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Column by former governor and candidate for U.S. Senate.
At the K–12 level, we can use competitive rankings among states to encourage excellence in education without violating notions of federalism. As governor, I paid close attention to Virginia’s position on well-regarded national assessments like Forbes’ “best state for business” rankings. I would support a regular review of the states’ education systems, grading curricular rigor, testing practices, teacher qualifications, and student performance. I guarantee that if a state gets a “C” in a well-publicized, national survey, it won’t be long until that state’s governor and legislature work to raise its ranking.
MAKING COLLEGES PRODUCE
At the higher-education level, we should leverage our investments through the Pell Grant program to demand accountability and quality of outcomes from our colleges and universities. Setting rigorous but achievable standards for graduation rates, job placement, and affordability will help ensure that our students receive a quality education that will serve them well as they move into the workforce.
During my time as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras, I also served as principal of a technical school and learned the value of a trade. I think our nation would do well to refocus on career and technical education. For far too long we stigmatized and undervalued career and technical education as somehow less worthy than traditional two- and four-year colleges. But there are good-paying jobs open right now for electricians, machinists, welders, and other technically skilled workers.
Finally, if we are going to have the world’s most talented workforce, we will have to get serious about reforming the broken immigration system. I support forward-looking immigration reforms that secure our borders, ask those who came here illegally to admit their violation and pay a penalty, and, importantly, allow the most talented immigrants to stay and contribute to our economy.
We must also reverse counterproductive immigration policies that make it harder for U.S.-educated, foreign students to achieve in this country. America and her economy have been and will always be replenished by successive waves of new Americans who bring their skills and determination to our shores.
I am an optimist by nature, and I am optimistic about the future of our country. I know that we can have the bright future that we want, but we can’t stand by and hope it happens by luck.
To secure our place as the global leader of the 21st-century talent economy, we need to make smart investments in education from early childhood to adulthood, create the most well-trained and most skilled workforce in the world, and establish an immigration system that welcomes talented people from across the world to our shores.
If we commit, as Virginia has, to developing the talent of our own workforce, then attracting talent to the United States, we will build the kind of sustained economic prosperity our children deserve.
Tim Kaine, a Democrat, was governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. He is now running for a U.S. Senate seat.