In 2001, brothers Jerry Kinder of Cape Girardeau and Richard Kinder of Houston stunned the Cape Girardeau School District by creating a $100,000 annual reward program for the system's best and brightest teachers. The successful brothers created the awards -- a $10,000 check to each of 10 top educators -- as a tribute to their mother, Edna C. Kinder, who taught special education at the former May Greene Elementary School for many years.
The Edna C. Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards were given again in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, the Kinders announced that they were exploring other options for rewarding public education in Cape Girardeau.
Meanwhile, in 2002 Richard Kinder and his wife, Nancy, formed a partnership with the Knowledge Is Power Program. KIPP started in 1994 with a program for fifth-graders in an inner-city Houston public school. In 1995, KIPP Academy was founded in the South Bronx of New York City. The program has grown to a national network of 45 public schools in 15 states and Washington, D.C. More than 90 percent of KIPP seniors, most of whom are minorities, were accepted by colleges this year.
Richard and Nancy Kinder did for KIPP teachers what the two brothers had started in Cape Girardeau: They established cash awards for excellent teachers. More than 30 KIPP teachers have received the awards.
Now Richard and Nancy Kinder have announced a national award, this time for a single teacher in a public or private school in an underserved community. Qualifying high-need schools are those with at least 50 percent of students qualifying for federal free and reduced-price school lunches.
The award: $100,000 in unrestricted funds to a single teacher.
This is believed to be the largest award ever for U.S. teachers. KIPP teachers will not be eligible. Only teachers nominated by their peers, their administrators, their students or parents of students will be considered by a blue-ribbon panel of distinguished educators that include two former recipients of the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards given to KIPP teachers.
Through this new program, Richard and Nancy Kinder and the KIPP program will draw national attention to the best teachers in America. It is fitting that teachers will receive the magnitude of recognition that corresponds to the value of their service to their students and to society.