Lawmakers need long-range strategy on improving education

THE OLYMPIANFebruary 26, 2012 

House Democrats spared basic education funding from additional significant cuts in the budget they released last week, and maybe that’s all we can hope for at the tail end of the Great Recession.

But let’s hold the applause. The budget still slices another $65 million out of higher education and does nothing to meet the Supreme Court’s recent directive to fully fund basic K-12 education.

The House budget undoubtedly makes the best of a bad economic situation, and yet the American public’s clamor for education reform grows louder by the day. It is becoming obvious to many that our nation’s economic future depends on developing a work force prepared for 21st century careers.

That won’t happen if schools keep doing what they’ve always done, and it should be clear by now that we can’t cut our way into reforms. The state must allocate more funding for early childhood education (prekindergarten), provide dollars to bring career relevance into high school classrooms and streamline the transition from high school to postsecondary education as a pathway to the new in-demand careers.

It doesn’t make sense that despite our state’s high unemployment numbers, thousands of jobs will continue to go unfilled because employers can’t find the right qualified workers.

Last week, the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges unveiled a report titled, “A Skilled and Educated Workforce.” It identified categories in which demand for workers will outstrip the state’s ability to supply those workers through at least 2019. These include engineering, computer science, architecture, manufacturing, repair and maintenance fields at the associate degree and certification levels, and the health and education professions.

Other studies show that by 2018 about two-thirds of all jobs in our state will require some type of postsecondary degree, and that the demand on the national level for students with an associate’s degree or higher will exceed supply by three million workers.

Who will champion such substantial education reform on the state and federal levels?

Sen. Patty Murray is leading the charge for education reforms in Congress. Her unique background as a preschool teacher, school board member, state legislator and a U.S. senator has provided her with an appreciation for what needs to get done.

She is introducing a bill – called Promoting Innovations for 21st Century Careers – that will help communities narrow the gap between available jobs in growing sectors and the number of people with the skills to do those jobs. She is also sponsoring the “Ready to Learn Act,” which would create a competitive grant program to fund innovative early childhood programs promoting school readiness.

Like it or not, we are in a global economy. Without bold leaders willing to shift their thinking and start integrating early learning and forward-thinking career planning into education reforms, America will be slow to regain its prosperity.

ET CETERA

It’s only February, but it’s not too early to start preparing for national Math Awareness Month in April. The Thurston County Chamber is celebrating with its second Math for Life Scavenger Hunt. Math teachers from the Olympia, North Thurston and Tumwater school districts will hand out treasure maps leading students to participating businesses where they’ll discover how math is used in that workplace. For more information, check out the chamber’s website, thurstonchamber.com. … When Melody Esteves told her story about getting a second chance at life because of “my family” at Community Youth Services, there might not have been a dry eye in the house at Thursday’s fundraising breakfast. It was a moving story about starting over with people who won’t give up on you, and why Olympia is fortunate to have CYS helping at-risk youth and families.

George LeMasurier, publisher of The Olympian, may be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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