Our nation was built on the belief a person could move up the ladder of achievement by obtaining an education, hard work, and self-sacrifice. America’s unheralded economic prosperity and individual success have always depended on a first-rate public K-12 and higher education system. Each generation has affirmed their civic responsibility to provide a quality public education and ensure economic opportunities for a better future for their children and grandchildren.
Exciting new research shows the importance of focusing on birth-to-five children and how at this early age the foundations of lifelong learning, behavior, and health are all established. We know that indicators of a child’s ability to succeed in school depend on parental guidance, sound nutrition, stimulating experiences, and health-promoting environments. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, M.D. states it best, it is in early years of childhood development that the brain develops the “ability to focus and sustain attention, set goals, and make plans, follow rules, solve problems, monitor actions, defer gratification, and control impulses”. Our challenge is to match the scientific knowledge of child brain development with are local and state resources and capabilities to provide early childhood learning programs. It is going to be through innovative initiatives in preschool, pre-kindergarten, and in-home parenting programs where profound improvements in education, health, and behavior can influence the economic and social well-being of our nation.
The Kansas public education system was created in the 1860s as a public institution on the moral conviction and belief we can create a better society and citizenry. When our youth receive a good public education, our communities, democracy, civic institutions, and economy all benefit. Public education contributes to upward mobility and a strong state economy. We must invest in public education for our children to succeed, for they represent the future of Kansas.
Suitable state funding for education is in the Kansas Constitution, but equally important is family involvement and individual responsibility. Studies have shown the significance of family participation in a child’s education is critical for student success. Investing tax dollars in public education must be coupled with teacher accountability and measurable student improvement. Taxpayers expect their dollars to produce positive outcomes. As a people, we want to know our children leave public schools with the skills and knowledge to succeed and be productive members of society or are prepared to pursue additional higher or technical education.
Finally, we must recognize the rapid technological, societal, and economic changes occurring in our world have a profound affect on how, what, and why we educate our children. There are many challenges and new demands being placed on parents, students, teachers and administrators. In the face of competition from an emerging global middle class, now is not the time to retreat in conquering these challenging demands. The test of my generation is going to be how we respond to defining a new vision for public education and equipping our public schools so future generations are enabled to pursue and obtain the American dream.
The growth of the Kansas economy relies on the ability of our colleges and universities to provide a supply of educated students with the job skills and practical knowledge to meet the needs of industry and business. The 21st century knowledge-based economy demands a workforce with a higher degree of competence, talents, and technical skills in order to compete and succeed in the global marketplace.
As a policymaker for Kansas, I oppose continued state budget cuts to higher education. Kansas must remain committed to investing in the education of young adults, veterans, as well as those who wish to upgrade or expand their knowledge and skill set. Investing in higher and technical education are the single most important driver of prosperity in Kansas. Research and evidence demonstrates individuals and regional economies perform better when people obtain the skills and knowledge to succeed.
- Higher Employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2012 unemployment rate for persons age 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree was 4.5%, those with an associate’s degree saw 6.2% unemployment, and those with a high school diploma or GED had unemployment rates at 8.4%.
- Higher Earnings. Research shows higher earnings when a person obtains a post-secondary education. U.S. Census data reveals those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60% more in the course of their lifetimes than those with a high-school diploma.
- Economic Growth. In the report A Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Education Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity: “…The research shows that for each additional year of post-secondary schooling a region’s workforce obtains, real GDP per capita and real wages per worker jumps by more than 17 percent.”
To be sure there are challenges facing institutions of higher education. Some young people incur significant debt to pay for their education and still face a very competitive job market. The looming student loan debt crisis now hanging over students, their parents, and our federal government requires national attention. The rising costs of higher education and the fear that many low-income and middle-income children will not be able to afford a college degree is a real concern facing our nation. Yet here in Kansas, the average debt facing graduates of Kansas State University for 4-years of education is $24,892—a far cry from the six-figure debt we read about in national headlines.
In addition to our 4-year universities, the Kansas legislature must continue to support community colleges and technical education systems. Access to these institutions enables individuals to obtain professional skills or retool with new skills to succeed in vital industries and professions serving our state. Our state’s economic growth is tied to higher and technical education. Job creation and business development rely on an abundance of properly trained workers. For Kansas to attract and retain computing, biotechnology, engineering, manufacturing, aerospace, life and animal sciences, oil and gas, wind energy, and telecommunications jobs, Kansas must produce an educated workforce capable of competing in the 21st century.