Kendra Pierre-Louis is a Justmeans staff writer with an interest in creating healthier, more sustainable society. She's particularly interested in the intersection of business, sustainability and economics. How can we structure an economic system that allows business to behave better? She has a M.A. in Sustainable Development from the SIT Graduate Institute and a B.A. in Economics from Cornell Uni...
Education: The Hidden Subsidy
Across the United States funding for public education is being slashed.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott is proposing 1.75 billion dollars in cuts (or roughly 10% of the education budget) while three years of budget cuts have left California's schools some 17.5 billion dollars poorer.
While much of the attention of these budget cuts is focused on the teachers (who are often losing their jobs) or the students (who are increasingly packed into overcrowded classrooms in schools that are financially struggling to keep the lights on)-what is often ignored is the hidden subsidy that education provides to businesses, the economy and society writ large.
Benefits that are crucial to sustainable development and that are being eroded in this latest wave of budget cuts.
Take for example crime.
Education and crime share an inverse relationship - the more educated your populace the less likely they are to commit crimes (especially violent crimes) and the more likely they are to stay out of prison.
According to a 2007 report by the Justice Policy institute, a 5 percent increase in male high school graduation rates would produce an annual savings of almost $5 billion in crime-related expenses.
In other words, the less we invest in education the more we spend on prisons.
Further, public education amounts to free training for businesses. Reading, basic arithmetic, and general computer skills are all skills that an educated populace possess and that, consequently, businesses do not have to spend in training their workers. As a 2007 World Bank report points out, though why schooling affects economic growth one thing is certain: education spurs on economic growth.
By reducing education support we are reducing both quantity (by increasing the drop out rate) and quality of education, which has long term repercussions for municipalities tax base (better educated people earn more and thus pay more in taxes).
Finally, educated individuals engage more with social structures. From turning up to vote to showing up to the community's school board meeting, educated individuals are more socially active.
Is our educational system perfect? Of course not - but the question of how to fund education is about more than balancing budgets, it's about balancing the short-term needs of the present with the long-term social and economic needs. And that balancing act has to be a part of the discussion.
Picture Credit:Hash Milhan