A fair trade-off
Every year the state budget is broken down by category - education, human services, Medicaid, corrections, environmental protection and so on.
That's fine for accounting purposes but life doesn't operate by category. It cuts across all of those budgetary line items, yet it's rare for lawmakers to analyze public policy that way.
One of the most pressing issues at the state Capitol now, for example, is the Corbett administration's politically driven refusal to expand Medicaid to provide more health care access for the poor while boosting the state's economy in the process.
That debate is all about short term costs and benefits. Contrast that with a new private-sector analysis of how health care costs are affected by a budget category that lawmakers never consider outside of its own realm - education.
"Well and Well-Off: Decreasing Medicaid and Health Care costs by Increasing Educational Attainment," considers costs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for alcoholism, heart disease obesity and smoking. Conducted by the national Alliance for Excellent Education with support from State Farm Insurance, it found that reducing high school dropout rates by half would save $7.3 billion a year in Medicaid spending nationally, $262 million in Pennsylvania alone.
According to the study, a high school graduate is about 50 percent less likely than a high school dropout to enroll in Medicaid.
Reducing the amount of money available to school districts ensures the opposite effect, producing more dropouts, adolescents who, when they leave school, also are short-term budgetary savings. Statistically, in terms of their health care costs and lifetimes of low earnings relative to their graduated peers, the costs accumulate exponentially.
Short-changed education also shows up across the budget in other ways, including in the costs of human services and corrections.
Lawmakers should recognize when they craft the education budget that adequate funding could help mitigate long-term costs in many other areas, even if the benefits aren't realized by the next election cycle.