Independent Voter Project Conference: Education a Key Piece in Economic Discussions

The Independent Voter Project’s 2016 Business and Leadership Policy Conference, an annual event with legislators, industry professionals, and policy experts, kicked off Monday with Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) and Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken institute’s California Center, discussing specifically the economy.

While Otter spoke of his own experiences in Idaho and Klowden discussed the current economic state and potential outlook for California, both had a common message: Education is at the foundation of economic growth and security — not just for individuals, but state and national economies as well.

“Education should be the number one priority of every state,” Otter said.

Gov. Otter took office in 2007, near the kickstart of the greatest economic crisis the US had seen since the Great Depression. So, as one might expect, the focus for many states quickly turned to budgets. For Otter, dealing with the budget comes down to what is nice versus what is needed.

To determine what was needed, Otter said it was crucial to look at the state constitution, and the Idaho constitution requires the state to provide an adequate public education system. That became the focus of Otter’s administration: the creation of a 5-year, $350 million plan that would improve education at all levels, for students and for people who work in education.

Education should be the number one priority of every state.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter

Otter said that his focus on education was not K-12, but K-career, stressing the importance of getting students prepared for life after graduation, whether they go on to college or not. Klowden expressed a similar sentiment, but leaned more toward the importance of getting a degree — even if it is just a two-year degree.

Klowden explained that current research suggests that a single year of college to a region’s workforce can raise GDP per capita 17.4 percent. That is important to consider when examining California’s current economic outlook.

According to Klowden, the last couple of years have been great for California because young people have been attracted to the state’s tech jobs. However, he adds that despite California being the biggest job creator than any other state, it is not the vacuum it should be.

Information provided by Klowden shows that since 1990, only 4 years have generated positive net domestic migration to California. The reason? People can’t afford to live in the state or close enough to their jobs without putting additional strain on personal finances. And people are only willing to commute so far.

Housing prices are so high that Millennials are less likely to buy a home because they are not affordable. Rent is also expensive in major metropolitan areas like San Francisco (where the median rent is about 55% of the median income), driving people further away from their work.

Yet another major factor that is dampening opportunities, according to Klowden, is the huge disparity in education attainment in California across the board — from 4-year degrees to high school diplomas — despite the fact that California is often ranked at the top or near the top of greatest public higher education systems in the country.

“Five of the bottom 10 metros for educational attainment in the United States are in California,” Klowden said.

Klowden added that in order to create more opportunities, greater efforts need to be made to get young people to understand the importance of a degree — especially in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and San Bernardino areas. That would go a long way to creating a healthier California economy. 

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