Want to stop outsourcing?

Greg Lowe

In the final presidential debate, George W. Bush was asked about keeping jobs in America, and he proceeded to talk mostly about his education program: “No, education is how to help the person who’s lost a job,” Bush said. “Education is how to make sure we’ve got a workforce that’s productive and competitive.”

John Kerry called him out on this. “I want you to notice how the president switched away from jobs and started talking about education principally,” Kerry said.

I cringed when Kerry said that. I hate to say it, but Bush was right. Education is jobs. Jobs is education.

As moderator Bob Schieffer acknowledged, presidents don’t have a ton of control over job creation. Taxes and subsidies can help in the short run, and Kerry’s plan to end the loophole that allows corporations to defer taxes on their foreign subsidiaries is a good one. But you can only do so much with government policy.

In the long run, the only way to prevent outsourcing is to make American workers the best educated in the world. We have to be able to do things that other workers can’t do, because otherwise corporations will always have an incentive to find the cheapest labor possible. Right now, more and more skilled jobs are being shipped overseas. The only way to stop that is to make American workers more and more skilled, and the only way to do that is through education.

As simple as it sounds, the best way to improve education is to spend more money on it. Because education in America is mostly funded at a local level, there are huge differences in spending across districts. Politicians like to talk about school vouchers and accountability, but the best way to improve student performance is through smaller class sizes and better paid teachers. That takes money.

Higher salaries draw better, more motivated teachers. Better teachers create better students. Better students are more likely to finish high school. And if you don’t have a high school diploma in this global economy, you have absolutely nothing to offer over a worker from Singapore.

Now just because Bush made a good point in the debate doesn’t mean I think he is the best man to lead education in this country. I know that the real reason he talked about education on the jobs question is because of the dismal record of job creation over the past four years. I know that he failed to fully fund the No Child Left Behind program and then had the gall to accuse Kerry of being too liberal for saying the funding should match what Bush promised. Setting high standards alone is not going to help students actually achieve those standards.

Whoever wins in November has to recognize that education is the answer to many of our problems — and spend accordingly. Education creates jobs. Education improves health care. Education reduces crime. Education reduces poverty. Education strengthens families.

Education is life. Life is education.

Greg Lowe is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]