Education and Economics: A Connection Worth More Than a Cursory Glance

As discussions about how to decimate our high unemployment rate have evolved, many of the same words have found their way into those important conversations:

Taxes. Reform. Opportunity.

Legislators can put money and resources behind some of these buzz words, especially taxes and reform. But it is the state’s ability to create opportunities that becomes a tricky feat. It is with this realization that I have made it my priority as leader of the General Assembly to create opportunity outside the scope of business-related legislation. Anyone who owns a small business in this state knows that outside forces in the form of things like infrastructure and health care can steer economic development in one direction or another with the same force that business regulation and tax programs can.

A cutting-edge public education system, for example, is key to attracting businesses for so many reasons. It is one of our greatest investments as citizens of this state, and one that yields the best return: a knowledgeable and resourceful workforce. We don’t want Rhode Island’s employers to have to look beyond our state borders to find the skilled workers they are looking for. We want our students and the people that have committed their lives to this state to infiltrate every opportunity that the business community can offer and will offer as our economy slowly recovers.

What we also need to consider is that a solid education system is a big selling point for businesses outside of Rhode Island looking to relocate. Owners and employees with families will consider the strength of the area’s educational system before deciding to build lives here. It’s a draw that is sometimes overlooked when we think about what helps attract economic ventures to this state.

In my first year as speaker of the House, we accomplished one of my top priorities: establishing a fair funding formula for our school districts. For the first time, Rhode Island had a precise system for doling out education monies to our 39 districts. This was important step because it allowed the state to start from scratch and move in a well-defined direction in education.

Since then, we have fully funded our districts through this formula. Actually, we’ve done better than that. This year, the General Assembly approved $33 million in additional aid and accelerated that aid to the schools in need of it most. And education doesn’t just mean college preparedness – it means providing alternative pathways, developing trade skills and putting students toe-to-toe with real world experience.

In a way, the land of business opportunity begins at a very tiny desk. It starts in the minds of preschoolers and kindergarteners, and continues into their years in elementary school, secondary school and post-graduate institutions.

In the past, I have reminded Rhode Islanders that the American Dream is not dead. My hope is that business owners will more fully understand how education contributes to the livelihood of our economic climate, and maybe then we can all get a little bit closer to those dreams we have put on the backburner.

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