Five million dollars won't cure the budgetary aches and pains in education across Tennessee, but it's a nice pick-me-up, schools officials say.
On Friday, Volkswagen Group of America pledged more than $5 million to improve K-12 and higher education in Tennessee. The money will be given over a five-year period and divided among Hamilton County Schools, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Fisk University, the University of Memphis, Tennessee State University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Hamilton County will receive about $800,000.
"This could not come at a better time to lift our spirits," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales, although he acknowledged that the money will not erase the system's multi-million-dollar projected budget deficit.
VW already has partnered with Chattanooga State Technical Community College, the lead institution for workforce training for the Volkswagen manufacturing plant being built here.
VOLKSWAGEN EDUCATION GRANTS THE $5.28 MILLION WILL BE DIVIDED AMONG THE FOLLOWING INSTITUTIONS:
¦ Chattanooga State Technical Community College: Creation of Volkswagen Training Academy for work force training
¦ Fisk University: Volkswagen fellowship for students to complete environmental, community service and business projects
¦ Hamilton County Schools: Summer training institute for teachers, Calvin Donaldson renovation, ACT preparation
¦ Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Volkswagen Scholars program for upper division students interested in automotive careers
¦ Tennessee State University: Student scholarships and faculty support
¦ University of Memphis: An initiative to recruit, retain and prepare specialists in science, technology, engineering and math
¦ University of Tennessee at Chattanooga: Volkswagen Competitive Challenge scholarship fund for students
¦ University of Tennessee: Volkswagen Engagement Endowment Fund for student and faculty aid
SOURCE: VOLKSWAGEN GROUP OF AMERICA
"This money is supposed to serve as a catalyst for improvement," said Frank Fischer, chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America's Chattanooga operation.
Nearly 200 elected officials, VW employees and educators gathered outside Friday next to the playground at Calvin Donaldson Elementary School to hear the announcement. Part of the money given to Hamilton County will be used to renovate an annex of Calvin Donaldson into an environmental science lab.
The district will use additional money to support a summer training institute to prepare teachers for Tennessee's new academic standards, which begin in the next school year.
Chancellor Roger Brown said UTC will receive about $1 million of the grant that will be used mostly to provide scholarships for engineering, international studies and computer and environmental science majors, as well as faculty research and outreach.
"This is a real challenge for us to make sure (the money) counts and show some results," Dr. Brown said.
Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said his company was not immune to the current economic crisis, but that the company's belief in the importance of education made it determined to give the money.
"Sometimes it's good to have stubborn German partners," he said.
Mr. Jacoby said Volkswagen had made a significant contribution to education in Virginia, where the company's American headquarters are located, and officials were happy to do the same here.
"I'm even more convinced now that Volkswagen made the right choice in Chattanooga," he said. "Promoting education is the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do."
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has made education a priority during his tenure, agreed.
"I'm more appreciative than I can describe," he said. "I hope it's an investment that will repay you many times over."