Monday, December 11, 2006

Education is Key to Prosperity

Education is Key to Prosperity
By Doug Ford

Solano County is planning its first Solano Economic Summit for early in 2007. Up till now, the county has been only minimally involved in planning for economic development, while its seven cities and the Solano Economic Development Corp. have dominated the development scene.

But few counties are better situated than is Solano for strong economic growth during the next several decades. Its location on the Interstate 80 corridor between the Bay Area and Sacramento, with excellent land, sea and air connections, outstanding climate and good educational and recreational facilities make it an attractive place for new or expanding businesses to locate.

One factor in economic development that keeps growing in importance is education. This is where the cities and the county could work together to greatly increase Solano's attractiveness to growing businesses.

As Thomas Kalil recently pointed out, "California's strength in knowledge-intensive industries is so great that many policymakers take it for granted. After all, California hosts more top-ranked universities than Europe and Japan combined."

Solano sits between the two most highly rated campuses of the University of California in terms of knowledge productiveness, with UC Davis on one side and UC Berkeley a short distance down I-80 on the other. Stanford University and other UC and California State University campuses are not too much farther away. And don't forget Solano Community College in the middle of the county with extension centers in Vacaville and Vallejo.

But as was pointed out in the Bay Area Economic Forum's Economic Profile earlier this year: "In contrast to the Bay Area's world-class universities, too many local K-12 public school students lack the skills to contribute to the knowledge-based economy." This is not a fault of our educators. The problem is with the support they have been provided.

Educators in California have much greater problems to deal with than do their peers in the rest of the country. With 12 percent of the nation's population, California has more than 30 percent of the English language learners, and we have the largest number of children per adult in the country. But currently, California ranks 44th in the nation in per student funding.

Statewide, California has twice as many high-tech workers on a per capita basis as the rest of the country. Their average annual income is $73,500 per worker, while all other non-farm workers in California average about $37,500. The knowledge and skills most needed among high-tech workers are in science and mathematics, but here is where California schools are the weakest. The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning recently reported that "1 in 5 math and life science teachers, and nearly one-third of high school physical science teachers are not qualified to teach the subjects assigned." This is probably the most important reason that far too few California students are unqualified in science and math.

In China, 49 percent of college graduates earn degrees in science and technology; in the United States, 15 percent do. But in California, fewer than 10 percent do. In 2007, about 100,000 Americans are expected to graduate with science and technology degrees, but China will graduate about 1 million.

The best way for Solano leaders to make the county strong economically is to establish a strong alliance with our local education systems, with the goal of ensuring that every Solano science and mathematics teacher is fully competent in their field by 2010. Both state and federal legislation is in process that could provide most of the needed funding. Nothing is more needed to make Solano the prosperous place it ought to be in the years ahead.

The author is retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in Dixon and serves on the Solano County Board of Education.

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