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COLUMN: Our children deserve the best

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HENRICO, December 23, 2017 | comments

The following op-ed appeared in the December 23, 2017 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Decades of evidence point to a trend: the inability of our national education programs to fulfill their worthy intentions. The test scores of U.S. students lag behind many advanced industrial nations. Students in Lithuania, Poland, Vietnam, and Canada are among the 39 developed countries that are outscoring U.S. students, according to the international PISA test findings.

We are not preparing our kids to compete in a global economy. When I talk to local business owners across the 7th District of Virginia, they constantly tell me they’re looking to hire for well-paying positions, but can’t find individuals with the necessary technical skills and job training.

The Federal Reserve released a report on workforce development needs and opportunities — and according to the report, when employers have a qualified and skilled workforce, their productivity will rise. This leads to broader economic growth in our country, which produces more jobs at higher wages — a virtuous cycle.


In economics, we call education human capital. To grow our economy and increase wages, which have been relatively flat for 30 years, we must have increases in human capital development.

According to the Census Bureau in 2015, 31 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 still lived with their parents. Young adults with only a high school diploma have a poverty rate of approximately 22 percent.

Unemployment for millennials remains higher than the national average, even with a growing economy. Adjusted for inflation, the average hourly pay for a high school graduate has remained flat since 2000, despite minimum wage increases.

Education reform is the true way to help our kids be prepared to land a better job, but overall achievement levels for students are stagnant. Math and reading scores have remained unchanged for decades, while science scores have declined.

As leading economists of education have shown, in the past four decades spending has increased by over 300 percent while test scores remain flat.

For a complete K-12 education in Virginia, we spend approximately $146,000, with no guarantee that these kids will be prepared for life after graduation. Our teachers are phenomenal, but our system and curriculum are outdated.

Our education system was built to serve the 20th century manufacturing economy. That is why Republicans are working to totally revamp our education policy and shift our focus to modernizing skills for the labor market. Creative solutions achieved in a bipartisan manner are the key to training the next generation for career success in the 21st century.


Republicans are ending national testing regimes and giving teachers more latitude so they can use their unique talents to focus on teaching our kids problem-solving, creative thinking, and skills they can apply to life beyond the classroom.

I applaud the renewed focus on technical and STEM skills in classrooms. Everyone also agrees that soft skills cannot be ignored.

The next generation needs to know why it matters that they tell the truth, show up on time, and learn to think ethically in relation to their profession of interest.

If we educate our kids to make straight A’s but they don’t know the purpose of life or right from wrong, how can we expect them to flourish in the modern world?

This summer, the House passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act with unanimous bipartisan support, and the bill is awaiting consideration by the Senate.

With my support, this month the Education and Workforce Committee passed the PROSPER Act to consolidate post-secondary vocational institutions into the definition of “higher education.”

The bill also includes an “Ability-to-Benefit” provision to open up financial aid support for students without high school diplomas. Additionally, it expands access to in-demand apprenticeships by making grants available to eligible partnerships between businesses and institutions of higher education.

When a student completes his or her secondary education, we must present multiple viable paths into the workforce and a respectable income.

During the countless meetings I have taken with students, teachers, and administrators, I am impressed by the exceptional programs and talented teachers we have in our school systems throughout my district.

In September, I met with a group called SkillsUSA. During the visit, I met with many outstanding constituents, including a bright young man named Dylan who is enrolled in a career-training school in Glen Allen to learn computer coding before he even graduates high school. This is the future.

Schools in the 7th District are ahead of the curve on offering innovative approaches to preparing our kids for the future.

We can still do more to bring energy and momentum across the district to ensure career and technical education is available to every child.

The best gifts we can give our children are the skills for success before they complete their K-12 educations. As an educator, economist, father, and member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, I understand the challenges our children will navigate upon graduation, and we want to equip them to succeed.

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