Education, workforce development among highlights at AWB Legislative Day
Washington’s school chief called for “a total redesign” of Washington public schools this week at AWB’s 2018 Legislative Day and Hill climb event.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal told Washington employers that other countries are simply far ahead of the United States when it comes to education investments and results, but it’s possible to catch up and make significant improvement.
Reykdal’s remarks were part of a daylong lineup of panel discussions on top legislative issues, including education, support for manufacturing, employment law and climate policy.
More than 200 business, government and education leaders attended the event, which also featured an overview from two prominent state economists and a timely discussion with state legislative leaders.
Education: Beyond McCleary
The education panel was especially timely since many AWB members have said it’s often hard to fill good-paying manufacturing jobs, and when they do, some have to create their own internal training programs to get the workforce up to speed.
Reykdal said other countries are investing more time and a larger percentage of their country’s gross domestic product in education. He used the 12-week summer vacation in many American schools as an example.
“We lose kids in transition, we lose them, and we don’t have those supports for them year-round,” Reykdal said. “And the rest of the world is blowing us away on this. They’ve figured out how to take their investment, take their GDP that they put back into the public schools and stretch it out, so kids are engaged in learning year-round.”
Other countries are making progress faster, he noted. For example, some students have an extra 600 to 1,000 hours of instructional time by the sixthgrade. They start learning second and third languages in kindergarten. And by high school graduation, some students are two years ahead of American graduates.
But Washington is in a good place to build on the recent legislative compromise that resulted in major new state funding for public schools statewide, he noted.
“We’ve shored up the foundation,”Reykdal said, referring to last year’s agreement addressing the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling. “Things are really, really looking positive.They did it in a bipartisan way. Now let’s really shape up the system so that our students are prepared much earlier to explore career. We will get significant productivity yield if we will stop the idea of every student getting to become a 22-year-old before they get serious about career.”
Panel moderator Amy Anderson of AWB asked Reykdal what the additional investment would be to address the situation.
AWB members also heard from Natalie Pacholl of SEH America in Vancouver, where company leaders have sometimes had difficulty hiring machine operators, and Christopher Nesmith, CTE director for the West Valley School District.
Pacholl described a partnership SEH created with Evergreen Public Schools to be proactive about helping kids graduate with the skills and education they need to get a good job.
And Nesmith described the work his school district has done to get teachers into businesses.
Anderson encouraged business leaders to engage with the education system.
“In order for you to have that trained workforce that you need, you need to let the education system know… the skills that you’re looking for,” Anderson said.
The new chair of the Legislature’s Senate Labor and Commerce Committee told AWB members that pay equity legislation is one of her top priorities this year.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, became committee chair when Democrats took control of the Senate in a fall 2017 special election. Legislation that addresses wage discrimination by gender is on the to do list.
“I think the equal pay bill is something we can get to yes on,” Keiser said.
Keiser’s counterpart in the House of Representatives agreed.
“We’re going to do something this year,” said Rep. Mike Sells, chair of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee. “It’s going to happen.”
Sells and Keiser also showed their support for workforce development and apprenticeships, one of AWB’s major policy goals.
“Higher education is much more than a four-year degree,” Sells said. “It’s about people having the kinds of jobs they can do to sustain themselves. So, it’s a broad spectrum of workforce training programs, community college work certification and four-year degrees.”
Keiser said apprenticeships are not just for the building trades anymore, but high tech and advanced manufacturing companies as well.
“I think it has great possibilities for our economy, for our workforce and for all of us,” Keiser said.
Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, told AWB members that she is focused on helping mom and pop businesses across Washington, in the face of declining profit margins.
“My focus is to figure out how do we support them, how do we build them up and how do we thank them for staying in business to provide services to our communities,” said McCabe, who is a small-business owner..
Each of the legislators also thanked AWB for being part of the solution to help negotiate the new statewide paid family and medical leave law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last July. The result was a compromise between lawmakers, business and labor leaders. New paid leave requirements took effect on January 1.
“AWB was just essential, as far as great negotiation skills and being able to work something out,” McCabe said.
Two Washington economists gave an overview of the state economy at the lunchtime keynote address.
One possible takeaway is like the old real estate saying: Location, location, location.
Economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman of the state Employment Security Department pointed to tremendous variation for a variety of economic indicators, including unemployment rates in urban and rural counties. King County had a 3.9 percent unemployment rate in November 2017, and Pacific County had 6.5 percent.
King County is the engine of the economy now, and those counties around it, and the Interstate 5 corridor, are better off, she noted.
“It really comes down to questions of access,” she said.
Vance-Sherman’s presentation also highlighted variations in the labor force participation rate – 69 percent in King County, and 40 percent in Wahkiakum County, for example.
The Puget Sound region has drawn plenty of attention for its economic story lately, but what about Eastern Washington?
Eastern Washington’s economy is not that different from the rest of the state, with some exceptions, said Patrick Jones of Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy.
Eastern Washington consists of 20 counties east of the Cascades, and has about 1.6 million people, or about a fifth of the state’s overall population.
Agriculture dominates Central Washington, Jones noted, and there’s a strong healthcare sector. There’s also less people with bachelor’s degrees or higher, but there is a small but growing information sector.
Challenges include lower incomes and higher poverty rates compared to Western Washington.
“But the flip side of that is we’ve got a pretty youthful population…and that will become a very interesting and productive labor supply in a few years,” Jones said. He also highlighted the very low cost of living as an appealing advantage.
Legislative Leadership Panel
Tuesday’s panels finished with an update from legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kent, the House Deputy Majority Leader, and House Minority Leader JT Wilcox, R-Yelm.
The lawmakers said passing a capital budget and solution for the Hirst water rights court decision were top priorities, and by the end of the week both issues passed the House and Senate.
Schoesler also called on lawmakers to support the four-year balanced budget and not “backslide” on recent progress.
“It has made us a national leader in fiscal responsibility that takes us off the roller coaster of tax hikes, spending cuts and back again,” Schoesler said.