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Reality and Vision: Future of Job Growth in Georgia’s Education Sector

June 8, 2014

The prospects for job growth in Georgia are positive for the near future (State of the Industry 2013 – High-Tech Employment Growth, Georgia and U.S. 2008-2012).  In 2010, jobs requiring a BA degree or higher were held by about 20.0 percent of Georgia’s workforce, or about 826,000 workers.  By 2020, this demographic group is expected to grow to 20.6 percent, or about 950,000 workers. The data suggests that jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher will add around 125,000 Georgia jobs.  In an online report written for Forbes Magazine, Georgia was the ninth ranked state for future job growth in the United States (Forbes article).  Projections for significant job growth in the 21st Century will likely be in the following areas: technology, healthcare, education and professions requiring a post-secondary education (Reference for Top jobs of the 21st Century).  Overall, Georgia, a job-friendly environment, must invest resources in its infrastructure to support job growth, most importantly the education sector that prepares people for these careers.

With regard to different indicators used to measure a successful education system, Georgia typically ranks in the middle or towards the bottom (Atlanta Journal Constitution article puts Georgia 14th with an overall grade of C-).  This AJC report, which ranks Georgia higher than normal, is somewhat misleading.  When you look at statistics ranking states by average teacher salary (GA is 45th), per capita property tax revenue of state and local governments (GA is 34th), or public school revenue per student (GA is 34th) (Statistics reference).  In addition, Georgia has the lowest mathematics and reading cut scores in the Nation, the state’s performance on the NAEP is ranked in the bottom half of all states, and in 2012 Georgia ranked 48th with regard to high school graduation rate (Governor’s Office on Student Achievement).  Our flagship public university, University of Georgia, ranks 60th in the recent US News College rankings, Best Colleges.  So by all estimates, our education system needs a great deal of attention if we are to support the robust job growth in occupations for the 21st Century.

Georgia is the 18th largest state in the US with respect to population and has seen greater than 10% population growth in every decade but the 1930s.  It is projected to increase through 2030 to over 12 million people.  With a net positive migration, if we want Georgians to be competitive for 21st Century jobs rather than rely on people migrating into the state to fill these positions, it is imperative that we do a more effective job of educating Georgia’s students in cradle-to-college pipeline.

You can tell what a state values by how it allocates resources to programs that taxpayers need.  Here are some truths about our commitment to improving education in Georgia (reference for the statistics below).

  • “In fiscal year 2014, the formula the state uses to distribute most state dollars to local school districts, the Quality Basic Education program (QBE), is underfunded by $1 billion. Local districts must make up the funding shortfall, and many are making cuts that can undermine student success, including increasing class sizes and shrinking the school calendar.”
  • “In addition to deeply cutting the QBE formula, lawmakers have cut funding for QBE Equalization, which is aimed at helping school districts with limited ability to raise money locally because of low property wealth. Combined, these cuts pushed down funding for each student by 14 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2013, when adjusted for inflation.” At the same time, the number of low-income students in Georgia’s schools soared.
  • “Georgia wins praise for its statewide Pre-Kindergarten program, which has been shown to help develop young children’s abilities in language, literacy and math. Yet the state’s investment in Pre-K fell in recent years. Since fiscal year 2009, per-student funding declined by more than 22 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. This has led to changes that threaten the program’s quality, including larger class size.”
  • “The amount of financial aid awarded through the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant plunged by more than 25 percent since fiscal year 2011.  This is happening at a time when the cost to attend college is increasing (70% increase in tuition and fees since 2008 at UGA).”  The end result is that more and more students leave college with substantial debts preventing them from financially contributing in meaningful ways to our society.
  • “Georgia’s investment in its university system and its students shrunk considerably over the past decade. State funding for each student, or full-time equivalent, plummeted to $4,777 in 2013 from $11,278 in 2001, adjusted for inflation. That’s a decrease of more than 57 percent. Enrollment grew by nearly 80 percent during this time. Total state funding did not keep pace with this enrollment growth and, since 2009, it has fallen by more than 8 percent.”
  • “State funding for the Technical College System of Georgia plummeted since 2008, from to $3,460 per full-time student from $4,478, a decline of more than 22 percent. The decline is more than 27 percent when adjusted for inflation.”

You get the picture; Georgia is not investing in education at the level that is necessary to prepare students for the 21st Century workforce.

The United States is facing the largest teacher retirement wave in history.  The United States and Georgia are in need of replacing this aging workforce with highly qualified teachers prepared to design and deliver an excellent education for all citizens in literacy, math, art and STEM disciplines.  We know that 21st Century jobs require a 21st Century education built on a core set of skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and creative thinking.  What should we in Georgia do about this?

  1.  Invest in a long-range plan to improve the quality of education Georgians receive in our public sector from cradle-to-college.
    1. Be sure all our schools are staffed with high-quality, experienced teachers.  This goal can only be met if we invest in a rigorous program for educating, recruiting, retaining, and supporting a new crop of teachers.  This is a job creation initiative.
    2. Carefully nurture both a competitive and collaborative environment for schools.  Support charter schools as an alternative to public schools.  Encourage public and charter schools to collaborate in areas that represent their strengths.  “Let the cream rise to the top.”
  2. Invest in our technical college system so students have a diverse set of options, including college, to meet their career goals.
    1. Expand the programming available in our technical and 2-year community colleges to more effectively meet the needs of all students.  This is a job creation initiative.
  3. Continue to invest heavily in our early learning initiatives in Georgia.  Georgia has one of the best early learning programs of any state; however, funding for these programs has decreased.
    1. Invest in early learning programs and hire high-quality early learning educators to lead and staff these initiatives.  This is a job creation initiative.
  4. Invest in a vision to put the best people into our K-12 classrooms across Georgia, with an emphasis on excellent literacy, art and STEM programs.
    1. We must demand excellence from our teacher preparation programs and build capacity to educate and train teachers for 21st Century classrooms.  This is a job creation initiative.
      1. School leaders must evaluate with a critical eye the efficacy and value of a teacher evaluation system heavily weighted on student achievement scores.  Most data in this area suggests this is a mis-guided initiative.  We cannot let politicians and educational policy makers lead this conversation.
    2. Be sure our efforts do not go into increasing class size to leverage limited resources.  Invest in robust teacher corps that keeps classroom size under than 25.  This is a job creation initiative.
  5. Invest in rich professional development programs for teachers in the cradle-to-college pipeline.  Use the guidelines from Learning Forward, Standards for Professional Growth, as our GPS.
    1. Invest in the design and development of excellent professional development.  This too is a job creation initiative.

This quote from the Georgia Budget Policy Institute’s, Georgia Budget Primer 2014, summarizes what our future task must be:

At the same time, state leaders—recognizing the essential role of education in developing a workforce that will foster a strong Georgia economy—have laid out ambitious goals for students at all levels. Those goals will be harder to meet without additional investments in Pre-K, schools and colleges.

These additional investments will create jobs in Georgia’s education sector.

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Appearing in the most recent edition of Education Week is an article about Georgia’s Race-to-the-Top program, Georgia Battles to Beat Race to Top Head Winds.  This article illustrates the challenges facing school districts in Georgia to innovate.  The state leadership has not been there to effectively guide a 7.5 billion dollar system.  We need strong leadership if we are to improve K-12 education in Georgia.

In the same edition of Education Week there was an article on Georgia’s Innovation Fund, a 19 million dollar initiative that was part of its 400 million Race to Top program.  The article gives Georgia strong marks for what has been accomplished through the Innovation Fund.  Innovation Fund a Standout in GA’s Race to Top

 

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