WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The largest U.S. business association said 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.