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Magic Johnson’s Partnership with Provost Academy Georgia

Mike Klein

Magic Johnson’s parents never earned high school diplomas.  However, they made it clear to four sons and six daughters that failure to graduate from high school was not an option.  “They were on top of us every day,” Johnson said in Atlanta.  Today five of his six sisters are Michigan public school teachers and the sixth is an elementary school principal.  “I am looking at all these educators in my family after my mom and my dad finished seventh or eighth grade.”

Magic Johnson is one of the most recognizable people in the world.  Famous initially for his ability to do things with a basketball that mere ticketholders could only imagine.  Famous now because in life after basketball Johnson has created businesses that employ thousands of mostly inner city people, led campaigns for AIDS research and he has invested time, money and two decades into the idea young people can be given the tools and inspiration to graduate from high school, pursue more learning and become successful adults.

Oh, yes, Johnson recently became part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But it was books not baseball or basketball that brought Johnson to Atlanta this week.   Johnson said his new program — Bridgescape Learning Centers, focused on dropout prevention and recovery – will become a resource at Provost Academy Georgia, the state’s newest online high school.  Provost’s parent is Edison Learning, a New York-based digital learning company that has schools nationwide.  Provost is expected to open this fall.

Bridgescape will focus on young men and women who have quit or are at-risk to quit school.   It will provide a path to a high school diploma through a state-approved online high school.  Bridgescape will be unique from other good programs that offer GEDs – general equivalency diplomas — that are not real high school diplomas.  The Provost Academy – Bridgescape model is blended learning – digital combined with individual, face-to-face instruction, computers, internet access and personalized lesson plans.

Magic Johnson

The Magic Johnson Enterprise partnership with Edison Learning was announced last fall.  Bridgescape Learning Centers have already opened in several Ohio cities.  Provost Academy Georgia is an expansion.  There could be as many as seven statewide learning centers but their locations are a work in progress.

Provost Academy Georgia was scheduled to open last fall as Georgia’s first fully accredited online high school.   However, it got caught in the state charter schools commission controversy so the opening was delayed.  Provost will announce when it is ready to accept student applications for next fall.

Magic Johnson’s financial worth is estimated at $500 million.  He could be doing other things with his time and money but this is what Johnson does by choice.  For 20 years the Magic Johnson Foundation has proposed and funded possible solutions to challenges faced by America’s urban communities.

Education is a big part of that focus.  Nationally one-in-three students – many in urban communities — will quit high school.  Some 1.2 million students drop out every year, 7,000 leave school every day, one quits every 26 seconds.  Inner city minority youth are a big part of that drop out picture.

“A huge number of African American kids are dropping out,” Johnson said.  “I want to make sure we bring them back into our program.  We know that, unfortunately, if you don’t have a high school diploma normally our kids turn to crime.  We’ve got to quit losing kids to the jail system.”

State school superintendent John Barge not only attended Johnson’s news conference, he was an enthusiastic participant.  “When we start talking about recovering the dropouts, this is probably one of the few opportunities children have to come back and earn a high school diploma,” Barge said.   It is not lost here that Barge enthusiastically encouraged an idea that is operating outside the usual state path.

Georgia recently announced that last year it had a 67% on-time high school graduation rate.   “That means over the last several years we have hundreds of thousands of people without a high school diploma,” Barge said.  “We know without a high school diploma there is no hope for these children.”

Earvin Johnson Sr. and his wife Christine moved from Mississippi to Michigan because there were jobs in the auto plants that did not require a high school education.  “Today that’s not the case,’ said their famous son.  “Today you have to have a diploma to get a job at those same plants.”  Johnson had nine brothers and sisters.  His mother worked as a custodian.  His father had a shift at General Motors.

Magic Johnson was an absolute basketball prodigy in Lansing, Michigan.  It was obvious to anyone who watched that there was something special about the 6-foot-9 young man who saw the basketball court as a canvas.  His job was to make things happen on the canvas that folks had not seen before.   From Michigan State to the NBA to life after basketball, Johnson continues to make things happen.

The Magic Johnson Foundation has funded 18 urban community technology centers, including one in Atlanta.  It has funded hundreds of college scholarships, including help for students who attend several Georgia public universities, along with Morehouse and Spelman.   The Foundation has donated millions of dollars to online learning programs, and the hardware and software projects required to support learning.

“My whole life and the mission of the Magic Johnson Foundation has been urban America,” Johnson said.  “I came up through the neighborhood.  You’ve got somebody who knows, who understands.  I’m not going to let the kids have excuses.   All of us have come together because we have one common goal, how do we graduate these young people who have dropped out, who maybe learn in a different way?  How do we make it better for young people?  They must graduate from high school.”

