Two recent studies should put to rest the debate about how important education is to Idaho's citizens, economy and quality of life.
The first is a landmark study on the economic impact of higher education on our state. The second is Boise State University's seventh annual Idaho Public Policy Survey of what Idahoans say our policymakers' priorities should be.
The higher education study, "The Economic Value of Idaho Public Universities," was commissioned by the State Board of Education and conducted by Emsi Burning Glass, a Moscow- based company. The study showed that Idaho's higher education institutions provide $4.5 billion annually in gross state product, or 5.3% of total gross state product. For every dollar the state spends on higher education, it receives $1.80 - an 80 percent return on investment.
But higher education isn't just a societal good, it is clearly a personal good for the students who get a degree. For every dollar a student spends on a degree, they receive $4.20 in return over their lifetime - an annual return of 16.6%.
At mid-career, an Idaho worker with only a high school diploma earns $30,000 annually and a person without a high school diploma $23,000. Compare that to a worker who earns an associate degree ($37,700), bachelor's degree ($50,400), doctorate ($63,100) and professional degree ($108,800).
"The greatest economic impact of Idaho public colleges and universities stems from the added human capital - the knowledge, creativity, imagination, and entrepreneurship - found in their alumni," the Emsi report concluded.
The Boise State survey found that on a scale of 1 to 10, more than 70% of Idahoans rate education as an 8-10 issue. That was followed by jobs and the economy at 62%. Of course, both jobs and the economy depend on a strong education system.
Nearly 70% of Idahoans, including more than 60% of Republicans, said the Legislature should pass full-day kindergarten. Yet many legislators still oppose giving parents this choice. Instead, a full-day bill should be flying through the Legislature.
Some special interest groups and legislators want you to believe our public schools are failing students. Again, the people of Idaho think otherwise, and Republicans more than any other political persuasion think the schools are doing well.
One should not be surprised at the results of these studies. Our public schools are the backbone of most communities in Idaho - the place where the community gathers on Friday nights for football and basketball games, the place where citizens step forward to help with their time, treasure and volunteer talent.
And any business leader will tell you that our higher education institutions are economic engines for our state. They provide the next generation of leaders; they do the research and development that make existing businesses more productive; and they create new businesses and jobs for our people.
These studies show that those who want to abolish our public schools and destroy our institutions of higher education are not only on the wrong side of history - they are on the wrong side of the people of Idaho.
Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.