October 18, 2017

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Amazon's Headquarters Hunt a Wake-Up Call on US Education

By
Linda Moore
The Hill

Amazon recently sparked a competitive frenzy among U.S. cities when the Seattle-based company announced its search for a second corporate headquarters (“HQ2”) in North America.  Thursday is the deadline for interested cities to submit their bids. Approximately 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars worth of economic activity hang in the balance.

For Vegas oddsmakers who may be assessing the serious contenders in this competition, they would be wise to look at a recent study by TechNet and the Progressive Policy Institute highlighting 25 up-and-coming tech hubs across the country. 

The study not only provides a list of cities emerging as innovation centers that are giving the traditional tech hubs a run for their money, it also highlights the public policies that have created the conditions for tech startups to succeed in growing numbers and in more places. 

This matters in the search for HQ2 because, while Amazon has grown significantly over the past two decades, its culture remains committed to the startup mentality that treats every day like it is “day one.”

Only one city will get to be Amazon’s second home.  But this competitive process should be a wake-up call and a teachable moment for policymakers at all levels about what it takes to promote innovation and job creation in the 21st century — and how essential it is for all Americans to have access to high-quality education.

Among the key criteria Amazon will be evaluating: “locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” as well as “a strong university system.”  They have also requested information about the state of local K-12 computer science education programs and creative partnerships involving universities, community colleges and other education providers.

In the modern economy, attracting this kind of talent — and the education system that helps produce it — matters to far more than just one company.  It matters to all companies in every sector.

For the U.S. to continue to lead the way in tech, we must have a world-class education system.  For individual states to promote innovation from within and attract the best talent from other places, their state and local education policies and programs must be cutting-edge.

Some states and school districts “get it,” and have been making the necessary investments in computer science and STEM education.  Sadly, many other states and local school districts have fallen behind.  According to the Computer Science Education Coalition, “only one out of four K-12 schools teach any computer science,” even though nine out of 10 parents say they want it taught in their children’s schools.

Computer science and STEM education should be taught in every school in America.

While state and local governments are best positioned to design specific education curriculums and programs tailored to their populations, the federal government has a duty to begin addressing the 75 percent of American students who are falling through the cracks because they lack access to computer science and STEM education. 

This should come in the form of $250 million in annual federal funding for K-12 computer science education, which could support as many as 3.6 million students in 52,500 classrooms across the country.

The White House’s recent announcement dedicating at least $200 million annually to promote computer science and STEM education was welcome news that hopefully marks the beginning of a sustained effort. 

Ensuring that every child acquires at least basic STEM education should be a national imperative.  These are in-demand skills that are in short supply and leaving too many unprepared to secure the more than 500,000 well-paying computing jobs currently unfilled in the U.S.

At the end of the day, only one city will get to host Amazon’s second headquarters.  But regardless of who wins, this competition has been a wake-up call and an opportunity for policymakers at all levels to assess what it will take to win the future by encouraging the next great wave of American innovation and ensuring all Americans have the skills to succeed in our digital economy.

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