just in coal, steel, and aluminum, it's in our people, and that resource has to be developed," Mr. Truby said last week. "They recognize that we have common concerns. This fund is a tangible expression of that."

To date, the board of directors has met only once and has not yet determined the precise methods that the fund will use to channel aid to education.

"Mini-grants," made directly to outstanding teachers, are one method that the fund may use, as are direct grants to county school systems. The fund's directors also hope to foster "exchanges" of personnel between public schools and industry.

"I think it's a very exciting thing," said Thad D. Epps, newly elected president of the board and director of public affairs, southeastern region, for the Union Carbide Corporation. Since the board has met only once, he said, "I think it would be premature to say too much about where we're going."

Successful Foundation

West Virginia officials began considering the possibility of a statewide foundation about two years ago, after attending a meeting where they learned about a successful community foundation in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Dr. Wagoner said.

"I'd been interested for a long time in some sort of healthy relationship between business, industry, and education," Dr. Wagoner said. ''When we found out about that, we thought it might be the type of relationship that would be workable for our whole state." West Virginia, state officials point out, is a small state with a highly centralized system of public education.

About a year ago, state officials began meeting with officials from the Pittsburgh organization.

Although they needed to modify the model to suit a statewide program, West Virginia officials describe their fund as being patterned quite closely after the Pittsburgh venture.

There, they point out, relatively modest amounts of money have gone a long way toward rewarding outstanding teachers, improving relations with the community, and improving education in general. Mr. Epps points out that public education--in which, he says, he is a "firm believer"--usually lacks such incentives.

"An extremely small amount of money per teacher provides them with the materials to do some very innovative things," he said. "The ultimate winner is the student."

Efforts Not Publicized

It is too early to know what kind of support the fund will get from industry, Mr. Epps said. Because they have not yet worked out many of the details of its operation, board members have not tried to publicize their efforts heavily.

"I think there's a large segment of the corporate community," he added, "that's traditionally said, 'Well, we pay taxes for the public schools.' I think that involvement will depend on whether we're talking about providing something they want to be a part of, something that has a very low probability of occurring through the normal system."

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