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Public Education and Demographic Shifts: Beneficial or Detrimental?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bethany Pearson
June 9, 2017

Education has been a part of the United States history since its inception. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Rush were all in favor of public education. They felt poor education was associated with tyranny. These men paved the way for the public education system we see today. However, in the past few years, it seems our views and stances on things like public education are shifting. This shift is giving way to a whole new image of how public education is funded and whether it is as important as Jefferson, Adams and Rush thought it to be. In this column, analysis on how much of our funding of the public education system has been changed based on demographic shifts.

According to Census.gov, the demographics of the United States and Puerto Rico are shifting. Our biggest population bracket is people who are ages 65 and older. By 2050, this bracket of population will grow to be around 90 million out of 400 million in total. This means that there will be more elderly people in the country than there are young people.

This is important because most of the funding for public education is allocated at a confused-graduate-character - Vazstate and local level. This means people pay for it out of their taxes. In this country, the people can vote for how their monies are spent. Having a general population that is predominantly older means voters are less likely to want to pay for things like education. These people will want to pay for things like Medicaid and Social Security, as it pertains to them.

This leads to the belief this modification of importance for education could in fact be due to the demographic shift of population. This could progress into many different outcomes. James M. Poterba writes about two hypotheses on the correlation between the demographic shift and public education. Poterba explains the increase of elderly population could in fact prove beneficial for education. It could mean that the elderly put more money into education to help young workers and promote variety in resources for themselves.

On the other hand, Poterba states it could go in the opposite direction. He writes about another hypothesis on the decline of public education funding. This hypothesis states a correlation between aging and support of public education. It expresses as people age, they are less likely to support public education.

In either scenario, the funding of public education will be shifting. This affirms the idea that demographic shifts affect public education funding. It is up to the people of the United States to decide whether our public education is important enough to fund. Jefferson and Adams believed it was important to educate the public to reduce ignorance and promote a smoother running nation. We the people must ascertain if we are for or against what these brave men developed many years ago.


Author: Bethany Pearson is a recent graduate of the Masters in Public Administration Program at Augusta University. She has a Bachelors in Secondary Education from Drake University. Bethany lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two dogs.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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