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Looking to Tennessee’s 4th District for Ideas and Innovation
By Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (R-TN); As published in the Columbia Daily Herald

Despite recent improvements in the national jobs numbers, unemployment remains well above average here in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District.  With more than 32,000 people out of work in our district, growing the local economy and fostering job creation continues to be the number one priority for folks in places like Columbia, Fayetteville, and Crossville.  As we work to recover from the economic recession, we must ensure that tomorrow’s workers are best prepared to help Middle Tennessee compete in a global economy – and that starts with providing students with a quality education. 

There are few issues more important to the strength of our nation’s economy than education.  The skills and knowledge students acquire in classrooms across the nation each day will prepare them to join the workforce.  In many cases, an individual's success in the workforce depends upon his or her success in the classroom.

The American people are well aware of the challenges facing our education system. Only 70 percent of students earn their high school diploma. According to the Nation’s Report Card, an eighth grade student has only a 30 percent chance of being able to read at grade level. Reading and math scores for teens on the verge of graduation remain largely unchanged since 1973.

All too often, high school graduates are unprepared to compete in the workforce. Employers continue to express concerns that new workers too often lack basic skills in reading, writing, and math.  Workers with a high school diploma have a nearly 1 in 10 chance of being unemployed compared to college graduates, who have only a 4.4 percent chance of being unemployed.

In order to compete in the 21st century workforce, we need to better understand the challenges confronting individual communities across the United States. That is why at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 21st, members of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will gather in the Waymon L. Hickman Building at Columbia State Community College to hear from local educators, business leaders, and public officials as part of a hearing titled “Reviving our Economy: The Role of Higher Education in Job Growth and Development.”

Columbia provides an excellent example of how colleges can work together with local business to ensure students are fully prepared to enter into the workforce.  For example, Columbia State Community College has developed a program that provides students with on-the-job experience by offering opportunities to collaborate with local businesses. Not only does this effective job placement mechanism better prepare students to join the workplace, it also provides businesses an opportunity to recruit workers who best suit their current needs. These innovative programs and practices help ensure Tennessee retains businesses, recruits new companies, and creates jobs.

Rather than creating more bureaucracy, Washington should focus its efforts on supporting policies that foster an atmosphere that encourages creativity in our classrooms and promotes economic growth. We look forward to hearing from Columbia leaders on Thursday about how we can work together – on the local, state, and federal levels – to reinvigorate the American spirit of innovation and prepare the students of today to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow.

As published in the Columbia Daily Herald.