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?
Superintendent of Schools