Local Commentary

Editorial: Preserving Education & Economic Development

It was instructive and underscored by the timely appearance at the Falls Church High School of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Tuesday, that even in the time of great fiscal distress and revenue shortfalls, the Obama administration’s budget unveiled this week proposes a significant increase in funding for education.

That news should be combined with two other recent developments: (1) the outstanding record of Northern Virginia high schools in the Washington Post‘s so-called “Challenge Index” results published Monday and (2) the comments of Jerry Gordon, the head of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, reported in the News-Press last week that the quality of the area’s schools has everything to do with the prospects for the continued robust economic growth of the region.

The one-to-one correlation between educational excellence and economic strength is acknowledged both in the Obama budget and in the comments by Gordon. In the case of the City of Falls Church, whose school system was highlighted in the Post‘s “Challenge Index” coverage Monday as the best in the entire Washington, D.C. Metro region, it has long been known by realtors and others in the real estate business that a value-added of 10 to 15 percent for the cost of homes in Falls Church is due solely to the reputation of the City’s schools.

This, and the recognition by Gov. Tim Kaine, in his recommended Virginia state budget before leaving office last month, that even in the toughest of times, funding for economic development should not be cut, tells a story that should be taken to heart by beleaguered policy makers in the coming spring of great local, state and federal budget distress.

There is a symbiotic, mutually-beneficial, relationship between prioritizing the achievement and maintenance of quality education and aggressive economic development.

If the constituents of the City of Falls Church, for example, are visualized and treated as citizens first, and taxpayers second, then perhaps both the School Board and City Council could better see their respective ways to ensuring that the fundamental quality of the City’s school system will not sacrificed to the “golden calf” of tax cutting.

There will be some who will howl, for sure, if decisions are made to raise the City’s tax rate to what they may feel is an unreasonable level. But citizens should consider that the alternative to a necessary funding level for the schools will be an accelerating deflation of City property values and a resulting downward spiral in the quality of both education and the community as a whole.

In this economic climate, the tough decisions are more in the hands of an enlightened citizenry than they are in the hands of government. It is the citizens who must step up to concede and even encourage their elected officials to preserve what matters most.