As the chief organization tasked with job creation in Mesa County, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership (GJEP) is regularly asked how the community can support the creation of a vibrant, sustainable economy.
The response is simple: support K-12 education. Delivering quality education is the foundation of every economic development effort. Without a concerted effort to strengthen K-12 education and make it a priority in Mesa County, our economic development efforts will fail.
A weak K-12 education is the most common reason for businesses and professionals to move past Mesa County as a consideration for their operations or future job pursuits. Professionals want to know there’s a strong commitment to educating their children and their employees’ children. Employers also want to know there’s a consistent pipeline of talent being fed into local universities. Professionals seek communities that make education the core of their economic development values.
In Mesa County, we have the opportunity this election cycle to take a first step toward showing our commitment to K-12 education. As someone who works tirelessly to create jobs in the community, I know we must have a business-friendly environment. Believe me, I do not say this lightly: We must support 3A and 3B this fall. The practical capital projects, technology and additional instruction days are critical. The safety of our children and such basic amenities as heat and up-to-date curriculum should not even be a question. Shelter is necessary for learning to even take place. Technology is necessary to survive in the 21st century. Additional academic days are necessary for students to obtain knowledge. These are not frivolous requests of the community.
If Mesa County wants to thrive economically, it must invest in its students. Data shows having less education can limit an individual’s earnings prospects. A student who drops out of high school can expect to earn approximately $20,241 per year, while a high school graduate can expect to earn approximately $30,241 per year. Throw in a bachelor’s degree, and the average salary jumps to $56,000 per year. Keeping our kids interested, engaged and fully participating in their education is critical to their future earnings potential.
A community that proactively invests in education up front — keeping students in school and providing them with a quality education — will also save money on the back end. According to a recent article by Matthew Lynch, author of “The Call to Teach,” it’s estimated more than half of all Americans on public assistance are high school dropouts. Couple that with the fact 80 percent of our nation’s incarcerated population are also high school dropouts.
The consequences of not providing a quality education are profound.
There are 101 reasons why we as a community should support our students. Today, I’m imploring each of you — moms, dads, business owners and interested community members. We need your help in ensuring School District 51 is the best it can possibly be. We must pass 3A and 3B to ensure our children have the basic infrastructure, technology and days in class to succeed. We also must commit to working with our teachers and administrators to strengthen our students’ overall academic outcomes. 3A and 3B are just the beginning.
Together, we can make Mesa County known as innovative and pioneering, a community unwilling to settle for mediocrity. We can be known as a community that fights to make our schools first priority.
Kristi Pollard is executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. For more information about GJEP, visit www.gjep.org.