These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

School Districts and Economic Development?

Written by Van Schoales. Also posted on, read here.

Some of you may have seen an interesting article this week in Education Week about a recent study on the impact of Virginia Beach City School District on the economic development of the region. The study performed by a North Carolina State economics professor, Dr. Michael Walden concluded that Virginia Beach taxpayers could expect to get a 53% return on investment for every dollar spent for the school district with the current level of student results.

I’ve sent a few notes to other national experts with strong economics backgrounds to get their take on the study but would also love to hear from any here about the value and validity of the study.

While it is clear that that high quality education (and quality BA) has enormous returns for an individual and larger community from a myriad of studies, I have to say I was bit surprised by how large the return was for Virginia Beach…53%! If true, I felt a little better about the huge sum I’m shelling out for my daughter’s fancy BA. I would like to know what the time frame is for the return (couldn’t find it in study) and how this compares to other potential investments. It seems very high to me.

Unfortunately, the study did not include any college success data; it had to rely on college success projections based on GPA, graduation rates and SAT/ACT scores. These are very good proxies for college success but we also know that graduation and GPA can be inflated as we have seen in a number of districts. In communication with Dr. Walden this morning, he admitted that this was a valid point but said that these numbers would “only account for about 2% of the return and not be a game changer” in terms of the results of the study.

So given all of this, it made me wonder how much of a “return on investment” Denver Public Schools (DPS) might have given the current level of investment in the district.

How would DPS numbers compare to Virginia Beach City School District? Should we expect a greater or smaller return given DPS results and the overall economic climate of the Denver Metro area?

I would hope that the Denver community (DPS and other partners) would invest some money in a similar study about Denver Public Schools before the district decides to go back to taxpayers for more funding. By the way, the cost of the study for Virginia Beach was less than $50,000.

It’s clear that while Denver taxpayers have historically been very generous to the district relative to other Colorado taxpayers, I worry that they will be more skeptical now given the dismal economy, the hammering of 103 by voters (I suspect that most voters want improvement/reform with any new investment) and the slow but measurable progress of DPS.

This sort of “return on investment” information for the district and public education should must be included as part of an informed public policy discussion on education funding in Colorado.

What do you all think?