The Baby Boom and School Funding
By Alex Saitta
March 1, 2006
Public educators must begin to focus on ways to do more with the money they have, rather than always asking for more money when an additional need crops up. Improving economic efficiency is always a good thing, but the reason school districts must become more efficient is they'll have no choice. I believe the growth in education funding will slow over the next 5, 10 and 20 years.
For starters, U.S. economic growth is on a slower track. In the 1980's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew an average of 3.1% a year. In the 1990's, GDP grew an average of 3.2% a year. Thus far over this decade, annual GDP has averaged a growth rate of 2.7%. (Update: This past decade annual GDP growth was only 1.9%.)
Second, it is clear South Carolina economic growth is on an even slower track, lagging behind the national rate. For example, the state's unemployment rate is way above the national average.
Third, and this is the key point, education funding is no longer the top priority of the baby boom. The baby boom began in 1946. By the early 1950's first of the baby boomers were putting a large physical demand on elementary schools. For example, in my district, 3 of the 5 elementary schools were built in the 1950's*. As those the boomers aged, in turn, the middle school was built in the 1960's.
When the baby boomers reached graduation, got married and had children, the demand to grow education funding continued. This time, the demand was of a political nature. The boomers were voting age, and wanted even better educations for their children, so they made sure their elected leaders continued to grow education spending through the 1970ís, 80ís and 90ís.
Now the children of the last baby boomers are graduating, and the initial baby boomers are retiring. The number one priority of the baby boom is no longer education. The boom's top priorities are health care and economic security. Just look at the AARP's website, and those priorities are clear.
Boomers aren't in school anymore, and neither are their children. As a result, they will no longer be advocates for more funding for public education. Instead, they'll want more money spent on health care.
Additionally, as the boomers enter retirement, their incomes will stop rising, and they'll flatten out. They'll be on fixed incomes, as a result, they'll be less tolerant of tax increases. When boomers were 40 and 50 years old and their incomes were rising, tax increases were OK, especially tax increases for public education -- their top priority at the time. Now their kids are out of school, and boomers will be on a fixed income, the baby boom will be watching every dime they spend.
Looking at voting stats, seniors are more likely to vote, and their numbers are growing. What they want from our elected leaders, they will get.
Fourth, in Pickens County this national trend is going to be stronger. There is little job growth in Pickens County. For example, total employment is the same level now that it was in 1998. As a result, the county is not attracting those of the working age, but instead, retirees. Retirees, as a percentage of the population, are growing. Children between the age of 5 and 17 are falling as a percentage of the population.
Funding for education will grow at a lower rate than it has in the past, so school districts are going to have to do a better job of managing the money they have and will get.
* Looking at Pickens County's 29 schools, 9 of them were built in the 1950s. Second, 5 of the schools were built in the 1960's. I believe the boom helped to power the construction of schools in Pickens County.