The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry believes that the quality and availability of a skilled and ready workforce is vital for Tennessee's economic success. We hear this concern often from the businesses we serve.
One of the most certain ways to accomplish success with workforce preparation is to comprehensively prepare students for careers -- for the world of work. In order to equip our students for the real-world skills necessary to support business, we need to help them master the skills that businesses need, while also providing them with valuable life skills.
These skills are basic and include: reasoning, problem-solving, the ability to write, to work in a team and to be able to apply this knowledge at the workplace.
Tennessee's Common Core State Standards emphasize real world skills, providing our students with the necessary foundation to build a strong future. Common Core is one solid step toward remedying the issues our employers face when it comes to finding a skilled workforce. When compared with students from other states, our students consistently rank near the bottom in proficiency in key subject areas, and only 32 percent of Tennesseans have earned an associate's degree or higher. We must do better. Improving student outcomes and raising education attainment levels will encourage success in the eyes of companies seeking a motivated and work ready, workforce.
Let's not forget the recent manufacturing report by Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic research which gave Tennessee's workforce a "D" ranking. This is a ranking that can drag down our overall appeal as a state, to investors, and to business expansion.
It's essential that Tennesseans enforce academic rigor and content, ensuring that students graduate from high school better prepared for the future, and assisting Tennessee in positioning itself as THE place to be in business.
Tennessee has a solid footing and numerous advantages when it comes to economic and community development, from having no income tax and being noted by industry as having a business-friendly environment, to being centrally-located, and being home to several booming, multi-national corporations. But, being noted as a state with a poor overall workforce will negatively overcome so much good.
The state's leadership are being proactive in resolving the workforce crisis. Under the leadership of prior administrations, and with the bipartisan support of Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly, the state put into place the foundation for an evaluation system that ensures educators receive timely feedback and have support to improve their practice.
Haslam and Tennessee's education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, implemented this system by first listening to our greatest resource -- teachers. It is for the respect of these valued educators that Haslam and the General Assembly have added $130 million in recurring spending to teacher salaries over the last three years, compared to a combined $22 million added in the four years prior.
In fact, the state's overall investment in K-12 education has been growing. In 2012, Tennessee had the second largest increase in state K-12 expenditures of all 50 states.
As part of our commitment to education and workforce development, The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry started the Tennessee Scholars program 10 years ago, with the impetus of increasing the percentage of Tennessee high school graduates that are prepared for post-secondary education, the workforce, or the military.
Since 2010, 91,000 more students are proficient or advanced in 3rd-8th grade math, and 52,000 more students are proficient or advanced in third-eighth grade science. The success of the Scholars program proves more stringent standards can be met, and students are up to the challenge. Additionally, Tennessee is only one of two states making double-digit gains in high school graduation rates.
It is through the dedication of our state leadership, Haslam, Commissioner Huffman, the General Assembly, the state board of education and the business community that I believe we will be successful in qualifying a highly skilled, ready workforce to serve the needs of businesses in Tennessee, and to ensure a rich and successful economy for our state.
Catherine Glover is president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.