This week’s question: What should be the top priority for Idaho policy makers as it relates to education? 

Jeremy Pisca - Partner, Risch Pisca PLLC. The top priority for policymakers – at least as it relates to higher education - should be to create industry-directed ways for our colleges and universities to rapidly “synch up” with workforce needs.  Our institutions do an admirable job, but more can be done.  As Idaho’s economic base expands, and more job opportunities are created, our institutions need the ability to quickly shift focus to educating in areas where there are existing, growing or looming shortfalls.  This can best be done with direct participation and communication with industry, economic development agencies and the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Blossom Johnston - Program Officer, J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. The way we fund education is the elephant in the room. It was a model for a previous century but it does very little to support individualized/personalized student learning. The model works for most of the adults in the system but if a child has needs that fall outside the parameters of a traditional funding model they often go without.

Until we find a clear path forward from the current formula to a model that funds the needs of students we will continue to recycle the same arguments which produce the same results.

This will NOT be an easy problem to solve. It will require great expertise from those who have undertaken this heavy lift in other states as well as a great deal of political will to stem the tide of the status quo. Doing nothing is not an option for Idaho students!

Rod Gramer - President and CEO, Idaho Business for Education. There are so many ways that we need to strengthen education in Idaho that we do not have space here to list them all. But the most important thing we can do is build a political and cultural consensus in Idaho around the importance of education to the economic future of our great state.

In the 21st Century, human talent – a highly skilled and educated workforce - will be the number one driver of economic vitality and prosperity. That’s because of the economic and technological changes sweeping the country – and the world – that require a more educated workforce, whether that is in industries like agriculture and food processing or in high technology. The retirement each year of millions of Baby Boomers, who must be replaced with more educated workers, is also adding to the importance of education.

The states that have a skilled workforce will be the ones that win the economic race for the foreseeable future. With a talented pool of workers, Idaho’s existing businesses can grow and we can attract new businesses that pay good, family wages. All of this will lead to a higher quality of life and prosperity for all Idahoans. Nothing less than the future of our state and our children’s future depends on us making this commitment to educational excellence.

Jeff Sayer - Immediate Past Director, Idaho Department of Commerce. Policymakers need to focus on one thing - accelerating talent pipelines. Our recent investments in education are commendable and encouraging but tangible results for industry are at least 10 years away.  We can't wait that long. 

Instead, we need to enhance our strategy with deliberate, faster pathways for kids, and adults, to advance their skills ‎and qualify for better-paying jobs today.  Faster pathways require we embrace skill and industry certifications in lieu of insisting on full degrees. 

But most of all, faster pathways to lucrative talent pipelines will only occur if we have industry influencing the process. In our rapidly changing world, it is unfair and unrealistic to expect educators to be successful in their profession and pay attention to how industry needs are changing.  Instead, we need to create real, substantive partnerships with industry to guide our investments in education. 

If we really want to show courage, policymakers need to find ways for industry to direct how portions of our higher education dollars are spent.   Other states do it successfully and we have similar tools in Idaho. Those tools are dormant and we need to use them.  That is how we fix our low incomes and move the needle for Idaho's economy and our kids' futures. 

David Turnbull - CEO, Brighton Corporation. Vouchers.  Nothing that can’t be solved with them; nothing that can be solved without them.