Florida—home to Disney World, sunny skies, and bizarre crimes—is probably best known for its sizable elderly population. Yet a new report from the state’s Foundation for Excellence in Education warns that we are all Florida, or will be soon enough. Dr. Matthew Ladner, who pens the report, predicts that by 2030, the demographics in most of the country will mirror those in today’s geriatric Sunshine State. And that doesn’t bode well for our nation’s fiscal health.
Seventy-six million Baby Boomers will soon leave the workforce. Growing along with this cohort—albeit at a lesser rate—is the school-aged population. As a result, the total percentage of young and old Americans dependent on government-financed education, healthcare, and Social Security will jump from 59 percent in 2010 to 76 percent in 2030.
Fortunately, just as readers might consider panicked calls to parents begging them to reconsider retirement, the report offers some hope. The future workers of America are in school at this very moment. Providing them with an excellent education is the best step towards building a large base of wage-earning, tax-paying citizens. According to Ladner, one of the most cost-effective ways to do this is to expand school choice. Charter and private school programs would provide the necessary additional space for the growing school-age population while demanding fewer district dollars and producing higher-achieving students than their traditional public school counterparts.
More importantly, this could also improve achievement. Despite having one of the most expensive public school systems in the world, 64 percent of America’s current high schoolers can’t read proficiently. The autonomy of non-traditional schools allows for greater innovation and efficiency, Ladner insists, which are both necessary to prepare future working Americans for success in a tough, increasingly global job market. Though there are now over six thousand charter schools and thirty-three thousand private schools nationwide, the report warns that this is not enough. The year 2030 will be upon us sooner than we think. In order to rapidly improve the state of education, we must grow schools of choice much more aggressively. And we need to start now.
SOURCE: Dr. Matthew Ladner, “Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education,” Foundation for Excellence in Education (January 2015).