Recently a group of Idaho business leaders, including myself, formed a group called Idaho 2020 which is dedicated to helping find policy solutions that invest in Idaho’s future. This group is a nonprofit think tank with the premise that using data as a driving force through world-class research and public polling can help better inform and support our state and local policymakers.
Recent public opinion research we conducted shows both education and economic concerns dominate the issue matrix in Idaho. Also, while voters strongly support providing incentives to companies to create jobs in the state, they are unaware of where Idaho is positioned compared to neighboring states when it comes to both our tax and economic climates. One significant finding from our recent research that I would like to highlight is the link Idahoans make between education and the economy.
In Idaho 2020 polling, a near majority of Idahoans chose providing a better education as the most important initiative to growing Idaho’s economy. Education more than doubled tax policy which came in second. Idahoans clearly understand the need to improve our education system as the way we grow our economy. They understand the need for our youth to have the skills and training necessary to hold the jobs of the future. States who ensure that their education system provides their kids with the needed skills and training, will hold competitive and comparative advantages over other states. The states that hold these advantages will attract new businesses, create new jobs and grow their economy.
The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation (JKAF) recently also completed remarkable research that mirrors our findings on the importance that education plays in Idaho’s future economic growth. Titled “The People’s Review of Education in Idaho,” the polling found that 79 percent of Idahoans believe if Idaho had better schools, we would attract more companies and the economy would be stronger. The citizens of Idaho highly value education, mostly, because they understand it prepares their kids for future employment and economic success. Expanding vocational education classes, internships and work experience is what 80 percent of Idahoans believe schools should be doing more of to prepare our kids for the jobs in the future.
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Idahoans are highly aware of the importance of education and what it means for the future of Idaho and their families. JKAF reports a broad range of Idahoans are dissatisfied with their local public school, with merely 42 percent giving their own community’s public schools a grade of A or B. These results are lower when compared to the national Gallup Poll that reports 56 percent give an A or B when asked the same question. In addition, only 48 percent of Idahoans would advise a family to move into their school district when looking for a top-notch school. These results highlight the particular importance of education in our state, and the simple fact that we have work to do.
The people of Idaho clearly recognize our state’s economic success depends upon the jobs that small business and companies bring — jobs that will be won or lost based on the quality of our local schools. Almost 80 percent of Idahoans fear Idaho is losing many of its best and brightest young people because there are not enough quality jobs.
The data and research confirm that our education system can do better. This will require increased learning options and innovation. Idaho’s economic future and our kid’s future job opportunities depend on it. Strengthening our education system is the key to ensuring that our kids have quality jobs right here in Idaho.
Tommy Ahlquist is COO at Gardner Company.