Among the multitude of issues that mayors address on a daily basis, education improvement efforts sometimes take a back seat. But savvy mayors know that education rightly deserves their attention and that a quality education system is one of the most important drivers of economic growth and an indicator of a city’s overall health.
Just as strong public education systems drive economic growth, the inverse is also true. Cities that struggle to improve student outcomes—such as the high school dropout rate—risk significant economic disadvantages, outright losses and reduced education levels across the population.
As an example, for every year its current high school dropout rate of 24 percent does not improve, Phoenix stands to suffer $1.4 billion in lifetime losses resulting from reduced earnings and increased public spending on factors such as health care and corrections. If the current statewide rate holds, high school dropouts alone will cost Arizona almost $7.6 billion every year, not to mention other losses associated with education systems in which students fall through the cracks and leave schools unprepared for college and a career.
These are serious losses with significant economic consequences. And they are not restricted to cities in Arizona or the state as a whole. Cities and states throughout the U.S. face major economic losses on a yearly basis if they do not take the steps to improve their education systems.
How Mayors Can Help
Mayors, though, can exert meaningful influence to ensure that their cities actively address education challenges. When mayors make improving graduation rates a priority on par with other municipal issues, they tap into a wealth of community assets—such as businesses, nonprofit organizations and government services that support children and youth—that can help strengthen schools and student outcomes.
A great example of how mayors are taking on the challenge of improving education in their cities is the collective, bipartisan effort of 14 mayors in Arizona. Through the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, these leaders are collaborating to improve high school graduation rates and reduce the number of disconnected youth in their cities by identifying unique and shared challenges and implementing viable solutions. They are also reimagining the mayoral role when it comes to education, imbuing it with proactive responsibility and leveraging the influence inherent to their leadership position.
This work, originally conceived of as both a statewide and national model for mayoral collaboration and focus on education issues, is increasingly recognized for its potential to change the education landscape in this country by improving urban education.
The Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, funded by the Helios Education Foundation and Arizona Community Foundation, recently received a $200,000 grant from America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson to support its ongoing work to reduce high school dropout rates and increase college- and career-readiness of high school graduates.
By using their leadership and influence in their communities to inaugurate partnerships, explore innovative initiatives and implement comprehensive strategies for addressing local education challenges, mayors across the country can have a powerful impact on public education and help to ensure that our schools are making it possible for all students to succeed.