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Public education solutions are needed urgently

Judy Meyer

As employers, we represent Idaho with all its differences – coming from many geographies and communities, with unique cultural and political characteristics. Some of us run small businesses, some large. In many ways we couldn’t be more unalike. But we are all employers, and we all agree on one thing: The educational status quo does not adequately serve our children, our communities or our state’s economic competitiveness.

Idaho Business for Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of business leaders committed to improving education in Idaho. Our goal is an education system that prepares graduates for success in an increasingly technical and demanding workplace – one that demands new skills and capabilities. We strongly support the State Board of Education’s ambitious goal that by 2020, 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds have a degree or certification they can use in the rapidly changing workplace.

The IBE recently prepared a “Field Guide” to public education in Idaho. It compiles a wide range of studies and rankings from the government and respected nonprofit organizations.

Scott Gipson

The guide paints a sobering picture. Idaho continues to rank near the bottom nationally in a wide range of critical measures:

• Idaho ranks 47th among all states in the proportion of students who graduate from high school on time and go directly to college.

• Of those students, Idaho ranks 46th in the proportion of students who return for their second year of college.

• Of the students who do return for a second year, Idaho ranks 41st in students who graduate within 150 percent of program time.

Clearly we need to change these outcomes if we are to meet the state’s 60 percent goal.

Consider this: Forty years ago, only 27 percent of the nation’s 93 million workers were educated beyond high school. By 2007 the work force had exploded to 154 million workers, but 59 percent had education beyond high school. The total number of jobs grew by 63 million, but the number of jobs held by people with no post-secondary education fell by two million.

The message is clear. All net job growth over the past four decades was generated by positions requiring at least some post-secondary education. Today, education beyond high school is essentially a prerequisite for success in the workplace. It is also critical to producing our future entrepreneurs and community leaders.

Park Price

We have a problem. Today, precision manufacturers can’t find workers with appropriate technical skills. High-tech companies have to recruit out of state – or leave the state. Hospitals and rural clinics lack trained medical staff. The evidence is all around us.

Action is needed urgently if we are to ensure that our children have good jobs and our businesses have quality employees. We strongly encourage state policymakers and education stakeholders to work together to reverse current educational trends and preserve the American Dream in Idaho. We support the governor’s task force and are eager to see its recommendations.

Every student must be shown a path to success in an increasingly competitive global workplace, because their future – and the future of Idaho’s economy – depends upon it.

Scott Gipson is president of Caxton Printers in Caldwell. Park Price is CEO of the Bank of Idaho in Idaho Falls, and Judy Meyer is a partner in Parkwood Business Properties in Coeur d’Alene. Idaho Business for Education is a not-for-profit organization based in Boise.

About Judy Meyer, Park Price and Scott Gipson


  1. The problems that Chris points to…is that no one’s listening. And why is that? It’s very simple: lack of political power. Idahoans keep electing wingnut politicos, who keep giving them these policies. Mark Twain once observed, “it’s easier to fool people, than convince them they have been fooled”…never more true than Idaho. IACI & the Farm Bureau are counting on it.

    I sincerely believe it would be easier (& a heckuva lot quicker) to simply restructure Idaho’s economy & start over, than try to change the minds of people here. Reformers should go out of their way to point out to HP’s execs and others, the details just described above. Add the strange fact Idaho is also America’s only state requiring a supermajority vote (66.7%) to pass an ordinary school bond, AND the only one to refuse state M&O monies to school districts. Make sure every company the BVEP & state Commerce Dept. recruits gets the full, unvarnished truth.

    Let the marketplace (what the wingnuts praise so greatly) then pass its own judgement on whether they want to keep investing in Idaho.

  2. Chris Blanchard

    You problem as employers is far bigger than educational performance. Idaho’s first problem is that is has one of the least diversified economies in the U.S. It also has an extreme concentration of minimum wage jobs. And, the largest employment growth area is the retail sector. These three factors mean that every educated kid that we turn out for the foreseeable future will probably leave the state and go to work in WA, OR, UT, CO or CA. The universities are already reporting a majority of graduates leaving the state. Making more only means more will leave.

    While our leaders in this state think it’s folksy to rail against state health exchanges, and dare President Obama to pry their guns from cold, dead hands, people outside of Idaho think they’re a bunch of nuts. Our leadership at all levels also like to portray our state as rural, ag based, and isolated. That doesn’t exactly set the stage for attracting doctors, software engineers, or the young and college educated – YCE’s that everyone wants to attract. Messrs Gipson and Price, and Ms. Meyer might consider that the next time they sit down with the economic development powers that be, or their elected officials. Idaho Business for Education will be spinning its wheels as long as our state leaders portray Idaho as one step above Mississippi.