It is hard to pinpoint the most severe consequences of the Republican-led General Assembly’s anemic budgets and ridiculous tax cuts for the wealthy and business at a time when the state has come back from the Great Recession. This should have been a time of investment; instead, lawmakers’ giveaways have squandered that opportunity.
A good example is cited in a recent report by N.C. Policy Watch, a part of the N.C. Justice Center.
North Carolina’s workers, the report says, are lagging in the training they need despite a community college system that is eager to deliver it, and in fact is delivering to the students it can afford to serve.
Georgetown University researchers says that by 2020, most jobs (61 percent) in North Carolina will require post-high school education. The state has moved, after all, from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. But most workers in that age group lack such an education. And the numbers are worse for citizens of color.
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That’s bad for them, in terms of job prospects. It’s bad for North Carolina in terms of overall economic prospects.
Republican legislators may talk all they want about the value of tax cuts and deregulation for drawing and keeping businesses, but as Policy Watch rightly says, “the state’s defining competitive edge in the global economy is rooted in the skills of its workforce and the educational institutions like universities and community colleges...”
And in fact, the community colleges, the best hope for efficient training of new skills to serve, for example, companies the state is recruiting, already have programs that actually put together basic academic skills in the “three R’s” with courses that are aimed at specific jobs — welding, nursing, automotive repair, etc. These are called “Basic Skills Plus” or BSP. Does it work? Yes, students in substantial numbers use the programs as a start to more intense training.
That means jobs. That means hope.
And another program from the Gates Foundation “streamlines” the path to degree completion, the key, of course, to landing a better job.
But here is where the General Assembly comes in. Or doesn’t. This BSP initiative works, but funding hasn’t been increased in a number of years. It shouldn’t be hard to explain the theories of investment and return to North Carolina’s lawmakers.Put money into giving North Carolina workers more choices and opportunities, and more of them will buy houses, send their children to college, participate in the economy.
Before the next recession, the General Assembly still has a chance to make up for lost time and lost opportunity for working families.