New Online Tool Measures Economic Impact of N.Y. Districts on Communities, Regions, State

It’s commonplace in the business world for companies to highlight the economic impact of their operations on the community and state where they are located or where they want to set up shop. In the K-12 world, not so much.

But now in New York state, school districts can demonstrate the economic benefits—aside from the educational value—that they bring to their area. The Association of School Business Officials of New York has created a digital tool that allows every district to focus attention on the jobs they create—both inside and outside the district—and the income and taxes generated related to district activity.

As a whole, school districts in the state generate 602,000 jobs, with 360,000 employees directly working for school districts, earning $30.7 billion in income, according to the database. The spending of school districts and their employees produces an additional $14.6 billion in income from an estimated 242,000 related jobs in New York state and the combined income of both groups produces $2.4 billion in income tax and $1.1 billion in sales tax, according to calculations by the ASBO New York digital tool.

Michael Borges, the executive director of the ASBO New York, said his own background in economic development made him wonder why school districts couldn’t follow the example of private industry. The group hired a consultant to run the numbers and create the database.

“It’s typical for companies coming into the community to demonstrate their economic impact and why they deserve public support,” Borges said. “I thought schools could do the same thing.”

In New York state, voters go to the polls to approve the school district budget, and the data highlighted with this tool could help taxpayers, school boards and lawmakers recognize the array of benefits districts bring to a community, Borges said.

“It’s a good way to garner public support to demonstrate that the value and investment being made is worth that support,” he said. “It helps show voters and taxpayers that not only are schools providing an education to the future workforce, but there’s an immediate economic impact.”

The tool also lists the economic impact of school districts both regionally and statewide.

For example, searching the 9,300-student Albany City, N.Y. district shows that the district directly employs 2,000 people, but through its purchase of goods and services and personal spending by employees, the district is responsible for 1,100 additional jobs in the region.

According to the database, those 3,100 jobs generate $169 million in income, resulting in tax revenues of $8.7 million in state income tax and $4.2 million in sales tax.

In comparison, the New York City school district employs about 88,000 people and is responsible for 66,000 additional jobs in the New York City region, generating $16.2 billion in income. This creates an estimated $852 million in state income tax in total and $367 million in sales tax.

Looking at Schools Through an Economic Lens

Some organizations have tried to make the link between the education of students and improved economic status, particularly internationally. In a 2018 Education Week Commentary piece, researcher Eric A. Hanushek argued that his work has highlighted a clear link between countries’ scores on international math and science exams and their economic growth rates. In a 2008 study of 50 countries, Hanushek and other researchers found that each additional year of average schooling increased a country’s average 40-year rate in gross domestic product by about .37 percentage points.

Gerald Crisci, the director of technology at the 4,800-student Scarsdale, N.Y. school district in a suburb of New York City, looked at the information provided by the online tool. While he doubted it would sway a voter likely to cast a ballot against a school budget, it could be important information for state and local leaders to have, he said.

According to the database, the Scarsdale district employs 800 people and its use of goods and services and employee spending is responsible for 700 additional “spillover jobs.” These 1,500 jobs generate $126.2 million in income, according to the ASBO tool.

“The most important thing to all of us is that we know that our schools are contributing to the greater good in terms of the future impact of students on the economy and the world,” Crisci said.
But the tool can also “help people think about the whole picture of what a school district generates in terms of value for their communities.”

Borges said the digital tool could easily be replicated by other states and he hopes the effort will be copied elsewhere.

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