Your $8.7 billion investment

It's graduation season and time for giving thanks to all the teachers, principals, counselors, classmates, parents — and Maryland taxpayers

June 08, 2013

Dear Maryland taxpayer,

My eldest child graduated from her public high school recently, and there was much celebration and excitement. When the 425 proud students of the Class of 2013 marched into the new Tiger Arena at Towson University in their caps and gowns, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

The customary "Pomp and Circumstance" echoed across the gym. Speeches were made. Award-winners were recognized. Diplomas were awarded and hands were shaken. And from the school principal to the valedictorians, there were heartfelt thanks given — to classmates, to teachers, to school administrators and yes, even to parents.

But, oddly enough, I don't recall hearing anyone thanking you, so I'm writing you this note today to express my own gratitude for your support. Without your contributions over the years, none of this would have been possible — at least not without putting this family in a staggeringly difficult position financially. Someone needs to speak up on your behalf.

Let's give an accounting. According to the Maryland Department of Education, the average 2013 Maryland public high school graduate received $129,385 in taxpayer benefits during his or her K-12 years. That's roughly $10,000 per year from all sources — state, federal and local — but it's the taxpayers of Maryland who represent the lion's share of that.

That means for this one particular high school graduating class, you're in for about $55 million. Wow, now that's what we call human capital. But wait, that's just a small slice of the statistical pie.

Statewide, Maryland public high schools graduated in the neighborhood of 67,000 students this year (the final numbers aren't yet available). So multiplying that number by the per-pupil cost of a K-12 public education comes out to an overall investment — and "investment" clearly applies in this case — of $8.7 billion.

Now, before you go out and have a post-graduate heart attack, there's good news here. You are already getting much of that back. Maryland's top-flight public schools sustain the economy and raise property values. And graduates will soon be out there as productive, taxpaying members of society themselves — with many headed to college or other forms of post-secondary education — so you'll ultimately be paid in full.

Here's another way to look at it: Without that investment in education, the economy would collapse. We'd have lots of ditch-diggers but nobody to take on the high-paying jobs of a knowledge-based economy. Productivity would take a nose-dive — and so would our own quality of life.

So I think you're getting a good deal here. At least, I can tell you that this particular graduating class has set some high standards. Lots of these high-achieving kids are going to the nation's top colleges and universities. The three co-valedictorians alone are headed to Harvard, Princeton and Yale, so it looks like somebody was paying attention in class all those years. There are even some future U.S. Marines in the mix, too. Oorah.

That's pretty awe-inspiring, isn't it? You made that possible when you helped build these schools, staff them and maintain them. This wasn't charity. It was a pretty smart, if involuntary, investment on your part. You might not have gotten a personal invitation to the after-graduation party, but trust me, we thought about you.

Oh, and by the way, the 5,200-seat Tiger Arena that officially opens later this month is pretty nice. You helped make that $72 million investment possible, too, but I'll let some other people pen that particular thank-you note.


Peter Jensen

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