Every day, the phones in my office ring from locations across the country. Communities and school districts are seeking ways to infuse their young people with the ideas and skills that will contribute to long-term change in their local economies.
They see entrepreneurship education as a key component to a better educated, more entrepreneurial citizenry and, ultimately, a vibrant local economy filled with job creators and a workforce equipped with the skills to meet the demands of our 21st-century marketplace.
I was thrilled that Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) introduced H.R. 3445, the Learn to Earn Act. It is a simple piece of legislation that could have a profound effect for America.
The bill would provide a mechanism, through the Department of Education, to certify school districts that are running high-quality entrepreneurship education programs as “entrepreneurship communities.” Once designated, these local districts would receive priority consideration — a little extra credit — whenever they apply for federal funding through the 2009 stimulus law and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Importantly, Learn to Earn recognizes that “high-quality entrepreneurship education” is not a function of schools alone.
It acknowledges that local businesses, local community organizations and local Chambers of Commerce, as well as others, are key partners in teaching young people the values and skills of entrepreneurship, business and financial literary.
The bill designates these groups as “entrepreneurship partner entities” and allows them to receive the same special consideration when applying for funding from a variety of agencies such as Commerce and Education departments and the Small Business Administration.
For more than a year now, I have heard President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and countless business leaders talk about the need to renew America’s entrepreneurial spirit and to start this process in our classrooms. This bill takes a crucial first step by rewarding school districts already implementing entrepreneurship education, and it will motivate others to do the same.
And at a time when new spending is not realistic, this legislation aims to make existing funds — already allocated federal dollars — more productive by rewarding those who are innovating and providing the next generation of Americans with the basic knowledge to act like an entrepreneur and make responsible financial decisions.
School districts that work with organizations such as mine, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, are being recognized and rewarded for implementing these innovative programs as they seek resources for all that they do. This means the best districts with the most forward-thinking leaders can grow their entrepreneurial ecosystems.
The NFTE and our peers can now approach new school districts and demonstrate a dual incentive for adopting entrepreneurship education; the deep effect these programs have on the lives of young people and the additional help they will provide districts as they seek to secure desperately needed resources from existing funding streams.
Finally, by recognizing the important role business community members play as mentors and volunteers in the best entrepreneurship education, the bill also incentivizes them to be even more active and engaged in our efforts to reinvent education in a way that will support long-term economic health.
My hope is that the Learn to Earn Act delivers a clear message to Congress that entrepreneurship education is vital to making our education system and our economy the best in the world again. Furthermore, as Congress takes up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, entrepreneurship education must be included in Title V — the “Well-Rounded Child” section. This would really turn on the faucet for school districts to use currently available funds for entrepreneurship education.
Entrepreneurship education keeps young people in school by talking to them about something they care about — money. It reaches them in a different way and prepares them with the adaptable skills and entrepreneurial mindset needed to be successful in our rapidly changing economic landscape. And, years from now, the seeds it sows will sprout the leaders of the small, medium and large enterprises that will employ countless Americans and make the U.S. economy the strongest in the world for generations to come.
Every net new job in America during the past decade has been created by companies in existence for less than five years. Entrepreneurship education and bills such as the Learn to Earn Act are a key part of any effective long-term job-creation strategy through relevant, skill-based education.
Amy Rosen is president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.