Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal council and the head of Washington state policy issues for the company, sat down to talk about public policy at a Tuesday press event, a day after announcing that Microsoft would donate the money to launch a state-wide endowment for college scholarships. Boeing also stepped forward with $25 million. The donations came as the state gave universities the power to raise tuition rates, which financial aid may not keep pace with.
Gov. Chris Gregoire asked Smith to chair a task force on higher education a year ago.
“It’s important to build on the momentum from higher education next year for K-12,” Smith said. He said he hasn’t identified the one thing that the K-12 education system needs. “We need an effort to bring people together to figure that out. A lot of people all think they have that ‘one thing’ but they’re all a different ‘one thing.’ ”
“If there’s a single rallying cry, it might be around the high dropout rate,” Smith said. “We’re losing 29,000 people every year in terms of the dropout rate. That means this decade we’re going to produce 300,000 high school dropouts. That’s almost six percent of the state’s population.”
Smith said dialogue around K-12 reminds him of the conversations on higher education. “It is reminiscent of the conversation the governor had last June to have a task force on higher education. It was a year ago to the day that the prevailing notino was nothing could get done in higher education” in Olympia, he said.
Microsoft’s interest, Smith said, is to make sure the state is educating students for future jobs in technology. The company imports most of its 40,000 local employees from the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Also, Smith said, the current situation in K-12 education “doesn’t create a foundation for the overall economy we aspire to be a part of.”
Microsoft’s money will become part of an endowment for college scholarships. Smith said he has and will personally make calls to get more corporations and individual donors to contribute. He said the big goal is to raise a $1 billion endowment.
Smith said Microsoft decided it needed to step up as a leader on state policy issues after Boeing moved its corporate headquarter to Chicago.
“When you have a company with 40,000 employees [locally], you don’t have the most intimate relationship with your neighbors,” he said. “It is a misperception that the average Microsoft employee is a young geek that doesn’t care about the community.”
The state made significant cuts to higher education this year and it’s likely that financial aid will not keep pace with the rising tuition, even with the corporate support. Here is a Seattle Times story by Katherine Long with the big picture.
(Photo of Brad Smith: Mike Siegel / Seattle Times)