Mark Jacobs speaks to the Carroll Rotary Club about an education-reform-minded non-profit he leads called Reaching Higher Iowa.
Mark Jacobs speaks to the Carroll Rotary Club about an education-reform-minded non-profit he leads called Reaching Higher Iowa.

December 15, 2016

Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Jacobs, of  West Des Moines, remains on a spirited statewide campaign.

Not for political office himself.

But for the students of Iowa.

Jacobs, who helmed Houston-based Reliant Energy, a Fortune 500 company, before retiring and moving to West Des Moines in August 2012 and running for the seat now occupied by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, founded the not-for-profit Reaching Higher Iowa, an organization aiming to boost K-12 education in Iowa.

“Make no mistake, this is a big lift,” Jacobs told the Carroll Rotary Club Monday during the service club’s luncheon at Santa Maria Winery.

Reaching Higher Iowa’s mission is four-fold: improve measurement of student achievement; support educators with more career development; attract the best people possible into teaching; and provide parents and teachers with more school choice.

Carroll is a good example of educational choice, Jacobs said, noting the presence of the Carroll Community and Kuemper Catholic school systems.

“That healthy competition pushes each of them to do better,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said not-for-profit charter schools — educational institutions that operate independently of public school district but are not private — are the smart approach in Iowa.

Traditional public schools will continue to educate most students in Iowa and charter schools with direct government funding, as opposed to a more aggressive choice option through private-school vouchers, can ease Iowa into a more competitive school environment, Jacobs said.

Jacobs said productive agriculture and well-educated people will continue to be Iowa’s best products. He’s concerned about slippage in Iowa’s education rankings.

“What really got me: Where was the public outrage?” Jacobs said.

A 1980 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Jacobs talked in the interview of working a night shift in the Hy-Vee deli during school and delivering newspapers.

Jacobs started as chief financial officer with Reliant in 2002. Prior to that, he worked for 13 years advising companies in New York and Houston on what he termed “strategic and financial matters.”

In the spring of 2013, Jacobs taught a business strategy class to graduating seniors at Iowa State University.

Jacobs earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1984 and a master’s degree in management with distinction from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in 1989.