Talent Challenge: We Can, And Must, Do Better

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The Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 plan contains four economic drivers: Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure and Dynamic & Creative Culture. This is the first of four letters addressing priorities under each driver.

Dear Lt. Gov. Holcomb and Mr. Gregg:

Ever since the Indiana Vision 2025 plan was released in 2012, it’s been no secret that the biggest emphasis has been placed on the education and workforce goals related to Outstanding Talent. Unfortunately, that is the driver that still requires the greatest improvement – and the policy leadership to set the stage for that development to take place.

Yes, there has been progress that includes: Higher National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores (due at least in part to a high-stakes third grade reading assessment that was implemented), improved graduation rates, strong standards and continued school choice options for students and families.

No, it is nowhere near good enough when considering:

Far too many young people leave high school unprepared for college or a career

Far too many low-income students eligible for the 21st Century Scholars program are not currently meeting the requirements to earn the scholarship

Postsecondary achievement still lags (Indiana is 45th and 42nd, respectively, in residents with associate and bachelor degrees)

A skills gap between the current workforce and business needs that threatens our state’s economic future

Educational policy issues are not easy. Educators, parents, community and business leaders are passionate – as they should be. Citing “education fatigue” is not an acceptable response. Elected office comes with weighty responsibilities, with doing everything possible to help ensure educational attainment – and the opportunity for the success that comes with it – near the top of the list.

There must be no backsliding. Make sure we maintain high K-12 standards, and test performance and achievement relative to those standards. Do not retreat from appropriate accountability for schools and teachers. Require higher education institutions to perform at the highest levels.
In some cases, it comes down to dollars and sense. In other words:

It’s time to significantly expand the pre-kindergarten pilot program that was first enacted in 2014. Current efforts are serving only a tiny fraction of the low-income families and young people in need in just five of our 92 counties. Will pre-K ensure future success? No. But denying that opportunity is being part of a willingness to accept children failing school with little hope for the future.

Move away from all teacher subjects and student majors being equal. Pay our best teachers – including those with expertise in high-need topics – more money. Salary levels should not be primarily based on longevity and degrees earned. Similarly, with the importance of STEM skills, consideration is in order for additional financial aid for postsecondary students pursuing such credentials or degrees.

Do not forget our current workforce. While the “You Can. Go Back.” initiative offers a path for some of the more than 700,000 Hoosiers with some college but no credential or degree, it is imperative that our state strengthen its relationship with businesses and invest in the workers who require training and skill upgrades.

Consider the financial investments this way. It is much less expensive to educate a child than to NOT educate a child. Currently, we invest more than $9,000 per student per year in K-12. But when these students become employed and productive individuals, they contribute to society rather than being forced to take from it. Putting the needs of children (and adults caught in the skills/training gap) first solves many challenges throughout their lifetimes.

These numbers are equally compelling. Just 40% – far short of the established goal of 60% – of Hoosiers possess high-quality postsecondary credentials. And in the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 employer workforce survey, a full 45% of respondents indicated they had left jobs open in the past year due to under-qualified applicants.

There is no doubt that there are important, competing priorities for state dollars. But when considering the already hefty K-12 investment, remember that in recent years less than 58% of those dollars are actually reaching the classroom.

A quality education is the surest path to break cycles of poverty, transform lives, lift up our communities and attract the best employers and jobs. All of us can – and must – do better.

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