Education is an economic issue

By Staff
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow
We always talk about how important education is, but a new study shows in stark terms how failure in our schools could mean failure in the Alabama economy.
The Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation recently released a report showing Alabama with a lower average income than most other states, and the cause is the lower education attainment of our young people. According to the report, dropouts are the main problem. Their wages are much less on average than someone who graduated high school, and certainly much less that those who go on to college.
Alabama has traditionally been at the bottom of states when it comes to our dropout rate, ranking anywhere from 42 to 47 nationally. That fact causes us problems today, and will further on down the road.
It used to be that a high school diploma was not necessary to get a job and support a family. Back when low-skill industries existed throughout the state, young people could walk out of school and start working for a living.
In the 1950s, a high school dropout made about fifty cents for every dollar a college graduate made.
But those days are long gone. Just look at the new industries that are now making Alabama their home like automotive manufacturing. Building cars requires technical skills, and it turns out, a high school diploma. The economic picture for dropouts is not pretty. Dropouts now make less than 29 cents for every dollar a college graduate makes, and the gap continues to widen.
The lesson is clear: education is the number one economic develop issue in Alabama.
We've been very good at recruiting new industries to the state. Along with automotive companies, Alabama has had a string of high profile industries announce major new plants. This is because we as a state invest in those companies and work hard to provide an environment where they can thrive.
We have been doing the same thing in education. Over the past four years we have increased our investment in education, raising K-12 spending by more than 30 percent, and we've begun to see progress in our schools. Our elementary reading scores made the highest jump ever recorded, and math and science scores have been steadily moving up.
These improvements in elementary test scores are important because early success is the best way to make sure kids are on the path to graduation. If a child succeeds early, they will continue to expect success. Investing in schools now will yield dividends of student achievement and lower drop out rates in the future. That is good economic policy.
The study shows that the success of every child has an economic impact on us all. It is a good reminder that the best economic development plan is to have the best schools possible.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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