Mike Klein Online

TCC Debate: Deal Pushes STEM; Barnes Criticizes “Shorting Education”

This week The Commerce Club hosted a debate between Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal and his Democratic opponent Roy Barnes.  This article focuses on education.

When moderator Jeff Hullinger opened Wednesday’s discussion with a question about how to get the Georgia economy rolling.  Barnes jumped on the question to emphasize education.  And when Hullinger asked how to solve Georgia’s 10% unemployment crisis, Deal jumped on the question to emphasize education.

NATHAN DEAL: “If you’re a male and you do not have a high school diploma, one out of every ten (statewide) is in our prison system.  We incarcerate more people, by far, than any other state by virtue of comparison.  How do you reverse that process?  First of all, I believe you have to set them on a track to be employable.

“We have relegated the vocational training track too far into the distant future for most of these young people. That’s why I believe we need to begin to expose them early on to vocational opportunities, have a dual track for a high school diploma to keep them engaged.  We also have to recognize we have a deficiency in what the education community calls STEM education.”

STEM is education speak for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  These subjects that are critical to sustained economic success are also where we find our students have their biggest challenges.

The nine-term former congressman outlined a three-tiered approach to increase the number of teachers and other private industry professionals who specialize in STEM curriculum.

First, create five STEM curriculum charter schools.  Second, create a loan forgiveness program for up to 400 college students who would obtain their degrees in STEM subjects and then agree to teach those subjects in Georgia schools.   Third, Deal would expand that program to 400 additional students if they agreed to work for Georgia companies after graduation.

ROY BARNES: “I will tell you that when you are attracting or dealing with companies about coming to locate here …  the first thing they ask you about is, tell me about your educational level and the skills levels of your workers. That is what blows the opportunities we have and if we talk about creating jobs, we have to get serious about supporting education and raising the skills levels.

Barnes addressed the question about Georgia’s 10% unemployment this way:   “If you don’t put folks back to work you’re not going to have a prosperous state. Let me give you the statistics on a national basis and I’ll bet this is true on a state basis.   Of the 10% unemployment, only 3.5% are those that have a post-secondary degree of some sort, either a technical college or university system.

“Six and a half percent are the ones who have a high school diploma or less.  It goes back to the education levels and skills levels that you are creating. So the long term is, you have to continue to raise education.  You cannot do what’s been done in the last few years, shorting education.”

Barnes said the state should expand an existing Department of Labor program that provides a stipend to employers to train unemployed persons.  “Over 80% that participate in that program get kept, that is, they get hired on.  That’s a program that we should expand.”

Mike Klein writes about Georgia policy issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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