Sometimes school board members get drawn into debates on public education, its merits, and the question of who should pay for our schools. Not too long ago, I encountered a community member who argued that because he didn’t have kids in the schools, he didn’t reap any benefits from the schools and he shouldn’t have to pay for them. I was moved to write the following, which I want to share with school leaders throughout New Jersey:
Our nation’s founding fathers believed that a publicly-educated populace was key to our country’s survival, future prosperity, and development. “If we’re going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well-educated and healthy citizenry,” said Thomas Jefferson. I believe that public schools benefit everyone in a community.
Here are factors to consider when pondering whether our investment in public schools benefits the community:
Schools can prepare our citizens for the rigors of a global economy that will affect our nation’s prosperity and national power for generations to come.
Schools can help reduce the rates of crime, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy in their communities, which in turn help to reduce the cost of public safety services (police) and publicly funded medical programs.
Schools can help increase the value of the real property in a community, which benefits all local property owners.
Schools can help attract businesses and industries to communities, which in turn, enhance services to residents, increase the community property tax base, provide jobs for our citizens and help to improve the infrastructure.
Spending related to the local operation of the local school district helps to support the local economy, which benefits the business community and their employees, many of whom are local residents.
Public schools offer amenities to the entire community such as athletic and cultural events, educational programs for residents, auditorium space for public meetings and other community group gatherings, and shelter for residents during public emergencies. A recent example of this was the “Warming Center” established by OEM/FEMA in my own school district, at the Manchester Township Elementary School after Hurricane Sandy.
A recent Michigan State University study also found that schools have the more indirect benefit of promoting relationships among neighborhood residents. These relationships help lead to resolving issues and improving the environment, quality of life, and community safety, which benefit all local residents.
Is our public educational system perfect? No. Are schools with high numbers of impoverished children struggling? Definitely. Do our schools need to adapt and change to meet the demands of a changing global economy? Certainly. Do we need to look for cost-saving measures to help reduce the total cost of public education? Absolutely.
But let’s be clear: public schools benefit all members of a community, not just those citizens with children in them.