Yes, a good education could be your ticket out of here, a ticket to a higher income and a better quality of life.
In fact, a high-quality educational system could be a ticket for higher incomes and a better standard of living for all of us, even those who remain in Kentucky.
The evidence indicates strong positive returns to education, both college degrees and technical training (you should see the hourly rate I have to pay for a plumber or electrician). It is no coincidence that Kentucky fares poorly in terms of both educational attainment and per capita income.
Unfortunately, this is a vicious circle: low educational attainment leads to low income levels, leading to low state tax revenues, leading to insufficient state funding of education, leading to low educational attainment, etc. The legislature should be raising, not cutting, expenditures on education.
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Kentucky must break out of this cycle. University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. has highlighted the "Kentucky Uglies," but these characteristics do not belong to Kentucky. They are just uglies that are prevalent in Kentucky, associated for the most part with low educational attainment and low incomes. Ambitious, educated Kentuckians leave the state for better opportunities elsewhere because they have finally given up on the state getting its act together.
A better answer for Kentucky is to provide good opportunities here for its citizens. Doing so requires Kentucky to attract firms that will provide high-quality jobs. This will happen when we provide an attractive environment for such firms, including a skilled, educated work force.
Unfortunately, rather than providing adequate funding to education, both K-12 and post-secondary, our elected officials have chosen an alternative path by providing tax breaks to attract firms that predominately (but not in every instance) provide low-wage, unskilled jobs, and often do not stay for long once the tax credits end.
Successful business managers understand that investment is required to increase future revenues, yet our elected officials appear not to understand this fundamental concept.
Kentucky has serious budget problems, in part because of low incomes and, consequently, low tax revenues. But this is not the time to cut the education budget. This is just part of another vicious circle: poorly educated Kentuckians elect poorly educated politicians who underfund education, perpetuating low educational attainment in Kentucky, whose citizens elect politicians produced by our poor educational system, etc.
It is time for Kentuckians to break out of our malaise and actively try to improve our standard of living. We should not continue to accept mediocrity in the quality of our lives, our educational system or our politicians.
We should abandon the vicious circle and adopt a virtuous circle whereby a better educated citizenry elects better and more responsible politicians who adequately fund education and raise the living standards of Kentuckians.
It is time for accountability. We are responsible for our future and should hold our elected officials responsible for their decisions. Starting today, it's time for the taxpaying citizens of the state to tell their representatives to get their priorities straight and start adequately funding education.
That's the way — the only way — for a better life for Kentuckians both today and tomorrow.