Research: School taxes: What’s in it for you? Lots

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Consternation about paying school taxes is nothing new. There have always been property owners frustrated by the fact that they don’t have kids in the system, saying “what’s in it for me?”

Plenty, actually. And I don’t mean subsidizing other people’s kids.

The school taxes everybody pays — and this includes renters, who indirectly pay by rental rates — impact the economy. They change the quality of the community we share.

If we can see past the sticker shock.

The Hamilton Project, named for the nation’s first Treasury secretary, is a nonpartisan economic research organization whose 2012 report, “A Dozen Economic Facts About K-12 Education” explored the direct links between children’s education and local economies. It concluded that education benefits not only those educated, but society in general.

Lower unemployment. Americans without a high school diploma not only earn less on the job, they are also much less likely to have one. In 2009, almost half of the working-age population without a high school diploma was unemployed. By contrast, more than 85 percent of college graduates had a job.

Don’t care? Consider what else joblessness affects, and how that affects you.

Less strain on public institutions, medical costs. The difficulties less-skilled workers have finding work have community-wide effects. Of those unemployed without a diploma, more than half were out of work because they couldn’t get a job, were disabled or sick, or were institutionalized (mostly in prisons, but some in medical facilities).

Welfare, crime. Since inflation and living costs have risen more quickly than wages, the lack of sustainable jobs exacerbates challenges facing less-educated Americans, contributing to higher crime rates and more working-age adults receiving disability payments, welfare, and other services — creating a broader cost to society financially and in quality of life.

Prison connection. One area of growing concern is the difference in institutionalization rates — another strain on public tax dollars. Of institutionalized Americans aged 25 to 64, more than 80 percent are in prison (which means they likely committed crimes, which affects their communities), with the rest in nursing homes.

In the past four decades, the share of Americans without a high school diploma who have been institutionalized has nearly tripled, while the rate for college graduates remains unchanged. This highlights family and social costs of higher crime rates among this population, with again resulting fallout involving public and community supported services, but as the report indicates, it also means institutionalized individuals can’t contribute to the economy or well-being of their communities.

Compassion aside, it’s simply cheaper to educate by way of prevention.

Economic growth. Turning to solutions (beyond ensuring everyone gets a high school diploma), Stanford University economic researchers put this in rather staggering terms of gross domestic product. “The Economic Impact of Good Schools” published in 2016 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce directly correlated states’ economic growth to the skills of its workforce. And the skills of that workforce are heavily dependent on the state’s schools.

GDP. The Stanford researchers considered the impact if all states raised K-12 school performance to match the highest-achieving state, which was then Minnesota (rankings change but Idaho is generally in the bottom half). The gain to each state would vary, but the aggregate impact if all states did this would be a whopping $76 trillion. As of 2016, this amounts to some four times the U.S. gross domestic product.

That was confirmed by the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s briefing “School Achievement Can Drive Economic Growth,” which examined how much economic growth gains in K-12 education can achieve for American communities. Citing the Stanford report as well as other research, the Bush Center concluded:

“The good news is research shows improvement in a K-12 education can have a dramatic effect in boosting the economy … (T)his could be a big winner for local economies. But the biggest winner might be the citizens themselves.”

So the next time it hurts to vote in a levy or write that property tax check, remember that kids or not, there’s a lot in it for you.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email:

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