Having a steady supply of tech professionals is essential to growing Idaho technology companies. The Idaho Technology Council understands the urgent need to grow a strong future work force and that starts by bolstering Idahos education system. Students Come First is the series of education reform initiatives on the ballot for voters, and the ITC board of trustees recommend a vote of yes on all three initiatives.
For the last few months, the ITC board has evaluated Students Come First through a comprehensive vetting process. Weve spoken with key stakeholders on both sides to help us determine what direction would best help Idahos education system. The ITC recognizes that collaboration, stable funding, and appropriate local control are critical elements of improving Idahos education system.
Although the process of developing and implementing Students Come First had flaws because it failed to involved key stakeholders, the ITC board supports Students Come First because the reforms are a critical step in advancing education and in preparing students to meet future needs of Idaho technology companies. We cannot reset the process if we are to improve postsecondary completion rates from 34 percent today to 60 percent by 2020 and to graduate sufficient tech professionals for our emerging knowledge economy. Its forecasted that by 2018, Idaho will need to fill 41,000 jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Jobs in STEM play a critical part in growing the economy. Over the last 50 years, investing in STEM education has indirectly produced more than half of the countrys economic growth. There is an urgent need for our schools to produce more STEM professionals. Unfortunately Idahos efforts to grow a STEM-centered curriculum have been limited and its diminishing our states economy.
For example, earlier this year, nearly 2,000 open computer science, software and engineering jobs were posted in Idaho in just 120 days, and these jobs often remain open for months at a time. Not having a steady stream of talent hurts our businesses many Idaho tech companies have been forced to open offices out of state and other companies have relocated. Students Come First addresses the urgent need to bolster Idahos STEM education.
Students Come First implements policies that make it easier for school districts to recruit and retain STEM teachers. School will be allocated funding for designated hard-to-fill positions, which are often in STEM disciplines. Students Come First also gives schools the ability to retain teachers based on need, not just based on tenure. Under the previous system, if a school needed to downsize teachers, the newly hired math or science teacher that a school worked hard to recruit would be let go because a colleague had more tenure. Thanks to Students Come First, schools have more flexibility to retain teachers based on core competency, not just seniority. Because the window for students receptivity to STEM topics often closes early, we also need to provide more opportunities to students to be actively engaged in these fields. This makes technology in the classroom a natural step in encouraging students to pursue STEM careers.
Its significantly easier to reform our existing laws than to start over and dismantle Students Come First. Idaho leaders still have an opportunity to refine the Students Come First through strengthened feedback from key stakeholders, including teachers. Many of the concerns brought up regarding Students Come First have already been resolved through this collaborative process. We cant afford to stall reform because we need to put qualified people into the pipeline to help Idaho tech companies grow. Students Come First is a step in the right direction.
Kelly Anderson is Eastern Idaho regional president of Zions Bank. Jay Larsen is founder and president of the Idaho Technology Council.