BROWARD BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE | Education, the Foundation for Business By Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin, Esq. | Legacy South Florida Education Issue

Teachers are often lauded as important and integral to the future success of our communities. And they absolutely are!  Our future literally rests in the hands of teachers and our local education system.  

Our students go on to be future lawyers, mechanics, scientists, welders, carpenters, and business owners. Teachers need every resource available to do their jobs.  

There is a call to ensure that all students, no matter their zip code, have a quality education. We have to close the education gaps if we want the best possible workforce that will allow our local companies to find and hire great talent. 

Studies suggest that children who receive a pre-school education perform better once in grades K-12. The Brookings Institute found that high-quality programs produced longer-term gains in school achievement and social adjustment.  

However, access to high quality, adequately funded pre-school is a challenge. Programs serving primarily poor students tend to receive less funding, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  

Pre-school teachers earn less than half of that earned by elementary school teachers, and 70 percent report earnings below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. We cannot expect our students to be ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow at local businesses and elsewhere if the instructors that are to teach them are underpaid and lack resources.   

It is also important to remind industries with shortages, that they need to recruit at schools where the student population may forgo college because they need to work immediately. 

The marine and manufacturing industries, and even recruitment for pilots, should be promoted at schools in areas with the highest unemployment and underemployment. Recruiting at high schools where students want to be lawyers and doctors is not going to close the shortages in these industries. Investments and recruitment at HBCUs will also help to close the gap. It is time to do things differently. 

The Citi report, “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps,” noted that facilitating easy access to higher education for Black students could have increased lifetime incomes by $90-$113 billion! The impact of this gap echoes across all communities and sectors when such income is not realized and utilized in our local and national economy.

Talent doesn’t have an address or zip code assigned to it. Residents and voters must demand action from our leaders. Officials in government, industry associations, and business must invest in our teachers and students in the most marginalized areas to close the preschool teacher pay gap, the K-12 funding gaps, the access to high paying technical skills-based employment gap, the access to higher education gap, and the wage gap.  If we can find billions to build, then we can prioritize funding for one of the most fundamental factors in building up our future workforce and entrepreneurs.  We have the talent. Let’s nurture it, regardless of the zip code. 

Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin, Esq., is president of the Broward County Black Chamber of Commerce

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