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Op-Ed: School choice needed to prepare Georgia’s workforce for the future

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In Nov. 2023, Georgia was ranked the best state for business for the 10th year in a row from Area Development magazine. Gov. Brian Kemp made a point to highlight the importance of the labor force in his recent State of the State address, saying, “With growth comes the need for more trained workers to fill these good-paying jobs in a rapidly changing labor environment.”

The importance of a skilled and adaptable workforce has never been higher. The need will only become more urgent as artificial intelligence technologies unleashed new opportunities in the economy. As technology evolves and industries shift, the demand for skilled workers will only continue to grow.

Understandably, much of the focus gets pointed on postsecondary institutions to meet these goals. But oftentimes we overlook the importance of K-12 education in creating tomorrow’s strong workforce.

The first step is to adequately and properly fund our state’s public schools. But that’s a starting point, not an end destination. We need more. That’s why initiatives such as Senate Bill 233, the Promise Scholarships Act, and the promotion of school choice more broadly are so important. They will open the door to educational freedom for all of Georgia’s children and prepare them for the challenges of the new economy.

At the heart of Gov. Kemp’s vision lies the belief that every child in Georgia deserves access to quality education, regardless of their background or zip code. This principle underpins the Promise Scholarship program, which aims to provide assistance to students attending the lowest-performing schools in our state.

Under the program, eligible students would have $6,500 — funds that the state would have spent on their public school education — set aside in an account. Parents can then direct the funds to cover approved educational expenses, including private school tuition, books, uniforms, and even transportation.

By opening up opportunities to students, Promise Scholarships would prepare students to pursue higher levels of education, equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in an ever-evolving workforce.

Furthermore, by expanding school choice options, Gov. Kemp is empowering parents to make the best educational decisions for their children. School choice allows families to select schools that align with their values, priorities, and educational needs, whether that be traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

This flexibility fosters competition and innovation within the education system, driving improvements in quality and ensuring that students receive the tailored instruction they require to succeed academically and professionally.

Critics of school choice often argue that it undermines the public education system. But the truth is that school choice complements public education by fostering a diverse ecosystem of educational options. By encouraging healthy competition and innovation, school choice incentivizes all schools to improve continuously, benefiting students.

For example, one recent study from Florida showed that greater school choice actually benefited public school students, witnessed by their higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates.

Moreover, by aligning education with workforce needs, Promise Scholarships and school choice directly contribute to a broader goal of building a stronger workforce in Georgia. As industries evolve and new skills become increasingly valued, our education system must adapt accordingly.

Promise Scholarships open doors for students in low-performing schools ensuring that Georgia’s workforce remains competitive in the global economy.

School choice empowers students to pursue educational pathways that align with their career aspirations, whether that be through specialized programs, vocational training, or traditional academic routes. By providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce, this not only benefits individuals but also strengthens Georgia’s economy as a whole.

If we want to build a stronger workforce in Georgia, education will be the first step. Initiatives like Promise Scholarships and school choice will need to be at the center.

By expanding access to education and fostering innovation within the traditional education system, these measures better prepare our children for the challenges and opportunities of the future job market. As we invest in the education and development of our youth, we invest in the prosperity and vitality of our state.

Gov. Kemp’s commitment to empowering Georgia’s future workforce through education is a commendable step towards a brighter tomorrow.

Buzz Brockway is vice president of public policy for the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

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