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Quality Public Education: What's In It For Me?

June 04, 2009 By Robin Smothers, guest commentary

Part of our Education Essay Series


This fall, it is estimated that more than 50 of Minnesota's 343 school districts will go to their communities to ask taxpayers to pay more in property taxes to help pay for their schools.

Unfortunately, many communities will answer "no," leaving administrators to make tough decisions about staff and programs.

We pay for public education through our tax dollars. In these days of economic troubles that bring thriftiness and self-reflection, it's only fair to ask, "Why should I pay for someone else's education? What's in it for me?"

Increased Graduation Rates

In June, the respected magazine Education Week reported that Minnesota's 78 percent graduation rate in 2005 was the ninth highest in the county. Unfortunately, not all students graduate at that rate: African American students in Minnesota have a 39 percent graduation rate while Hispanic students have a graduation rate of 42 percent. How does that affect you? Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost Minnesota almost $4 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes.

Lower Health Care Costs

Higher graduation rates also translate into lower health care costs. Typically, high school graduates have a healthier lifestyle and access to better health care than dropouts. A recent study reported Minnesota could save more than $224.4 million in lifetime health care costs for each class of dropouts if they had earned their diplomas.

Less of Your Taxes Spent on Prisons

Minnesota's prison populations increased 59.7 percent from 2000 through 2008, and research shows that nearly 75 percent of prison inmates in the U.S. did not complete high school. Nationally, it costs 2.5 times more each year to incarcerate a person than to educate them. Studies also estimate that our state economy would see a combination of crime-related savings (and additional revenue) of approximately $77.8 million each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by five percent.

More Kids Ready for College

In 2005, 49 percent of the state's graduates enrolled in a state public higher education institution within two years of graduating. Of these, 38 percent took one or more remedial courses, which cost both money and time and do not count toward credits needed for graduation.

If Minnesota's high schools graduated all of their students ready for college, the state would save more than $89 million a year in community college remediation costs and earnings lost by college students who take longer to get their diplomas.

Better Jobs in a Global Economy

There have always been students who dropped out of school and have gone on to find success. Many more received their high school diploma and went on to find good-paying jobs. But with our country moving from a manufacturing to a service economy, many of those jobs are gone and are not coming back. To make things more challenging, today's graduates are competing with students from all over the world, many of whom are receiving a better education. Thirty years ago, the United States was the world leader in the quantity and quality of both high school and college graduates. In 2008, the U.S. fell to 18th of 23 industrialized countries.

If today's students/tomorrow's citizens can't find and hold good-paying jobs, how will they be able to ...

Fund Your Social Security

If you don't believe Social Security benefits will be around when you retire, then you've nothing to worry about. But if you're not sure, wouldn't you rather that the 3.3 workers who currently fund each retiree-demographers predict there will be only two workers to fund each retiree's benefits by 2025-have good-paying jobs?

A Better Minnesota

So how does a state-provided quality education benefit you? It benefits you by having a population less dependent on state-provided services and more likely to stay out of prison. It benefits you by ensuring your children, grandchildren, the kids down the street and in the next town will graduate, be ready for college and be able to compete for better jobs. It benefits you by providing an educated workforce that will contribute to the state's economy, which could lower your taxes. It might even mean the future of your Social Security benefits. It benefits you by providing your community with a strong school district, which could put more money in your wallet when it comes time to sell your home. Maybe a better question would be: How does a quality education NOT benefit you? 


Robin Smothers writes as a parent in the Robbinsdale Area Schoolswebsite metrics

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