March 09, 2022
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Pennsylvania’s 21st century economy increasingly requires those entering or participating in the workforce to obtain specific skills, training and, at a minimum, fundamental education, which is most commonly attained through the public school system. Unfortunately, a growing sentiment throughout the employer community is indicative of the education and workforce challenges facing the Commonwealth.
For example, the PA Chamber’s annual economic survey conducted in 2018 showed, for the first time in the survey’s history, that finding qualified employees was the most common top concern among employers. This trend continued, and was even more pronounced in the 2019 survey. Confronting this challenge demands participation of and enhanced coordination among stakeholders, including public schools, which must continue to review and improve the manner in which students are educated and prepared for the workforce, higher education or whatever path they choose.
Education funding is an important part of the discussion but not a panacea, as evidenced by Pennsylvania K-12 education spending historically ranking among the highest in the nation. According to 2017 U.S. Census data, Pennsylvania has the 7th highest per pupil expenditure in the country and state-level per-pupil funding well above the national average. Despite this strong investment in public education, students too often find they are not academically prepared for a career or further education. This is not unique to Pennsylvania: a 2016 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress concluded that only about a third of U.S. high school seniors are prepared for college-level coursework in math and reading.
As employers and taxpayers, the PA Chamber members know these trends must change to help foster a vibrant economy and success for Pennsylvania’s children. Therefore, the Chamber supports systematic improvements to Pennsylvania’s public education system that will increase the quality of education and overall student achievement:
- Providing and strengthening competitive educational systems and programs, such as charter schools, magnet schools and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, that provides options for parents and students;
- Holding superintendents, principals and teachers accountable for student performance while recognizing variables that impact those outcomes;
- Increasing local administrator authority and flexibility over management and personnel decisions;
- Recognizing and rewarding teachers whose performance contributes to substantial growth in student achievement and providing for fair and efficient reassignment or removal of ineffective educators;
- Facilitating fair and purposeful distribution of state education funding and effective utilization so that existing dollars are used first and foremost to increase student achievement and realize a higher return on taxpayer investment;
- Encouraging policies that promote greater efficiency and opportunities for economies of scale among schools and school districts and elimination of unnecessary government mandates that divert resources from the mission of education;
- Developing and implementing curriculum that aligns with employer needs and expectations of employers and higher education; as well as providing for rigorous education standards and meaningful assessments and efforts to help achieve student success;
- Supporting programs and curriculum that emphasize STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education;
- Promoting career and technical education and efforts to eliminate the perceived bias against vocational and skilled trade-focused education;
- Encouraging educational institutions to emphasize workplace behaviors and skills, career awareness and preparedness, and encouraging students and incumbent workers to seek educational opportunities and training that will help meet the demands of an ever-evolving economy;
- Facilitating cooperation between school districts, higher education and the private sector to help educators develop curriculum; and providing for agile program development and implementation policies to ensure that education at all levels reflects evolving workforce needs;
- Supporting efforts to develop and implement innovative delivery approaches that embrace new technology, seek to improve skill set development, lower education costs, and provide more educational opportunities for traditional and non-traditional student populations.