Guest Opinions

‘Especially worrisome:’ Workforce council must keep jobs, children from leaving the state

Expanding science, technology, engineering and math education is critical for Idaho’s future, writes Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett. “We must provide affordable options for our kids’ future without saddling them with mounds of student loan debt.” This picture shows a Timber High School robotics team in February.
Expanding science, technology, engineering and math education is critical for Idaho’s future, writes Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett. “We must provide affordable options for our kids’ future without saddling them with mounds of student loan debt.” This picture shows a Timber High School robotics team in February. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Committee reports are not always the most scintillating reads. However, the final report released by the Governor’s Workforce Development Task Force should give pause to anyone worried about jobs and wages. A paragraph on Page 9 sums up the findings:

“Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Utah are already years ahead of Idaho in implementing workforce development policies. It is especially worrisome that several of Idaho’s border states are far ahead in their workforce development initiatives. If Idaho does not act now there is a real risk of the dual problem of both a) becoming a talent exporter and b) losing businesses to those states that have created the required workforce.”

This statement is stunning. Essentially, it says Idaho is not just heading in the wrong direction, it’s barreling down a pothole-filled highway at 100 mph toward the wrong direction.

That’s why the Workforce Development Council, which includes industry representatives, educators and partners, must act to keep jobs and our children from leaving our state.

The goals of the council are to come up with a comprehensive plan to educate our children so they have the skills to get family-supporting jobs. There are plenty of opportunities beyond four-year college degrees for our kids and adults through community college programs, career-technical training and apprenticeships. Many of the STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and math) that go unfilled every year do not require four-year degrees. We must provide affordable options for our kids’ future without saddling them with mounds of student loan debt.

While we are inching closer to pre-recession public school investment levels, last year Idaho’s school districts continued to introduce record levels of “supplemental” levies just to keep the lights on. Districts with the highest property values will be able to raise more money to invest in their students. It’s a system that creates winners and losers based on geography.

Idaho continues to run a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars when it comes to infrastructure maintenance and investment. That’s important to note since the task force determined the top two factors businesses consider when deciding where to locate is 1. highway access and 2. availability of skilled labor. Considering the deficits we are running in those two areas alone, it’s no wonder Idaho’s future is “especially worrisome.”

Instead of investing in our public schools, highways and rural infrastructure, the majority passed legislation to send Idaho dollars out of state! According to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, 81 percent of the corporate tax cut passed this year will go to out-of-state companies. If we’re shipping our dollars out of state, how long will it take for our families to follow?

We must invest at home so we are not sending much-needed investment dollars to other states. Beyond K-12, we will need to invest more in community colleges and universities to keep businesses here and provide our workforce with the jobs that will keep them in Idaho and prosper.

Pulling Idaho out of the bottom will take innovators, business leaders, government and you!

Sen. Michelle Stennett, the state Senate Democratic leader, represents District 26, which includes Lincoln, Camas, Gooding and Blaine counties.

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