Roth sees effective policy as the key to education reform.
Adam Roth
Adam Roth

The word “tangible” comes up often when incoming student Adam Roth discusses his fascination with education policy and how its consequences reverberate throughout people’s lives. And at age 26, the Fulbright fellow who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove already has experience analyzing government and school funding.

After earning a BA in American Studies with a minor in economics from Northwestern University in 2015, Roth was selected for a Dunn Fellowship, a yearlong program that introduces graduates to how Illinois government operates.

The program placed Roth at the Illinois Governor’s Office of Management and Budget during the height of the state’s two-year budget impasse. There, he worked as a budget analyst and helped craft the Illinois State Board of Education’s enacted fiscal year 2017 budget. In the months leading up to the passage of the board budget, the raucous hearings in Illinois’ capital and constant pleas from principals, teachers, and parents left a lasting impression on Roth.

“They would talk about how, because we were in the midst of the budget crisis, teachers were being underpaid and school activities had to be cut. Ultimately, students were directly feeling the effect of the budget crisis,” he says. 

For Roth, those vivid experiences underscored the importance of long-term budget planning and adequate funding in public education. “It’s an incredibly tangible area of policy, and that’s really what drew me to it and what’s made it so rewarding,” says Roth.

After his time in the Governor’s Office, Roth worked as an operations budget analyst for Chicago Public Schools, where he helped coordinate the management of more than $130 million in operations and capital assets. He also pulled together a proposal for car replacements for the driver education program to both reduce the average age of the vehicles and lower costs.

Currently finishing a second grant year in Taiwan under the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, Roth now spends most of his time in the classroom, teaching English to special education and high-needs students in Taipei.

In the fall, Roth will start the two-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He applied to several programs, but Harris Public Policy was his first choice. “I was bouncing off the walls when I heard I was accepted,” he says.

The Harris program’s flexible curriculum—especially the option to take classes in other University of Chicago departments and schools—appeals to Roth, who hopes to take economics courses at the Booth School of Business because he wants to delve deeper into public funding and spending issues. 

“The best policy ideas in the world won’t go anywhere if there is no plan to generate revenue for spending,” he says. “That’s really what I want to focus on at Harris: both the ideas behind how we can help students and the pragmatism needed so we can actually generate the funds to make our goals reality.”

Roth also notes he has other, more down-to-earth reasons for choosing Harris. “As much as I’ve loved my two years abroad, it’s time for me to come home to Chicago.”

As for what lies ahead after he finishes the MPP program at Harris, Roth says he is open to possibilities but would love to return to government, preferably in education.

“I like to be where the action is, and that’s why I want to work in government.”