Benefits of public schools

Schools have opened all over the country. How can we evaluate public education’s impact? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“And, of course, we’re focusing here … on elementary education: elementary and secondary, K-12. And folks in elementary and secondary education have been increasingly under pressure to justify the money they spend in terms of the benefit.

“So what are the benefits for example getting a high school degree? Well, economists who’ve looked at this say the benefits can be categorized into three groups: First of all, obviously getting a high school degree rather than dropping out of high school or having no degree gets you at least the potential for getting or having a better job.

“Jobs, of course, are very hard to get, but clearly if you don’t have formal training and education, it’s going to be even tougher. So, that’s one way you can measure the benefit in terms of the extra income that a typical high school graduate is expected to earn, as opposed to someone who did not finish high school.

“Second important impact, I think, of public education is in terms of reducing — potentially reducing — other public costs. Many studies have shown, for example, that an individual on average, getting a high school degree, as opposed to dropping out of high school, will down the road mean less cost for supporting their medical expenses, lower crime costs, and, for example, more involvement in the political system. And so you can put a dollar amount on those savings, and studies have found that those dollar amounts can be very, very substantial.

“The last point — last category — is the impact of good public schools on surrounding property values. People, of course, with children want their children to have a good education. Schools that deliver that are more valuable. And many, many studies have shown that in neighborhoods, localities, where the houses are in districts where there are very good schools, housing values are higher. And so property owners, in fact, will benefit.”

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