This is what Magic Johnson does, simply because he can and someone should.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Lack of Venture Capital Means Lost Jobs, Lost Opportunity

Mike Klein

When Advanced Catheter Therapies announced a new technology patent in January the dateline was Chattanooga.  The press release noted, “The Company recently announced a name change from Atlanta Catheter Therapies.”  No longer located in Georgia, Advanced Catheter raised almost $3 million from Tennessee-based investors after it became frustrated with Georgia’s inadequate venture capital opportunities.  One of the investment requirements was relocation to Tennessee.

“Everybody I talked to in Tennessee, it was like, how can I help you?” said ACT founder Paul Fitzpatrick who commutes to Chattanooga from his home in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.  He recalled conversation after conversation that went something like, “What doors can I open to help you succeed?”

Advanced Catheter is one among many examples that illustrate Georgia is pretty darn good at creating attractive companies, but it has some real problems holding onto them at certain venture capital stages.   Governor Nathan Deal admitted as much when he spoke to an Atlanta Press Club audience this week, saying, “We know that one of the things that we are lacking is venture capital for start-up companies.”

The General Assembly passed no venture capital legislation this year, although it did consider two bills.  “One of the reasons that we are losing start-up companies is they are able to be siphoned off by Boston and they’re able to be siphoned off by the Silicon Valley,” Deal said.  “Having that capital available is important.  We are going to continue to work on it.”

The closest that Georgia came to venture capital legislation is a pension reform bill the Governor signed Monday.  This law will allow the Employee Retirement System to invest up to 5% (about $750 million) of its total assets (about $14.9 billion) in venture capital and other investments specifically named in the bill.  No more than 1% (about $150 million) could be invested in each of five consecutive years.

The legislation is so specific that it cannot be interpreted to make investments funds available to entrepreneurs trying to create the next big idea in Georgia.  For instance, something as big as Internet Security Systems – better known as ISS – that was incubated here by Chris Klaus and Tom Noonan.

ISS is among Georgia’s best technology success stories, not quite ranking up there with Ted Turner’s invention of CNN and other enormous technology platforms at Turner Broadcasting, but similar to the creation of internet service provider MindSpring by Charles Brewer back in 1994.

Klaus was a Georgia Tech undergrad in 1993 when he became intrigued by the development of software to help businesses defend themselves against computer hackers.  Fast forward a few years and you find Klaus, then in partnership with Noonan, out on the stump looking for Georgia venture capital investors to grow their business.  There simply weren’t any in Georgia with the resources that ISS needed.

Eventually, Klaus and Noonan secured millions of dollars in venture capital investment from two Boston firms that allowed ISS to remain in Atlanta.  ISS eventually employed more than 1,650.  Six years ago ISS was sold to IBM for about $1.3 billion.  Klaus and Noonan are Georgia entrepreneurial icons and home grown innovators who’ve moved onto other ventures.

ISS was able to stay and build its brand in Atlanta.  Regrettably, that is often not the case.

SolidFire left Atlanta for Boulder, Colorado, when the innovator of solid-state storage systems for cloud service providers secured $11 million in Colorado-based venture capital funds.  NightRaft moved to Austin, Texas, where the company is staking out a position in live entertainment event smart phone apps marketing which NightRaft says is a $1 billion per year industry.

It’s not just new businesses.  Georgia has also lost established, highly successful businesses.

A University of Georgia scientist founded AviGenics in 1996 after he developed a protein production technology.  Twelve years later AviGenics was rebadged Synageva Corp. when it closed $17 million in Massachusetts venture capital financing.  Today it focuses on rare diseases.   Some parts of Synageva remained in Georgia but major components of the company moved to Boston.

This year – and this week — we’ve seen announcements that thousands of new Georgia jobs will be created by major corporate expansions and relocations.  Thursday morning Governor Deal said Illinois-based pharmaceutical researcher Baxter International will bring 1,500 jobs to a new $1 billion facility near Social Circle about 40 miles east of Atlanta.  Baxter joins Caterpillar, Carter’s and Toyota who have announced similar decisions to expand in Georgia.

Georgia has demonstrated it can attract corporations.  But will it create the same sense of urgency around assistance to state-based entrepreneurs?  Venture capital is a first tier priority.   Georgia must foster supportive innovation so that our entrepreneurs keep 21st Century keep jobs here.  Or, we can just continue to watch them leave Georgia for other states.

 (Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment