January 4, 2006

Business group will rank school performance

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The largest U.S. business
association said on Wednesday it would start ranking school
systems' performance as part of efforts to raise a work force
that could better compete in the global economy.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said the
United States could not maintain its economic lead while many
of its schools performed poorly and its global competitors had
increasingly well-educated work forces.

"The bottom line is that this nation cannot rightfully
expect to lead the 21st century's information and
technology-driven global economy when we have upwards of 30
percent of our young people not even graduating from high
school," Donohue told a news conference called to announce the
chamber's agenda for 2006.

In some minority areas, the number of students failing to
get a high school diploma is closer to 50 percent. "This is a
travesty," Donohue said.

The chamber, which in recent years has crusaded for legal
reform, will now urge education reform by ranking the
performance of state school systems and some local school
systems, Donohue said. More details would be announced within
six weeks, he said.

The chamber is already working with other business
organizations to double the number of U.S. math, science and
engineering college graduates by the year 2015.

Donohue said restrictive U.S. immigration policy was
tightening the supply of qualified workers just as the first
wave of 77 million U.S. "baby boomers" was about to retire.

He said a bill cracking down on illegal immigration,
recently passed by the House of Representatives was unworkable
and unfair, imposing sweeping mandates on employers and
"turning workers into felons simply for trying to support their
families." The Chamber would lobby for changes as the action
moved to the Senate, he said.

But Donohue was upbeat about short-term U.S. economic
prospects, predicting 3.5 percent growth in 2006. Interest
rates would pause in their upward climb and housing markets
would cool but not crash, he forecast.

He said he expected the Federal Reserve to push its target
interest rate up to about 5 percent by the middle of 2006, "and
then pause for some time."

The growth in business investment in equipment and software
would be very strong at 9.6 percent for 2006, he predicted.