The State of California has seen low population growth for the past ten years. While we do great attracting immigrants, we're not good at retaining residents. Personally, I hear stories of young people leaving the state to find a cheaper place to live in another state; they earn less money, doing a relatively "easy" low pressure job, and pay a lot less in rent.
While this sounds like a lack of ambition, there's something else going on. Though unemployment in CA is high, unemployment among college grads is relatively low, especially in the more technical fields (including healthcare).
Also, if you look around, there are hundreds of bus ads for employment training and education at private, for-profit colleges. So there's still demand for workers in some fields. There's also a huge demand for more education.
Presently, when someone goes to these for-profit schools, they spend upwards of ,000 a year to attend, usually racking up debt and also getting state and federal aid. The quality of training varies. Many students find themselves unable to complete the education because they simply lack the aptitude for it, or were so far behind in school that they still need remedial education before learning more advanced subjects. The default rate on student loans for for-profit college students is high.
Public education costs the state around ,000 per student per year. The K-12 public school system should add two "voc ed" years that are optional, and expand the classes offered to include these in-demand jobs. This way, there's no "downtime" between 12th grade and the two years of vocational education. Instead of being ejected into a low-paid dead-end job, students will be moved toward jobs with some stability, and which provide services that are more valuable than stocking shelves at a store, or moving stuff at a warehouse. The presence of a strong K-12 voc ed will even attract some students to start attending 13th and 14th grade classes in the 10th and 11th grades.
California has always excelled at higher education. Though K-12 lags behind, the college system is well regarded world-wide, and has been a significant magnet for business, research, and (not surprisingly) even more education. The highly educated middle-class population makes CA a low-risk place to operate high-tech businesses. The same can (and used to be) done for the working class. It can be done again. For decades, we've relied on the Community College system, but we can push it down into K-12, and make it work for more residents.
K-14 can work out in our favor in the following ways:
- more retention of residents, so our education investment will pay back in taxes
- better trained workforce, so we'll have fewer shortages in things like healthcare
- reduced unemployment overall in the short term
- better environment for attracting more business
- potentially reduce risks to business
- better than tax breaks or other "race to the bottom" favors to business