Around far too many kitchen tables in Georgia, families and friends are talking about jobs — how they’ve lost one, what they are doing to get one, and how few seem to be available. With statewide unemployment hovering around 10 percent, even if we’re not having those conversations ourselves, we know someone who is.
Estimates show that Georgia will ultimately lose as many as 370,000 jobs as a result of the recent recession. The only way these will be replaced is if existing companies expand their workforce or new businesses establish a presence in our state. Their decision will rely on multiple factors — one of which is the availability of a qualified, capable workforce.
Building that workforce starts in the earliest grades and continues through post-secondary education and beyond — and the jobs we are working to attract today require a higher level of skill than those of decades past. Without question, a top-notch education and workforce development system is critical to our future economic success.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has always seen educational improvement as a top priority. Fortunately, our state’s elected leaders do as well.
Senate Bill 84, a measure aimed at ensuring that local school boards understand their roles and responsibilities and receive the training they need to be effective, passed the Senate last year and will hopefully be passed by the House during the current session. For the second time in less than two years, a Georgia school system stands on the brink of losing accreditation due to poor governance, underscoring the importance of this legislation.
Gov. Sonny Perdue kicked off 2010 with two key education announcements. In January, he submitted Georgia’s application for Race to the Top, a program designed to bring federal education dollars to states committed to true improvement. Georgia’s application focuses on rewarding excellence in education, adopting higher standards, and collecting the data needed to measure success. This month, he unveiled legislation to create a performance pay system for teachers so that those making the biggest impact will be rewarded.
New education measures have also been proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams. His legislation would use student achievement data to grade Georgia’s schools on an “A” through “F” scale based on overall performance. This reform would call attention to schools that are failing our students and those that are helping them succeed. Williams points to the example of Florida, where a similar measure implemented over a decade ago has been credited with bringing about significant improvement.
Innovations like these, combined with already successful initiatives such as career academies, dual enrollment programs and Georgia Work Ready will help put our state on the right road to economic recovery. Adopting and sustaining them will ensure that tomorrow’s workers are receiving the foundation they need — in K-12 schools, in our universities, and in our technical colleges — to be successful, productive citizens and employees.
With the right workforce in place, Georgia will not only recover from the recent recession — we will be prepared for whatever the next challenge might be.
George M. Israel III is the president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.