New Workforce Skills Won’t Come from an Outdated Education System

In his budget address earlier this year, Gov. Wolf cited “workforce concerns” as the reason Amazon rejected Philadelphia for its new headquarters—despite Pennsylvania offering a $4.6 billion dollar tax incentive. Wolf also cautioned, “If we can’t strengthen our workforce, we will fall behind.” 

Sadly, Pennsylvania is already behind.

The Keystone state has the 12th highest unemployment rate in the nation. As industries like technology, health, and energy skyrocket, so does demand for these job skills. The commonwealth must adapt, or it will fall further behind.

In hopes of strengthening the economy, Wolf proposed spending an additional $449 million on K-12 education. He is correct that better schools lead to a higher-skilled workforce, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study.

But the governor is thinking too small. A study by Reason showed that increasing funding for district schools is not a guarantee of improved outcomes. Real solutions come from meeting students’ needs, not throwing more money at a backwards system.

Governor Wolf should focus on school choice, which has been proven to increase student achievement.

Pennsylvania requires a versatile workforce. The flexibility of school choice helps meet those needs by offering innovative learning opportunities. Parents can choose the learning environments that best suit their children, rather than being forced into a one-size-fits-all model. Individual schools are more nimble than a large bureaucracy and can adapt to local needs.

A great example of this workforce education in action is Nazareth Prep, which was recently profiled by Pittsburgh Urban Media. After pointing out that African Americans are underrepresented in STEM fields, the article noted:

At Nazareth Prep, the 80 percent African-American student body is preparing for those in-demand positions. The STEM-focused curriculum emphasizes real-world rigor through project-based learning and hands-on experiences at Network Campus partners like the Citizen Science Lab. . . . Starting freshman year, students also spend one full day per week at internships provided by the school’s 85-plus partners, where they have the opportunity to explore possible future careers, make connections, and build skills.

Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program has enabled Nazareth Prep to grow and its students to flourish. In fact, every student at Nazareth Prep receives EITC funds. The EITC and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) have given thousands of students the chance to pursue their chosen educational path.

But tens of thousands are denied that opportunity due to arbitrary caps on available tax credits.  

As Wolf acknowledged in his budget address, our economy has changed in recent years. “New businesses. New industries. New technology. New competition. And with all that, we have a need for new skills.”

All of this is true for education, too. There is no reason to lock kids in a specific school just because of their zip code. By raising the limits on the EITC and OSTC programs, we can empower more families to take advantage of new technology to learn new skills and access new opportunities.

The governor has plenty of ideas for improving workforce training in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he neglects the best one. In today’s ever-changing world, we don’t need more top-down “solutions.” We need the flexibility of school choice.