Toyota and education

 The CREATE Foundation announcement that it will spend $278,000 of Toyota’s money on a curriculum audit of eight school districts in Lee, Pontotoc and Union counties is good news for two reasons.

First, of course, is the districts will benefit from an assessment by Phi Delta Kappa International, a well-known association of educators, that will include specific recommendations for improving student learning.

But, perhaps more important, the announcement is a clear indication that Toyota intends to move ahead on honoring its commitment to help education in the area and build cars at its soon-to-be-completed Union County plant.

When Toyota decided to locate its plant here, the company agreed to give $50 million over 10 years to enhance education in the three counties. The first contribution of $5 million is due in May.

Mike Clayborne, president of the foundation, said the plan is to invest about $4 million of each contribution in an endowment fund and allocate up to $1 million a year to educational projects.

He also said the foundation will make a major announcement of another education project soon. He didn’t say what that is, but it’s no secret that the foundation intends to create a high-end vocational-technical education center. A similar center has been developed near a Toyota plant outside San Antonio.

We have yet to be convinced that that would be the best use for the money. Our region desperately needs comprehensive early childhood education and a focus on sending more students to college and the higher-paying careers that result from it.

But we also understand that Toyota wants to create something that Clayborne says will have a “significant lasting impact” and it is their money. So apparently we will have a vocational-technical center.

And we should also note that it is the state, not Toyota, that has the responsibility to provide enough money to move our public schools forward rapidly. So far it has failed to do that.