The Edmond Sun

Business

March 17, 2014

Fallin pushes workforce initiative in Edmond

EDMOND — Gov. Mary Fallin discussed workforce development plans Friday with city leaders at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce.

Policies to create a better business climate have been enacted during her administration to both retain and create jobs in Oklahoma, said Fallin, a 2014 candidate for re-election.

Democratic state Sen. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, announced his candidacy as a gubernatorial contender in the state primary election set for June 24. Independent Richard Prawdzienksi of Edmond is also a contender.

“We did something that has been a top agenda item for this chamber and many other chambers across the state,” Fallin said. “And that is to overhaul our worker’s compensation system.”

More jobs are being created as a result of lawsuit and worker’s compensation reform, she said. Lawsuit reform and workers compensation reform has made Oklahoma more attractive to businesses thinking about locating here, she said.

An administrative system will not only protect injured workers but also will lower premium costs for businesses, Fallin said.

Education is key for producing a skilled workforce for tomorrow’s jobs, she noted. Having the best teachers in the classroom and making sure children can read at a grade appropriate level is something Oklahoma must do.

Oklahoma competes against other states as well as the global economy, Fallin said. America is falling behind, she said.

“If our children can’t read, they can’t learn the math and science and the other things they need,” Fallin said. “So that when they become seniors and take their SAT and ACT, they get into a Career Technology school, or they can go on to UCO or some other higher education institution in the state of Oklahoma.”

Edmond Public Schools provided information to the 50 or so attendants at the chamber. Since Fiscal Year 2008-09, state lawmakers have cut public school funding by 23 percent, more than any other state, according to the material.

“Public schools’ share of the state budget has shrunk from 38 percent to under 34 percent of total allocations,” the paper stated. As a result, Edmond Public Schools face a $4 million budget reduction as the student population grows.

Meanwhile, while state of Oklahoma’s revenue is up, the state faces a $188 million budget shortfall this year.

“This year we got a little bit of a downturn, not because of stuff we’re doing in Oklahoma, but because of Washington,” Fallin said. “We’ve got sequestration. We’ve got Obamacare. We’ve got military cuts.”

Uncertainty and talk about climate change and fracking has consequences when you have that type of debate in Washington, D.C., she said.

The best way out of poverty is to get a job, Fallin said. So her administration has been focusing on education outcomes. Business across the state tell her they cannot find the skilled workers they need to  hire for jobs that are available, Fallin said.

“There is a disconnect between what employers need and want and some of our friends and colleagues that are looking for jobs,” Fallin said.

A high school diploma was adequate for the skills needed for 75 percent of jobs in the U.S. a half-century ago, she continued. Today that number is only 35 percent. The technology driven world today depends less on manual labor and more on education, she said.

Two-thirds all jobs taken by people who ended their education after graduating from high school pay $25,000 a year or less, Fallin said.

“That won’t get people to the American dream,” Fallin said. “We see them in our welfare systems, Medicaid, sometimes in prison, poverty. So our challenge is how do we align our K-12, our career technology schools, our higher education to meet the needs of employers?”

Fifty-four percent of Oklahomans have attained something more than a high school degree, Fallin said. Seventy-seven percent of jobs in Oklahoma will need more than a high school degree by 2020, Fallin said.

In facing the challenge, Fallin said she is bringing K-12 educators together with leaders in career technology, higher education, business and public policy officials to discuss how to help children have a brighter future.

Complete College America is a program that was launched on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma two years ago. A goal was set to increase the number of degrees and certificates from Career Tech and higher education.

Oklahoma typically produces an average of about 30,500 degrees and certificates each year. Fallin said the state’s college presidents and technology directors aimed to increase those degrees and certificates to 50,000 in the first 10 years.

“We set a goal that first year of 1,700 new certificates and degrees,” Fallin said. “We didn’t do 1,700; we did 2,900 the first year. So we beat our goal by 71 percent.”

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