Saying that President Obama has “hit the nail directly on the head” about changing the national educational atmosphere, Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, spoke to entrepreneurs this morning at the IdaVation conference in Boise.
“The President’s goal, the nation’s goal, is that we will have, by 2020, the highest rate of college graduates than any other industrialized nation.”
IdaVation is a business conference produced by a local nonprofit coalition called Kickstand, an organization with the mission of encouraging entrepreneurship and invention in Idaho. Kickstand partners include the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, Idaho Business Review, neoreef digital ecosystems, Red Sky Public Relations, Peppershock Media, the watercooler, valitics, INL, and Highway 12 Ventures.
About 250 businesspeople attended the event to hear Minnick plus keynote speaker and venture capital investor Brad Feld, business author and consultant Bill Wilmot, and a dozen successful entrepreneurs.
Minnick spoke of education as one of five points he said were “the most important things we need to do to have the lead in innovation.”
He said taxpayers should view education differently and that we must change immigration policy, rethink business tax policies, fund and encourage research, and let the private sector set new technologies and their manifestations.
The U.S. must have the highest percentage of any nation of people with graduate degrees, particularly in technology, Minnick said. To reach that goal, he said we need “a focus on education and ensuring our best and brightest have the ability to go to university, regardless of financial circumstances, as a foremost national objective.”
In a challenge to the Idaho legislature, Minnick advocated changing the mindset of Idaho taxpayers and lawmakers from education as a budget item to education as a financial investment.
“It’s well documented that an investment of one dollar into a pre-kindergarten program will pay back $15-$16 in reduced social services and incarceration costs. And it gives everyone an equal start.”
It’s illegal in Idaho to require a school district to have a pre-K program, said Minnick. “That’s where Idaho has it exactly backwards. It ought to be the law that they have to provide pre-K.”
Immigration policy should be altered to use controlled immigration policies because “we need to tap foreign talent for their brainpower.” Some of those people, he said, have Indian, Chinese, and German surnames, he said.
He complimented the Obama administration on education policy but said “we need more enlightened tax policies.”
Minnick said business policy should remain capital-friendly and keep opportunities for capital gains profits. “People work 24/7 with the idea of big payoffs if their ideas turn out to be successful.”
Research is no longer restricted to big institutions like Bell Labs, he said, “because they can’t afford it.” He advocated funding the National Institutes of Health and Technology, including labs like INL in Idaho, and broadening the mission of research so promising technologies with commercial applications can thrive.
Minnick said that government “should not be picking technological winners and losers, but rather support the process and help set objectives.”
“We should be active in reducing greenhouse gases, but not by requiring a single application like clean coal to do that.”
“Let the private sector set the technologies and the manifestations of them.”