The nonprofit I run can inform Biden on Career and Technical Education

Now that Donald Trump has come as close to conceding as he ever will, we can at last focus our attention on how Biden administration policies could further the work of organizations like the Untapped Potential Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit I run.

I am a proud Coloradan and long-time Denver resident. Over the past year I’ve spent the bulk of my work weeks in Chicago, working to establish a network of private, tuition-free Career and Technical Education schools to serve low-income kids of color.

We work in partnership with local trade unions and community groups, and our schools are funded by the Illinois tax credit scholarship program known as Invest in Kids. In many ways these are unlikely partnerships, but they have been fruitful, because we all recognize how important it is to modernize education workforce pathways.

What we will offer when our first school launches is a melding of best practices in CTE from around the country: world-class career preparation coupled with rigorous academics. Our kids deserve no less. We are hoping our work will capture the attention of the incoming Biden administration. We believe our model has national potential.

There are ample reasons for optimism. Joe Biden ran a campaign based in his working class roots. He pledged to promote policies aimed at the middle class and at communities of color aspiring to reach the middle class. He preached equity as a cornerstone upon which he would build his policy agenda.

UP2 schools would seem to fit squarely into the Biden agenda. The goal that drives us is creating opportunities for low-income kids of color to enter careers that provide them with an uncluttered pathway to the middle class. 

This means providing a solid, well-rounded education, coupled with training in skills that will sustain them throughout their working lives. It means partnering with organized labor, particularly in the construction trades, to open opportunities to kids who too often have been shut out. It means using public-private partnerships to make this all happen.

That sounds like a pretty progressive agenda to me.

We are forging new coalitions at UP2. As the new administration takes office, I’m optimistic that we can avoid disagreements that break along tired old lines. It makes all the sense in the world to use tax credit scholarships to fund a world-class education for young people. 

Public systems aren’t trying to create schools like ours. We aren’t competition for them. In fact, we are a pressure release valve, welcoming with open arms students they have struggled to accommodate. There is ample room in the world for UP2 schools funded in part by tax credits, and public schools funded by taxpayer dollars.

I believe we can move forward under the Biden administration working in a spirit of cooperation and compromise that has been sorely lacking for the past four years.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. Together.

Jason Gaulden
Jason Gaulden
Jason Gaulden is CEO of Untapped Potential Project—a national network of career and technical high schools being developed in communities of color. He is also the founder of Gaulden Group LLC, a consultancy specializing in strategy, communications, and fundraising. He previously served as Vice President of Partnerships for America Succeeds, a national coalition of business leaders focused on improving the nation’s education system. He is also co-author of The Age of Agility: Education Pathways for the Future of Work.