Public Education Drives Most Local Economies in NC

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A new study examining the economic impact of public schools has found that in a majority of NC counties, 59, the public school system is the largest employer. Statewide, the Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg systems are the 3rd and 7th largest employers, respectively. These figures highlight the enormous impact that cuts to public education have. Not only do they harm students, but also our economy.

From EdNC's report,

With more than 175,000 employees arrayed across 115 local districts, the reach of the North Carolina public schools extends beyond classrooms and athletic fields. Schools serve as a potent economic presence in their communities. 

On her Carolina Demography blog, Rebecca Tippett, who studies North Carolina data at the UNC Carolina Population Center, recently posted findings from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, taken in the second quarter of 2014. Two findings stand out 

  • Two public school systems are in the top 10 employers in North Carolina. The Wake County school system ranks third, just ahead of UNC-Chapel Hill, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system ranks seventh, just behind the Bank of America and ahead of N.C. State University.
    What do you think?
  • In 59 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, the local public schools are the county’s largest employer. “These include districts with well over 1,000 employees (e.g., Wake, Johnston, and Franklin counties) to those with between 100-249 employees (Clay, Tyrrell, and Yancey),” Tippett writes.
Clearly, therefore, when executive and legislative policy makers in Raleigh make budgetary decisions about teacher-and-principal pay, about teaching assistants, and operation of school buses, their actions have consequences both within the schools and in the economy of communities. School employees purchase goods and services where they live, and school buses need gasoline.
 

A school system interacts with the local economy in other ways – in particular with the real estate market. In towns and cities with multiple schools, real estate companies give potential home buyers information about the quality of neighborhood schools. This informal, yet potent, process makes it all the more important that the ratings of schools be comprehensive, not simplistic. 

The relationship between schools and their communities does not end at the economic. Schools draw from, and give back to, communities’ supply of “social capital.” 

In his much-discussed, highly influential book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,published 15 years ago, Robert D. Putnam decried what he found as the erosion of civic participation and informal social connections. State-by-state analysis, he wrote, “reconfirms decades of research showing that community involvement is crucial to schools’ success. These studies have found that student learning is influenced not only by what happens in school and at home, but also by social networks, norms, and trust in the school and in the wider community.”


 

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