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Education – Pay it Forward
Guest Commentary: Rob Keller
"The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life." - Plato

Today, we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. This aptly applies to education. Those who have tirelessly worked on the many aspects of educating our children have allowed us to now recognize their importance and the importance of an excellent education.

The District 5 School Board’s primary interest lies in the success of every student balanced with prudent budgeting. The board has specific responsibilities to determine curriculum, employ a superintendent and submit a proposed budget to the district voters for their approval. We focus on the ends while the superintendent focuses on the way and means to the end. Our Mission Statement is, "We believe in an effective and efficient public education to be a critical economic investment and the educators, students, families and communities share in the responsibility for the continuous improvement of an excellent education." Simply put, we are in this together.

Excellent school districts are an economic boon to those communities in which they reside. For each year of additional education, the unemployment rate decreases an average of 11 percent. During the most recent recession, in 2009, a person with less than a high school diploma had a 14.6 percent unemployment rate. A high school graduate had a 9.7 percent rate; some college had 8.6 percent; an associates degree 6.8 percent; bachelors degree 5.2 percent (most economists believe a 5 percent unemployment rate is considered to be full employment); masters degree 3.9 percent; professional degree 2.3 percent; and doctoral degree 2.5 percent.

Not surprisingly, wages are also commensurate to education. A person with a high school diploma earns a weekly median wage 38 percent higher than a person without a high school diploma. A person with a bachelors degree earns 64 percent more than a person with just a high school diploma. The trend continues as education increases to a doctoral degree. The more educated a community, the more productive and higher paid is the work force, increasing the desirability of the community.

From an educational standpoint, this dynamic was seen when Edgerton was built and, more recently, when Glacier High School was built. New schools and, more specifically, excellent schools create a desirable aspect to a neighborhood, which, in turn, helps increase home values and increases the standard of living. Conversely, school districts that are underachieving and with a high dropout rate have a negative impact on a community. In Montana, it is estimated a high school dropout earns an average of $9,643 a year less than a high school graduate. This translates to around $60,000 less paid in tax revenue over their lifetime. Unfortunately, those without a high school diploma are also much more likely to need social services.

Education is important and one doesn't have to go far to find that reality. Bozeman resident Greg Mortenson – author of “Three Cups of Tea” – has risked his life in order to promote peace one school at a time in some of the most dangerous territories in the world, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. His Central Asia Institute has built 131 schools in this region as a way to provide better economic opportunities and neutralize the power of extremist leaders. Through education he has improved the basic indices of health as well as spread the value of education within their communities. Does it take a community to raise a child? Not necessarily, but even Greg Mortenson would agree one man’s effort is on the shoulders of giants.

It is important that we all recognize the importance of an excellent education through involvement with our kids, schools and within our community. We live in a great area of unprecedented beauty, but more than that, we live in a community of excellent people. Please support your local school district. We need your help more than ever.

Rob Keller is Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees member.
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