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Georgia Faces a Challenging Future

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

Is Georgia prepared for the future?

We recently released a report on America’s changing age demographics and the impact this will have on the American welfare state in general and K-12 education in particular.

Called Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the New Future of American Education, the report breaks down population data in each state, including a calculation of age-dependency ratios. These are the number of working-age adults (18-64), versus the number of old and young relying on them for support.

Roughly speaking, the ratios measure who is riding in the cart of the social welfare state relative to the number of people pushing the cart. Larger dependency ratios put a strain on economic growth, as well as state budgets, as tax revenues flatten out or decrease while demands on state government increase. We have been visiting states to see the challenges confronting them.

Georgia Face the Strain

And now our Turn and Face the Strain rolling road show rolls into the great state of Georgia, where the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts an increase in the total age dependency ratio from 57 in 2010 to 73 in 2030.

Georgia’s cart is going to get crowded. In 15 years, 100 workers will have to support 73 dependents.

Here is how the numbers break out. The Census Bureau projects a gain of over 300,000 5-17 year olds between 2015 and 2030. These young people will require an education. The increase in Georgia’s elderly population will be over 700,000. The elderly, having moved outside of their prime earning years, will pay less in taxes and will create a heavier than average demand on state-funded health care programs and other social services.

georgia census chart

Georgia policymakers can help prepare for the world of 2030 and beyond by driving improved outcomes in K-12 education today. A better education translates into increased productivity and higher wages, both of which Georgia will need in the years ahead.

Many of Georgia’s middle-aged taxpayers of tomorrow sit in Georgia classrooms today. What has the trend been in public school improvement?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress presents good news and bad news. The good news: academic outcomes have improved over the last decade. For instance, both the NAEP and the Trial Urban District Assessment NAEP (TUDA) show gains for Georgia students scoring proficient or better in 8th grade reading.

Georgia and Atlanta Reading chart

And now the bad news: 68% of Georgia 8th graders are not proficient readers. Unfortunately, this means that a large majority of Georgia students continually fail to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in a 21st-century economy. For students in Atlanta, literacy dramatically improved from a catastrophic 8% proficiency rate in 2002 to a 22% proficiency rate in 2013. However, this still means that 78% of Atlanta 8th graders cannot read proficiently.

Education reform alone cannot solve all of Georgia’s problems – many adjustments across a variety of policy areas loom. The Georgia of tomorrow, however, needs much, much more from the K-12 system of today. Grading schools with transparent letter grades and expanding parental choice through account-based choice programs would be a fantastic way to start.

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.