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Wicker: Education Reform Part of Economic Recovery

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It is easy to see the impact of American innovation in our lives today. The light bulb, the Internet, and the telephone are among the many groundbreaking ideas that have helped build our country's legacy of greatness and put us at the forefront of the world marketplace.

The current economic climate presents significant hurdles as we carry this spirit of innovation into the 21st century. Overspending and growing government have left job creators without confidence to expand and hire. Generating a lasting recovery will take more than quick-fix policies to jump-start the private sector. The next generation of American workers must meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy.

Value of Classroom Success

Preparing our children for the jobs of the future begins with success in our classrooms. Numerous studies have linked low high school graduation rates to economic difficulty. Those who find a job without a diploma typically earn much less than those with one. According to a summer report from Education Database, students who fail to finish high school are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our economy.

Nearly a decade after No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law, the debate continues among educators, administrators, and lawmakers over the merits and flaws of measuring school accountability nationwide. There is no doubt that Washington has dramatically expanded its role in education. But states and local leaders -- who can better assess the specific needs of their area -- should be the guides of reform, not rigid test requirements.

Power of Local Solutions

President Obama announced a waiver program late last month that would exempt states from NCLB if they meet certain federal standards set by his Administration. Unfortunately, these new policies merely amount to more overreach by unelected bureaucrats and are yet another attempt by the President to sidestep Congress. According to the Economic Policy Institute's Richard Rothstein, the new one-size-fits-all conditions are not a step forward but "more absurd, more unworkable, more fanciful than those in the law itself."

Instead of more top-down approaches, we should enact legislation that gives states and school districts more flexibility and a greater role in determining their students' progress. I have joined a group of Senate Republicans who recently proposed this. Strategies to fix NCLB do not require new or increased funding -- a concern that state school officials have expressed about the President's waiver plan. Ultimately, smarter spending should accompany smarter policy.

Reforms for Prosperity

Better educational opportunities are already paving the way for our veterans to land a job after returning from combat. Just as the 1944 G.I. Bill expanded the ranks of the educated workforce for the industrial age, reforms to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill are readying our men and women in uniform and their families with skills for the information age. The last of these reforms go into effect this month, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates thousands could be put to work within a year.

Keeping America competitive and our spirit of innovation alive obliges us to equip the next generation of workers with an education that can help them prosper. In many ways, bringing about an economic recovery that lasts will depend on it.


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