The Wake County school system generates billions of dollars for the local economy, showing the significant economic clout of public education spending, according to a new study released Tuesday.
The study, which was partially funded by the school system, details the economic impact the growing district has through its $1.4 billion annual operating budget and ongoing $1 billion school construction program. The study, conducted by N.C. State University economist Michael Walden, also says Wake County’s rising test scores and graduation rate lead to higher lifetime earnings for students, saves taxpayer money on social services and adds to property values.
Superintendent Jim Merrill said he requested the study to answer those who contend that schools only consume public dollars, when in fact schools are contributors to the local economy.
“Investments in the Wake County Public School System generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional value to our community each year,” Merrill said at a news conference Tuesday in front of local elected officials and community and business leaders.
The survey comes at a time when the issue of public education spending in Wake County and North Carolina has become an intensely heated topic. Local school activists have lobbied the state for more funding and want the Wake County Board of Commissioners to continue building on the record $44.6 million increase in education funding provided this year.
But Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, doubted the study will win over taxpayers who are struggling during this economy.
When some people use this report to justify tax increases for schools, will taxpayers find this to provide a compelling reason why those taxes should be increased? In the end, I don’t think they will.
Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation
“When some people use this report to justify tax increases for schools, will taxpayers find this to provide a compelling reason why those taxes should be increased?” Stoops said in an interview Tuesday. “In the end, I don’t think they will.”
With 157,180 students, the Wake County school system is the largest in the state and the 16th largest in the nation. The district’s more than 18,000 employees make it one of the largest employers in Wake County.
The study projected the district’s operating budget as generating $1.6 billion a year in spending for the local economy. The study also found that the district’s capital spending since 2011 has generated $1.1 billion in the local economy, with every $1 million spent being associated with 9.6 local jobs.
“WCPSS spending sets off a chain reaction of other spending and re-spending in the county economy as businesses and households alike take funds received from WCPSS and purchase products and services from vendors in the area,” according to the study.
Walden also estimated the economic benefits received from the success of students, including that improvement in academic performance during 2010 to 2014 led to $11.2 billion in higher residential property values in Wake County. Benefits also include:
▪ Each recent Wake graduating class generates up to $1.6 billion in additional lifetime income from attaining high school diplomas instead of dropping out;
▪ Each recent Wake graduating class saves taxpayers up to $639 million in lifetime welfare, crime and health care costs;
▪ The additional spending of each recent Wake graduating class adds $86 million to local property values;
The $9,000 study was funded by the school system and the Wake Education Partnership, also called WakeEd, a business-supported group that lobbies for public education.
“This landmark study proves that whether you have students in our local public schools or not, you benefit from the things that happen every day in the Wake County Public School System,” said Steve Parrott, president of WakeEd.
This landmark study proves that whether you have students in our local public schools or not, you benefit from the things that happen every day in the Wake County Public School System.
Steve Parrott, president of the Wake Education Partnership
The study comes as school leaders are likely to ask the Wake County Board of Commissioners in 2016 for more money for operating and building schools. But commissioners don’t want to jeopardize a referendum that’s expected to be put on the ballot asking for voter approval to raise sales taxes to pay for a new transit plan.
“With transit, school needs and all these kinds of things, I think that we’re going to have to have a very, very good plan,” James West, chairman of the Wake commissioners, said in an interview Tuesday. “I think we’re going to have be collaborative in what we do because there are a lot of big-ticket items out there this time.”
Go to wakeed.org/economicimpact/ to download a copy of the study.