Pennsylvania employers create and maintain quality jobs that may require specific skills or training but, at a minimum, require a fundamental level of education. For most future and current workers, this educational foundation, on which careers and life-long learning are built, is provided through the public school system. Historically, the level of public K-12 education spending in Pennsylvania has ranked among the highest in the nation. However, feedback from the employer community is indicative of the education and workforce challenges facing the Commonwealth.
For example, in April 2013, the PA Chamber conducted a survey in which 72 percent of respondents cited difficulty hiring employees with adequate skills, training, or education. Even more disconcerting was the fact that a majority believe the problem has gotten worse and will become even more daunting in the years ahead. It is clear that Pennsylvania public school systems must continue to review and improve the manner in which students are educated to help ensure they are prepared to enter the workforce, higher education or whatever path they choose.
Funding is part of the discussion but not a panacea. According to the National Education Association's annual report, Pennsylvania had the 12th highest per pupil expenditure in the country at $14,467 during the 2012-13 school year, and the 10th highest average salary for public school teachers. Pennsylvania is spending more on public K-12 education than at any point in history and has a lower than national average pupil to teacher ratio. Yet despite this strong investment, students too often find they are not academically prepared for higher education and employers continue to report challenges finding qualified applicants to fill job openings. We need to structure the education needed to cover the gaps that cause the inability to fill the job openings currently available and those of the future.
As business leaders and taxpayers, we know that these trends must change in order to ensure a long term vibrant economy, a good quality of life, and the future success of children. Therefore, the Chamber supports systematic improvements to Pennsylvania's public education system that will increase the quality of education and overall student achievement.
Specifically, the Chamber supports:
- Competitive educational systems and programs, such as charter schools, magnet schools, school choice and Educational Improvement Tax Credits, that provide ample choices for parents and students.
- Holding superintendents, principals and teachers accountable for student performance while recognizing the socioeconomic issues that impact those outcomes.
- Increasing authority and flexibility superintendents and principals have over management and personnel decisions and holding them accountable for such decisions.
- Rewarding teachers whose performance contributes to substantial growth in student achievement while at the same time fairly and efficiently removing ineffective educators.
- Efforts to effectively utilize educational spending so that existing dollars are used first and foremost to increase student achievement and realize a higher return on our investment.
- The elimination of unnecessary state and federal government mandates that divert resources from the mission of education.
- Alignment of education standards with college and workplace expectations.
- Programs that emphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and technical skills, communication and a full range of business skills, trades and vocational education.
- Encouraging institutions of higher education as well as the private sector to form community-based relationships and programs to enhance the public education system in the Commonwealth.
- Concerted efforts by institutions of higher education (both public and private) to develop and implement innovative delivery approaches aimed at improving skill set development, lowering higher education costs, and providing more cost-effective higher education opportunities for traditional and non-traditional student populations.