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Idaho Education Leaders Draw a Critical Connection Between Education and Economy

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August 21, 2013 05:27 pm


In a forum at Idaho State University earlier this week, panelists from Idaho’s government, education, and business communities gathered to speak about “Education and the Economy: Preparing Idaho’s Workforce for the Future.”

According to the Idaho State Journal, state superintendent Tom Luna asserted that “There’s an inseparable link between education and a robust economy…If you neglect one, obviously the other will suffer.”

Mr. Luna is right. The U.S. economy is two-thirds consumer driven, and since more educated individuals earn more on average than their less educated counterparts ($9/hour for a high school dropout versus $13 and $25/hour for high school graduates and bachelor’s degree holders, respectively), education drives the economy. And not just in one way either. Positions for more educated individuals are available all across the country, and it shouldn’t be surprising by now that unemployment rates decrease at each additional level of education.

Although Mr. Luna’s assertion is music to our ears here at the Alliance, there’s one component left out of it that is also critical: the nation’s shifting demographics and how equity affects education and the economy. Late last year, we released a brief titled Inseparable Imperatives: Equity in Education and the Future of the American Economy in which we note: “Continuing separate discussions about problems and solutions to educational inequity and the economy are no longer tenable. Sweeping changes in America’s demographics and the economic reality have merged the moral imperative with the economic imperative; the focus must now be on equity and the economy.”

Twenty-three states now have public school populations comprised 40 percent or more of students of color. The persistent gaps in achievement between students of color and students in poverty, and their peers, whether measured by test scores, high school graduation rates, or postsecondary attainment, are well-documented. The nation’s demographics are going to change; if the way the U.S. educates a growing percentage of the population doesn’t also change, our country will find itself in a prickly situation indeed, not just in terms of civil rights, but also in terms of the bottom line.

To underscore Mr. Luna’s point, consider Idaho’s High School Class of 2011. If the graduation rate had increased from 76% to 90%, the 3,000 additional graduates would have yielded:

•    $25 million in increased annual earnings
•    $24 million in increased annual economic growth
•    $3.3 million in increased annual state and local taxes
•    $3.8 million in increased federal taxes
•    $58 million in increased home sales

All of this goes along with a whopping $399 million in increased lifetime earnings.

This is just for the state of Idaho; the benefits for some states and the nation as a whole measure multiple billions,annually, if the graduation rate increases.

All of this is to say it is good to hear state- and local-level education leaders making connections between education and the economy. Unfortunately, the equity argument seems too often to fall on  deaf ears, while hitting people in their wallets tends to be much more effective. Ultimately, addressing both issues at once is most effective and critical for the nation moving forward.

For more on the Alliance’s work on the economic impacts of education, visit: and stay tuned as updates are coming for the Class of 2012!

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.