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Florida’s Race Against the Future, Part 3

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

Baby Boomers are retiring and becoming grandparents at the same time. In our previous two exciting episodes, we discussed the Census Bureau’s projections for a simultaneous increase in both the youth population and (especially) the elderly population by 2030. We discussed the fact that both the elderly and the young disproportionately draw upon state resources (primarily in the form of Medicaid and K-12 education respectively). The elderly already consume a majority of Medicaid spending, and a huge projected increase in the elderly population will continue to generate concern.

A fierce intergenerational battle seems to loom for a limited pool of public dollars—a battle between young and old, education vs. health care. While Florida becomes an older society, it will try to cope with a large influx of K-12 students above and beyond what it currently educates.

Florida’s Race against the Future, Part 3

What should policymakers do about this? One comforting thought would be to grow our way out of this. If Florida were to sustain a prolonged period of strong economic and income growth, the hope might exist to generate a sufficient level of tax revenue to make the status-quo affordable. High dependency ratios (high numbers of old and young people relative to working age people) however tend to suppress economic growth. The Congressional Budget Office projects below average economic growth ahead for the United States due in part to an aging population. Perhaps Florida can defy this trend despite already having one of the highest age dependency ratios set to grow dramatically. One can hope for 6 percent annual growth, but it seems unlikely, and hope is not a plan.

Although student performance on the National Assessment for Educational Progress and other indicators show that Florida’s public school performance has substantially improved since 1998- test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance rates have all improved while dropout rates and college remediation has declined, the K-12 status-quo cannot be maintained. The need to substantially improve both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of education will steadily grow as Florida’s grey tsunami rolls in and the district schools become increasingly crowded while quite possibly grasping for funding as the need for health care spending relentlessly expands.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Florida needs substantially more effective methods for educating students at a substantially lower per pupil cost. Such improvement is actually commonplace in many fields but foreign to a K-12 education system in the grips of a decades-long trend of the opposite—Baumol’s cost disease.

A system of centralized management—whether from the state or district headquarters—seems utterly unlikely to result in more effective and more cost effective school models. While some seemingly promising innovations involving blended and digital learning have been undertaken, it is incumbent to exercise the humility to say that as of this moment, we don’t know which answers match with what students. The key is to not close any potential doors now, but instead to allow the creation of new innovative ways to educate students and let the successful ones flourish.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.