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Preparing NC for the Coming Economic Storm

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

Allison and Ladner video screenshotWatch Darrell Allison and Dr. Matthew Ladner discuss
North Carolina’s future on The Warner Cable News.

By: Matthew Ladner and Darrell Allison

Between now and 2030, an average of 10,000 American Baby Boomers will reach retirement age each day. This seismic demographic shift will wreak financial havoc on budgets large and small―from Uncle Sam all the way to the local school district. North Carolina will be in the middle of this impending economic storm.

A new white paper from ExcelinEd, Record Breaking Heatwave: Baby Boomer Retirement, Student Enrollment Growth and the Future of North Carolina Education, reveals how this shift could impact North Carolina. The report highlights the state’s growing populations of elderly and young people, and the impact of these groups on our state’s economy. In the coming years, North Carolina will likely face slower economic growth coupled with higher spending demands—arising from healthcare for the elderly and education for the young.

150127_FEIE_NCJust six years ago, in 2010, North Carolina had 58 children and elderly for every 100 working-aged people. Think of these numbers as a societal cart: 58 were riding in the cart and 100 were pushing. Now fast forward to 2030, where the US Census Bureau projects the number of young and old North Carolinians in that cart will rise to 75. To help put this all in perspective, consider that Florida—a national retirement destination—had 63 children and elderly for every 100 working-aged people in 2010.

Thus North Carolina’s population is going to grow both older and younger simultaneously—with fewer working-aged people in between. Already, we are seeing the impact of North Carolina’s aging population in Medicaid spending on the state budget. In just 14 years, Medicaid spending has jumped over 10 percent; this budget priority has reduced available funding for everything from education to parks and recreation. This is only a hint of what is yet to come.

What can we do now to enable us to ride out the storm? We can begin by preparing the students of today―the cart pushers of tomorrow―for the high-paying, skills-based jobs of the future.

ExcelinEd’s report suggests ways North Carolina’s policy leaders can create and maintain high-quality education opportunities for students at a cost the state can afford. These strategies include a priority the state already values: expanding school choice initiatives.

North Carolina Flag graphicFrom publicly-funded tuition scholarship programs that empower families to send their children to private school to high-performing public charter schools, school choice is a must for North Carolina. School choice creates a greater “bang for the buck” when it comes to state budgets while empowering parents and families—particularly those low-income families who are often without high-quality educational options.

Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Opportunity Scholarship Program, ensuring that more than 3,000 students this year could attend private and religious schools using public funds. But North Carolina can and must do more. Unless the program is expanded, demand this year will likely exceed capacity. The state can also work to expand student access to public charter schools statewide. Currently 41 of North Carolina’s 100 counties do not have even one public charter school.

Ultimately, more choices for families mean more opportunities for students. Remember, today’s students are tomorrow’s working-age adults. Maximizing each child’s future potential starts with innovative change today. With the right approach, we can be prepared for the economic storm coming our way. But we don’t have a moment to lose.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He authored the report, Record Breaking Heatwave: Baby Boomer Retirement, Student Enrollment Growth and the Future of North Carolina Education.

Darrell Allison is President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

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.