What's really holding back job creation

Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted a big event announcing a plan to build a major tech-company hub right in the middle of the Windy City.

I wish him the best of luck but for Chicago to really get the best chance to make this all happen, something else needs to change.

Students in classroom
Laflor | E+ | Getty Images

Last year, I has a very interesting exchange with one of the richest hedge-fund managers in the world.

This hedge-fund manager is relatively active politically, and he's donated mostly to Republican candidates. So when I asked him what he thought was the biggest hurdle to strong growth and jobs creation in America, I thought he was going to go on about taxes, Obamacare, EPA regulations, etc.

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Instead he said this: "In the city where I come from, no one can hire the kids who go to our city's public schools. We can't have a really growing and healthy economy if we don't fix this."

I didn't disagree with his point in the slightest, but it was still jarring to hear it from someone very much on the front lines of business and finance. I hadn't heard anything like it since 2005, when Bill Gates made a stunning speech in Washington, DC that made the same point.

So what do we do about it?

More money isn't really the answer.

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Everyone knows — or should know — that the U.S. spends a boatload on education. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found last year that we actually spend more than any other developed country per student.

So the issue isn't really about money, but how it's spent.

And that brings me to charter schools.

No one is saying charter schools are perfect, but people as politically far apart as Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich agree that charter schools are generally a great idea. And they are clearly the top choice for lower income and minority parents who want to help their children break into the middle or upper class.

But earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outraged those parents by shuttering three charter schools and cutting approval for a fourth due to open this coming fall. Not to be outdone, two other top city officials are actually planning to file a lawsuit to close several more. And this is all being done to please the teachers unions, who have long opposed charter schools because they use non-union teachers.

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And that brings me back to Chicago and Mayor Emanuel's new tech hub push.

Even if "The Godfather" is able to twist enough arms to get some great tech companies to come to Chicago, it won't benefit the city quite enough if Chicago's notoriously poor public education system doesn't improve. Think about it: Where exactly will the new employees of these companies send their kids to school? Probably the suburbs, which is where they'll move and that will significantly reduce the tax revenue such a hub would bring the city. And would these companies be able to find enough native Chicagoans to hire? Probably not.

However, Emanuel is at least doing something positive in this area. Unlike his New York counterpart, Emanuel is a strong advocate for charter schools. He's become enemy No. 1 for the teachers' union, and was even heckled by a charter-school opponent recently.

I have no idea if Emanuel will be successful in either his tech hub or education efforts, but I do know that it's encouraging that he apparently joins people like Bill Gates and others in the C-Suites who see the connection between the two.

The choice for the politicians and the voters couldn't be clearer: You can side with the teachers unions, or be on the side of the parents, kids, and potential employers.

Let's see who wins.

— By Jake Novak

Jake Novak is supervising producer of "The Kudlow Report." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.