Hillsborough County Public Schools made disturbing news this week when the school board voted against contracts for four existing charters and denied an application from Mater Academy to open two new charter schools.
The Tampa Bay Times quoted board member Nadia Combs defending the decision, saying, “If we stop five or six charters from coming here, we’re saving the district millions and millions of dollars.”
The board’s rationale is simple — but painfully unfair. These charters were denied in order to fill the district’s coffers. The board did not consider what their decision might cost students throughout their lifetimes: hundreds of millions of dollars.
Schools are here to serve students. Not the other way around. Florida’s laws make clear that the state’s public education system exists for one overarching purpose: to provide all of Florida’s students “the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.”
Apparently, the Hillsborough County Public School Board does not agree, choosing to scapegoat charter schools and deny students access to best-fit options — an opportunity that may now be lost.
And, that loss bears real costs. We can actually quantify the cost of a lost opportunity. We know that students who earn a high school diploma will likely generate more income over the course of their lives than students who do not complete high school. Students who graduate from college will likely earn more than their peers who do not.
In this way, opportunities and income generation accumulate. This is not news. The Social Security Administration recognized the correlation between degree attainment and lifetime earnings years ago.
Some schools produce more graduates than others. By comparing the graduation rates for these schools, we can estimate differences in lifetime earnings.
For example, Mater Academy’s high school graduation rate is about 10 points higher than Hillsborough County’s graduation rate. That is, for every 1,000 students, Mater Academy successfully graduates 100 more students than Hillsborough County.
By denying Mater Academy’s request to serve 1,300 students, a percentage of those students will likely not graduate from high school. That means those 1,300 students could earn $220 million less in lifetime earnings. If the cost was distributed evenly to those students, it would be like charging them $169,000 per student.
Parents are not blind. They know when their child is receiving an education that meets their needs, and they understand the financial benefits of a good education.
This might be why 15 percent of Hillsborough public school students attend charter schools, and why thousands more are demanding new learning opportunities.
IDEA Public Schools will open their first campuses in Florida this fall, planning to serve about 1,000 students. IDEA’s Texas schools have an impressive record — 100 percent of their high school graduates have matriculated to college for the last 15 years. Welcoming IDEA schools to Florida is a smart investment for our state, since those 1,000 students will likely generate $171 million more in lifetime earnings as a result.
And if IDEA expands according to their plans, they could positively impact nearly 15,000 students who would generate more than $2.4 billion in additional lifetime earnings — a significant economic impact for Hillsborough students and their community— and a fraction of the “savings” the school board bureaucrats are trying to squirrel away with their decision this week.
One of the most unfortunate ironies about Hillsborough’s decision is that they are likely not saving their district millions of dollars in the long term. When their constituents generate less wealth and less economic activity, tax revenues are sure to decrease.
By denying high-quality educational opportunities to families in Hillsborough County, the school board charges its students and the district a steep cost. A different strategy is warranted: Invest in education that works best for the child regardless of who provides the service. Where students succeed, the public schools will, too.
Patricia Levesque is the executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a nonprofit organization focused on education reform.