When Louisiana native and New Orleans resident James Carville was working on Bill Clinton’s campaign for president, he famously scribbled a note and pinned it to the wall. The note read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The implication being, that no matter what people say they care about, if they don’t have enough money, nothing else matters.
Here in New Orleans, for decades, topping the list of things people say they care about, usually right under crime, is education. We also know that, with a few exceptions, the more education you have the more money you make. So, today, Carville’s famous advice could be, “It’s education, stupid.”
By education, we typically think of elementary school and high school. But lately we’ve come to learn that life-long problems with poor education-outcomes start earlier. Studies show that children under the age of 4 who receive quality Early Childhood Education are more likely to graduate high school. They earn more money. And they’re more likely to own their own homes.
If you’re a parent with resources, you can pay for quality Early Childhood Education. If you don’t have the means to do that, you can send your children to publicly funded pre-school. But in New Orleans, 70% of low-income children under the age of 4 don’t have access to publicly funded, quality, Early Childhood Education. An organization called Agenda For Children is trying to change that. Agenda For Children works to train Early Childhood education teachers, and to create access to early Childhood Education for all New Orleans families. Jen Roberts is CEO of Agenda For Children.
This is not to say that all we have to do in New Orleans is get kids under 4 in a good pre-school and in a generation everything will magically improve. We’ll still need good high schools. Here in New Orleans, a “good high school” is typically one you pay to go to. Or, if you’re a kid who’s focused and driven enough, you can test into one of the few high-performing public high schools. But kids growing up in less-than-ideal circumstances are typically not in either of those categories.
That’s where an organization called Rooted School Foundation comes in.
Rooted School Foundation focuses on at-risk kids who are talented or smart enough to change their lives. It gives students a way to graduate high school while also earning industry credentials in fields with growth potential, so that they can go from high school to college, or into a career in a growing field. This is not some sort of theoretical, pie-in-the-sky concept. In June 2021 Rooted New Orleans graduated its inaugural class of 38 students. 54% of them went to a 4-year college, and between them they hauled in over $1m worth of merit grants and scholarships. The visionary founder and CEO of Rooted School Foundation is Jonathan Johnson.
Education and Business
In music and fashion, generational changes are easy to see. In business, those changes are not so obvious. But they definitely exist. The current generation is emphasizing good corporate citizenship, and work-life balance. Companies are being asked to take socially responsible positions. They’re no longer seen as profit-centers responsible only to shareholders. And work is no longer regarded as a monastic calling to which you have to dedicate your entire life to succeed. Instead, a company is more prized if it is able to integrate into the wider community, and a job is more prized if it allows you live a balanced life.
Early Childhood Education is the first step on the path to a parent creating work/life balance. And Rooted School Foundation is giving companies an opportunity to become corporate good citizens. Both Jen Roberts and Jonathan Johnson are involved with organizations that at first glance might seem far removed from business, but that on closer examination are vitally entwined in our local economy.
Out to Lunch is recorded live over lunch at NOLA Pizza in the NOLA Brewing Taproom. Photos by Jill Lafleur. And listen in to this lunchtime conversation about the education initiative, Uncommon Construction, that allows high school kids to graduate into the construction industry.