Sunday, August 25, 2013

Micro Credit and Opportunity Centers to Help Inner City Families

Since 1983 the Grameen Bank, run by Muhammed Yunus, has established a policy of granting micro credit to fledgling entrepreneurs in the Third World. Wikipedia defines Microcredit as "the extension of very small loans (microloans) to impoverished borrowers who typically lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history. It is designed not only to support entrepreneurship and alleviate poverty, but also in many cases to empower women and uplift entire communities by extension."

As noted above, the idea behind micro credit is to help provide resources to individuals interested in improving their socioeconomic status. These resources would otherwise not be available due to a lack of equity and collateral; both are important requisites for those providing capital as they help minimize any risk a financial institution assumes.

It is my position that this idea of microcredit can be applied to our inner cities, and that we should find a mechanism- not necessarily a bank- to provide capital to families with aspiring students interested in supplementing their learning with resources that would otherwise be out of their reach.

My experience as a teacher in the somewhat wealthy (By looking at DFGs) West Windsor-Plainsboro School District made it clear that many of the marginal students were able to improve their academic standing and gain admission to quality colleges because of the resources provided by their parents. I certainly would not deny any parent the ability to provide such academic support, but I think that simple fairness demands that we find ways to create a more equitable system that offers equally motivated but less able parents the ability to do the same.

It is in this regard that I would like to see the creation of what we might call "Opportunity Centers." They are not banks in the traditional sense, but more like "resource centers" where inner city parents of limited means can borrow money- on very favorable terms- that they can use to improve the academic success and academic access to opportunities they otherwise could not provide. These "Centers" could also serve as places where families could secure the services of people willing to volunteer their time to help these children succeed.

These "Opportunity Centers" would require the financial backing of businesses, philanthropies, and other donors willing to underwrite the costs of these resources and services, and they would obviously require professionals able to evaluate the ideas and goals of these families and make suggestions on what choices would be best for these families.

Simply trying to improve the performance of inner city schools is not enough, especially in light of the dismal results our State has had in this area. It is small wonder that so many families are trying to get their children enrolled in charter schools in a desperate effort to improve their future opportunities.

I believe these Opportunity Centers would be a key piece in the efforts of inner city parents to provide a better future for their children by providing for them resources that would otherwise be unattainable. Inner city families have the right to demand more equity and fairness in our public school system. Providing greater access to resources will help level the academic playing field and give inner city children the ability to enrich their learning. It is a worthy goal that we should all support, and I hope that those with power and influence will consider Opportunity Centers as an essential component of this effort.

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