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The Value of Public Education

Submitted by Stephen Guthrie, Superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools.

Over the past several years, much has been written and discussed about the value of Carroll County Public Schools to our community.  Lately, the conversation has become more heated and intense. This is not only a result of our evolving economic situation.  It is also because public schools have been caught up in a much broader discussion about the appropriate level of government spending.  

The importance of a good education is evident and does not need to be defended here.  However, the community debate appears to center on the relationship of academic achievement to education spending.  To put it simply, what should we be paying for a quality public education? This question is dividing our community and each group is becoming entrenched in their respective positions.  To find common ground, we may need to adjust our perspective.  

Let’s take a look at our school system from an angle that resonates with everyone – the economic health of our county. Using a well-known financial indicator – return on investment – we can quantify the school system’s contributions to the overall financial strength of the county. There are several studies we can use to understand this viewpoint.

Researchers from the Center of American Progress spent a year evaluating every major school system in the country, including Carroll County Public Schools, to determine the benefit received in exchange for the money expended. In this study, our school system was identified as a “high achievement, low cost school system, with a high educational return on investment.”

More to the point, in 2011 The Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network determined that Maryland school system expenditures provide significant economic impact not only to the county they serve, but to the surrounding region as well. While the study focused only on the Eastern Shore school systems, the common educational structure and spending patterns make the data applicable to all Maryland systems, including our own.

The study examines three different types of benefits school systems offer.  The first is obvious – preparing students for college and a career, thereby improving their lifetime earning potential and ensuring their place as community contributors.  Conversely, the cost to society of not providing quality education is significant and long lasting. The study quantifies these benefits through the use of statistical and economic modeling.

The second benefit is more subtle and often ignored by those who view public education only in terms of percentages of budgets and local tax dollars.  Public schools make direct expenditures to local businesses and employees who use those funds to support the local economy.  This year Carroll County Public Schools will pay more than $150 million to over 3,200 Carroll County residents. In addition, our school system pays over $1 million annually directly to Carroll County businesses for goods and services and another $18.3 million to local bus contractors.  These residents use those funds to support local businesses, pump up the housing market, and pay taxes.  According to the research, these expenditures alone validate taxpayers’ investment in public education. 

The last type of benefit quality school systems offer is the role they play in our larger effort to attract new families to our county while at the same time retaining our current residents.  During their first few years in office, our Commissioners have rightfully tried to combat decreases in population by removing impediments to growth.  Why leave public schools out of the mix?  A recently published real estate study confirmed what we already know. Families with school-aged children flock to areas that have quality schools.  Positive migration increases the value of our homes while an inadequately funded school system will only continue to lower property values.

The bottom line – a strong and quality school system benefits our county by contributing to the local economy, attracting and retaining residents, and providing our students with the education they need to be productive and contributing members of our community.  Isn’t this worth the investment?

Steve Guthrie
Superintendent of Schools

Ross Dangel February 22, 2013 at 10:20 PM
I had the good fortune to attend Mr. Guthrie's educational forum at Liberty HS this week and I can say that he was impressive personally and professionally. He showed complete command of the financial issues facing our public schools and made a very articulate and reasoned appeal for full funding. The audience was similarly impressed and the questions showed not only a deep commitment to our children's education, but a palpable concern that the political benefits of tax cutting seemed more important to some Commissioners than our public schools. As Mr. Guthrie eloquently states in this letter, there are important economic benefits that we derive from our public schools. What wasn't said here is that our schools have been operating under the fiscal duress of sluggish economy for years, forcing them to absorb tens of millions of dollars of cuts already. As a result of both these cuts and many unfunded state mandates, we now have the lowest starting teacher salaries of any county in the state and are failing to retain our young teachers. We are also losing ground academically to better financed and more robustly staffed counties in our region. Mr. Guthrie's point is well taken. If we fail to invest more in our schools than we are now, our children's education will decline, right along with our property values. There is no such thing as cutting our way to prosperity. Great public schools are central to maintaining Carroll's quality of life.
Jack White February 23, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Nicely put, Ross. I was there, too, and equally impressed. It's nice to hear a true professional making pure sense.
Michele Carroll February 23, 2013 at 11:12 PM
Agreed!
Susan McNulty February 24, 2013 at 02:18 PM
I applaud your efforts, Mr. Guthrie; and your community is behind you! Carroll County Residents, we ALL need to be heard! Please go to the following link and sign the petition to the Commissioners to properly fund our schools: http://www.change.org/petitions/the-carroll-county-board-of-commissioners-support-and-protect-the-carroll-county-public-schools Copy and paste the url into your browser, and then "sign". Thank you! Susan McNulty Mount Airy
Kelli Nelson February 24, 2013 at 02:59 PM
Nicely done Mr. Guthrie, as you have successfully removed the "emotions" from the discussion and placed the emphasis on the "economics" of the situation, something constantly argued by Mr. Rothschild himself. The only problem is it won't matter how logical, how reasonable, or how economically-sound your argument may be as you have at least two Commissioners that have a caustic vendetta against the school system. Even with majority community support, you’re fighting an uphill battle against some very malevolent individuals. Good luck… Two more funding cycles til the next election!
I. DeFeo February 25, 2013 at 02:43 PM
A very eloquent letter. It sticks to facts and covers the economic impact of education. I really hope we can get the schools funded adequately next year. I don't want our schools or our county to lose ground.
Cindy February 25, 2013 at 03:56 PM
Well said Mr. Guthrie.
Scott W February 26, 2013 at 02:02 AM
Well said Mr. Guthrie.. I hope the appropriate people are listening.
kelly frager February 26, 2013 at 02:10 AM
Thank you Mr. Guthrie for your leadership. A strong and funded school system IS the key to an economically thriving county.
Erin Tunkel February 26, 2013 at 02:52 AM
Thank you Mr. Guthrie. I agree completely!

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