Upon completion of nearly two decades of service as a school board leader at the local, state, and national level, David recognized the need for continued advocacy on behalf of the 54 million children of America’s public schools. The American Public Education Foundation was formed to be a catalyst for change and promote continuous improvement in America’s public schools. With a focus on Financial Literacy and Workforce Development, David leads APEF as an incubator of innovation and a facilitator of strategic partnerships to empower equity and access for all children, regardless of race, creed, or socioeconomic background to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential.
AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION FOUNDATION
David Pickler founded the American Public Education Foundation (APEF), a public education advocacy non-profit, in 2014. While serving for 12 years as Chairman of the Shelby County School Board, David used 100% of his school board salary to fund the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation. After the merger between Shelby County Schools and the Municipal Schools – and the subsequent demerger – the foundation effectively disbanded and David was given the opportunity to transition the funds into seeding and creating APEF.
For almost a decade, APEF has been on the forefront of advocacy for public schools. The foundation has experienced various phases and focus points over the years, including organizing a nation-wide National Anthem Sing-A-Long televised on FOX News, but has now firmly planted its efforts in two key areas: financial literacy and workforce development.
The American Public Education Foundation, guided by David’s leadership and passion of public education, leads the way when it comes to incubating, developing, and launching life-changing initiatives for our nation’s public schools. The foundation has created groundbreaking initiatives in the fields of financial literacy and workforce development: The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy, the Financial Literacy Resource Library, and the West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative
The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy is the foundation’s bi-annual state of the union on the status of financial education in our country. The report card explores the commitment of each state when it comes to preparing our nation’s youth in the area of financial literacy, and serves as a nationwide accountability tool. This 50-state review points to a nation in crisis with regard to our schools’ failure to prepare and educate K-12 students in personal finance and decision-making. In 2019, APEF launched this report card under the banner “Vision 2020.” In 2021, the second edition was released and now includes Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The Financial Literacy Resource Library is an open-source digital library of personal finance content and launched in 2022. In what is the first of its kind, this library is an aggregation of the best finance-related content from across the web, funneled into six categories, and is made available at no cost to every teacher, student, and parent in the country.
In 2016, in one of its first impactful projects, the Foundation partnered with the Tennessee School Boards Association to provide funding to create the Tennessee Digital Resources Library. This online library provided an opportunity for teachers to create content and align standards to create open-source content. This partnership also established the foundation for our innovative and free-of-charge Financial Literacy Resource Library.
The West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative
A main focus of APEF has been our workforce development program. While college remains a worthy goal for many students, David and his team believe public education must embrace the challenge of a rapidly evolving global marketplace. Students are developing skills, certifications, and experiences that will empower their success whether it be in college or career. Over the next 10 years, 69% of the most in-demand jobs will not require college diplomas. These innovations in workforce development and community partnerships, including the collaborative, are game-changers for our students and communities. And it’s the reason David has devoted his focus to this initiative.
We viewed our relationship with the new Collierville High School as an opportunity to beta test this new approach, offering students technical, vocational or professional development skills they would need to compete in this quickly evolving marketplace.
David brought local business owners together with curriculum leaders and teachers to discuss workforce development needs. Students would learn emerging technology and vocational skills, schools would gain additional training and funding from the businesses, and the business owners would gain access to the next generation of workers, and play a role in preparing them for the workforce.
Soon, more than 250 area businesses pledged their support to the program which gives our students access to training for jobs as airplane mechanics, pilots, drone aviation specialists, welders, commercial kitchen builders, nurses and hospice care workers with clinical medical assisting (CMA) certification, and cosmetologists. Since the program started, hundreds of students at Collierville High School have participated in internships, externships and have been employed by partner firms.
One of the true success stories of the program is in the field of Agriculture Technology. In today’s world, agriculture goes well beyond tractors, planting and harvesting crops. It requires knowledge of science and technology to improve land productivity. “Smart” combines can detect differences in yield from one field to the next. Soil maps reveal soil structure and chemical properties. Today’s farmers also rely on high-tech to track weather patterns, soil erosion and biodiversity. Through our partnership with several agricultural companies, we built a teaching farm on campus so kids could learn firsthand about some of these new technologies. It has given them a different perspective on farming and an introduction to the skills needed for success in that field.
The workforce development program has proven so successful that schools throughout the state have begun replicating our efforts. It’s even been touted nationally and a number of states have adopted similar programs. Furthermore, the newly developed West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative has created a communication pipeline between businesses and education that will ensure schools in our state offer courses relevant to the ever-evolving marketplace.
Additionally, APEF partnered with BusyKid, an app that allows parents to easily teach their children about investing. We worked together to create a co-branded version of the app, and BusyKid uses data from our financial literacy report card as they share the importance of financial literacy all across the nation.
The New Mexico Career Portal
Under David’s direction, The American Public Education Foundation partnered with NS4ed, a rising leader in technology-based career and college education services, in the development of a career exploration curricula for middle- and high-school students in New Mexico, reflecting the importance of career development at each grade level from 6th through 12th grade.
To add to the core curriculum, the foundation provided robust financial literacy curricula and classroom activities that will be taught through the lens of career exploration and awareness, which matches with our dual focus as a foundation of financial literacy and workforce development. Students will learn how finances can impact their choices around college, career, and ultimately their quality of life. The curriculum emphasizes high-demand job opportunities answering the familiar question from students, “Why do I need to know this” or “When will I ever use this?”
Financial illiteracy is a preventable pandemic, but the consequences of our continued inaction could be more devastating than Covid. Financial literacy is at the foundation of workforce development; we must demand that every school and every level of education incorporate appropriate elements to prepare our children to survive and thrive in our economy.
To that end, the American Public Education Foundation is developing a nationwide set of standards for financial education. Additionally, we will be producing curriculum and exemplar lessons for K-12 that are cross disciplinary, allowing instructors to teach financial literacy embedded into other required standards. A small advisory group of financial experts and seasoned teachers will oversee this process and the final product will be free and open source for all.
A Catalyst in Financial Literacy and Workforce Development
In 2019, APEF was awarded the prestigious Catalyst Award from Invest in Others Charitable Foundation for its work in workforce development and financial literacy.