The harsh reality of budget cuts — and why new revenue is vital to Washington’s economic recovery

May 27, 2010 | Alex Stone

This fall, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether Washington’s children will join the ranks of kids in other states who are paying the price for this recession:

Hawaii has gone to a four-day school week; districts in Kansas are headed there. Detroit is closing more than 40 schools. Kansas City wants to shutter more than 50% of its school buildings.

Indiana and Arizona have eliminated free all-day kindergarten. One third of districts are considering eliminating summer school this year. Nearly two-thirds anticipate increasing class size next year. Classes may reach 35 students in Chicago elementary schools. (Source: Robert L. Borosage)

The short-term consequences of Washington’s budget cuts are already visible here. With cuts to public safety and unemployment insurance, to children’s education and child care services, millions of our most vulnerable residents are less secure economically, physically and socially than they were just 12 months ago. And unless we fix that, we’re risking some serious long-term effects on our state’s business climate and economic competitiveness.

To cite just one example: SeattlePI.com finds that our state universities cannot produce enough engineers to meet hiring needs at Boeing. The article notes that although finding good students is always difficult, the shortage of engineers isn’t due to a lack of interest — but rather a lack of funding:

The state’s aerospace industry is in dire need of engineers. Demand consistently exceeds the state’s production at a two-to-one ratio, and that supply gap is expected to widen as the industry’s aging work force retires in droves… Under increasing funding restraints, programs can’t hire enough faculty and staff to educate that many engineers at least, not good ones.

Constant Collar Increases in Tuition, 1981- 2010

Click to enlarge

So fewer educators and funding reductions at public institutions keep people from training for high-skill/high-wage jobs like Boeing engineers. And what will these would-be students do instead? Go to community college, trade school, or other public institutions?

Not likely. With funding for state college and universities slashed across the board, and layoffs and tuition increases the new normal, fewer students are being accepted — despite increasing demand for the chance to retrain and re-educate for the future.

Boeing is just one of many Washington companies that need trained and capable engineers. If our state stays on its current course, as greater numbers of prospective students decide against (or are denied) higher education, the number of skilled workers in Washington will decline over time. Ultimately jobs and business will go elsewhere as companies seek out locations with a better-trained and educated workforce.

Perhaps that’s why those opposed to Initiative 1098 have such a tough time articulating a reasonable sounding argument against cutting property and business taxes, and adding modest tax on high incomes that nets over $1 billion a year for public education and health.

Put quite simply, investing in our own state’s education and health systems not only brings short-term dividends (like jobs and an educated workforce), but also prepares our state and our children for success far into the future.

After all, entrepreneurs need skilled, educated workers to employ if they are to be successful in any new business venture and a vibrant economy with a well-paid workforce to fuel demand for new products and services.

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Posted in Education, Higher Education, State Economy

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