The state's biggest school-business partnership is slipping thanks to a job-shedding economy.

Sponsors of the Step-Up summer internship program say there are only 450 summer jobs available for the 950 Minneapolis high school kids who have been accepted and trained for work. The jobs pay at least $7 an hour for up to 40 hours a week at more than 125 area businesses, colleges and agencies.

The program, which began in 2004 with 100 interns, could fall short of last year's 650 kids.

Richard Davis, CEO of U.S. Bancorp, a corporate champion of the Step-Up program and who began as a bank teller in high school, has guaranteed a record 30 internships at USB offices this summer. But a couple of dozen other outfits, including the Minneapolis Park Board, have declined because of budget cuts, said Erin Scearcy of AchieveMinneapolis, the private-support organization for the schools.

"USB has stepped it up, as have several others, including Best Buy, Target, Thrivent Financial, the University of Minnesota, Jefferson Lines and Key Investment," Scearcy said. "Students are placed for work on June 18 [for six to nine weeks]. We have about 130 employers in the city and suburbs. These kids are motivated. And we need more employers if we're going to give all the students who are trained an opportunity."

The Step-Up program, second in size only to a similar effort in Boston, provides invaluable job training and also dovetails with stronger academic performance and career aspirations.

The city, school board and supporters are focused on increasing the four-year graduation rate in Minneapolis from less than 60 percent. Step-Up is part of the "Minneapolis Promise" that includes career counseling, financial workshops and the opportunity for graduates to attend two years of college for free through Metro State University, Minneapolis Community & Technical College and St. Paul College.

The economy has slowed a bit, but we are eventually predicted to have a workforce shortage.

We need more kids like:

• Richard Terrell, a first-year Step-Up intern at Briggs & Morgan in 2004 and a graduate of North High School who is now a prelaw student at North Central University and returning for his fifth summer at Briggs & Morgan.

• Tyann Christopher of Edison High, who is returning to Briggs & Morgan for a second year.

• Chari Cox of Washburn High, who is headed to Meet Minneapolis, formerly the Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau, for the second year.

The Step-Up students have completed work-readiness training, certified by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Employers can get more information on the program at or 612-455-1564.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 •