Throughout our country's history, every generation has tried to make a better life for its children and grandchildren. Early last century, parents and school counselors told students, ''Get a high school degree and you'll always have a job.''
Today, because our world has become more technical as well as more competitive, a high school education is not sufficient to get a good job.
For some years, I've been thinking of creating a scholarship program that would assure that every graduate of an Akron high school has an opportunity to continue his or her education to improve chances of getting a good job.
This February, I proposed ''The Akron Plan for the 21st Century.'' It is based on two different success stories:
• Governments like Chicago and Pennsylvania have used the value of their communities' long-term investment in assets to raise cash for new projects.
• The ''Kalamazoo Promise'' — A full scholarship program that was funded by several wealthy anonymous donors has been responsible for the turnaround of the city.
In putting these two proven successful ideas together, I am asking Akron voters to allow us to create a community-based scholarship program that will provide funds for Akron high school graduates to meet their expenses at an accredited and approved college, university, trade or technical school by trading off the value of a community asset — our sewers — for something we need now, educated workers.
Here's how it would work:
• Scholarships would be awarded as early as 2009 to Akron resident students who are graduates of our public high schools and approved nonprofit schools such as St. Vincent-St. Mary, the Elms and Archbishop Hoban. (Administrators of these parochial schools have agreed that the number of such scholarships would be calculated to avoid competing with public high schools.) Home-schooled elementary students would also be eligible.
• The scholarships would be for education at an accredited and approved college, university, trade or technical school.
• The scholarships would be in an amount that covers tuition and fees, after the student first has applied for other available private or government-funded scholarships available to the student.
And just as the federal government does with scholarships it awards to some students, there is an expectation of a return on this investment.
Students will have a choice to live and work in Akron after graduation and pay nothing back to the program; or, if they live outside the city, to return a small percentage of their earnings — the same amount of our income tax — to the scholarship program over a period of 30 years. This will be, in most cases, less burdensome to students than paying off a student loan and assures the taxpayers of Akron a return on their investment.
Unlike Kalamazoo, we do not have anonymous donors to fund a scholarship program, so we need an alternative funding mechanism.
Around the country, dozens of cities' water and sewer services are supplied by private companies. This idea in and of itself is not novel, nor — with responsible management — does it present an unreasonable risk. Of the contracts up for renewal last year, 92 percent were renewed with their existing operator, proving the level of satisfaction.
The value of our sewer system can generate an upfront infusion of cash sufficient to fund the Akron Scholarship Program well into the future. Here's how the lease would work:
• Investors — usually large pension funds — would invest in the system to receive stable revenue.
• The up-front lease payment, perhaps $300 million, would pay existing debt on the system with the balance invested permanently in a fund under the reliable control of the Akron Community Foundation, and it could ONLY be used for scholarships.
• An operator, hired under an ironclad lease, would be obligated to hold the line on rate increases to users that would be less than Akron's 30-year average, meet all EPA and government environmental regulations and operate under controls we would place on it to ensure good service to sewer customers.
If the lease does not work, the city always will have the option to cancel the contract and take the system back.
The need for a scholarship plan is urgent, and we can do it without raising taxes even in these tough economic times.
Akron always has been an innovative city. Ultimately, our grandchildren may judge us on what we thought was more important: who takes care of our toilet water, or preparing our children for the jobs of the future. I urge your ''yes'' vote on Issue 8 on Nov. 4.
Don Plusquellic is mayor of Akron.