Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Economy depends on education

    Idaho is hamstringing its own economy by not investing enough in education.
    As of 2012, Idaho’s real per-capita income was about $23,000, while the U.S. average was about $28,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Idaho’s median annual household income was about $47,000. Oregon’s was about $50,000 and Washington’s more than $59,000. Clearly, jobs in our border states are better paid and provide a higher standard of living.
    Researchers are beginning to link these income disparities with declines in education funding in Idaho and its inability to keep and employ its best-educated citizens.
    Better jobs and better standards of living are powerful lures for the well-educated. While 88.5 percent of Idahoans graduated from high school, slightly above the national rate, just 25 percent hold bachelor’s degrees. So, it’s no wonder that Idaho’s standard of living increased only 1 percent while surrounding states’, including Oregon and Washington, increased more than 14 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    In Oregon, 29 percent of citizens have bachelor’s degrees, and in Washington state, 32 percent. Both states rank above Idaho and exceed the national average of 28 percent. Idaho must correct this disparity. It must stop the brain drain that occurs when its students go to college, prepare themselves for a stable future and then move elsewhere to find it. Otherwise, Idaho could find itself in a vicious downward spiral.
    In the past six years, the state’s K-12 per-student school funding dropped 16 percent, while college and university funding dropped 37 percent. Reversing course will require new funding and leadership. In this gubernatorial election year, voters can make a difference by buttonholing candidates on education funding, insisting that leaders accelerate tracking of where Idaho’s college grads take their skills, and pushing for jobs that will keep them here to boost our standard of living.

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