Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Investing in Education Pays Dividends Decades Later

An article in the Des Moines Register last week pointed out that the cost of prison in Iowa has dropped to $30,546 per inmate annually. Albeit a drop, it is still a significant investment to keep our communities safe. The announcement came merely as statement of fact and provided a few additional details indicating that the reason behind the decrease in expenditures could be the fact that the number of inmates currently incarcerated in Iowa has dropped from 8,765 to 8,204 in the last five years. I suppose there is good news in that.

By comparison, when we look at total expenditures in our school district for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013, the cost of education per student is roughly $13,176 annually when considering all funds and all expenditures. That number has stayed relatively flat over the last five years, fluctuating ever so slightly in the prevailing years in spite of a drop in enrollment and little change in the per pupil cost provided in the foundation formula which is a blend of state aid and property tax.

If you look at these numbers independently I think we would all agree that both are expensive but very necessary enterprises to operate. This is no doubt true when you consider the cost of human resources, capital projects, energy consumption, and a whole host of other expenses that one probably doesn't think too much about. There is great value in both, one one hand we have the responsibility to educate the citizenry while on the other it is necessary to protect the population from those who are unable to conform to the norms of a civilized society.

If one looks deeper, I think further discussion is warranted. For one, I am struck by the contrast in the two numbers. By comparison, we spend 43% more per per person on incarceration than we do on education. It would seem to make sense that a large investment is necessary to ensure the safety of the populace, wouldn't it?

Yet consider this: according to the U.S. Department of Justice 68% of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma. There certainly seems to be a correlation between high school dropouts and incarceration. So it could be argued (and has been by many) that we could decrease the number of inmates in our prison system by ensuring that they graduate from high school.

Think about the benefits we could receive as a society if the scales were turned the other way, if for example we spent less on prisons and more on education! As a high school graduate, it provides a ticket to a higher rung on the economic ladder. Which in turn would create "Contributing Citizens", those who have jobs and contribute to society.

There is no mistaking that graduating from high school has enormous benefits not only to the individual but to society as a whole.

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